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Fine Print: Diploma Rate for New Jersey’s Black Males

Newark earns the very highest rank for urban districts in the country, with 75 percent of black males graduating in 2008.

Report: “Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, 2010”

Author: Schott Foundation for Public Education, Cambridge, MA

What it says: Part of a seven-year-old project looking at the plight of black males in public schools, the report finds that New Jersey and Newark, in particular, are to be praised for the rate of black males graduating from high school. New Jersey is commended for the court-ordered resources spent on urban public schools, giving it one of the highest graduation rates in the country. And Newark is ranked the very top urban district in the country for its 75 percent of black males graduating in 2008, a percentage 13 points higher than white males.

Key line: “Turning to the results for districts with enrollments of 10,000 or more Black male students, Newark performs the best in regard to Black male graduation rates, showing steady progress due to increased per student funding under the “Abbott” decisions.... Certain northern districts, such as Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and New York City, have particularly low graduation rates for Black male students.”

Between the lines: New Jersey’s high graduation rate among all students has long been a source of pride -- and of controversy. Indeed, the state has consistently finished among the top rates of any state, a credit to public schools that generally perform well by many measures. The state’s generous spending on schools also plays a part, as does the state’s relatively high socio-academic standing as a whole. But critics also contend that the state’s alternative high school assessments contribute to the high graduation rate, providing an easier path for large numbers of students, especially in urban districts like Newark, to pass the exit exam required for graduation. The state is currently revamping the alternative test, but that in itself has sparked its own debate.

What people are saying: The report was highlighted this week by the Education Law Center, the Newark advocacy group that leads the Abbott v. Burke litigation, as further vindication for those court-ordered policies. It downplayed the role of the alternative exams, saying New Jersey is in the minority in even requiring an exit exam and still outpaces many of its peers. Critics like the Excellent Education for Everybody, a pro-voucher and school choice group, raised questions to the validity of the numbers and said holding up Newark as signpost without acknowledging the alternative exam is a “true disservice to the rest of those districts.”

And from the central players: Not much. Efforts to reach Newark school district were unsuccessful. The state Department of Education also demurred from comment, saying it was reviewing how the state collects and disseminates high school graduation data.

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