Laura Waters

New Jersey Suburban Parents Bury Their Heads in the Sand Too

Erika Sanzi asks whether suburban parents are burying their heads in the sand regarding their perceptions of school excellence versus actual reality. Parents prefer relationships to data. Most of us enjoy people more than numbers and like parent teacher conferences better than bar graphs. We take comfort in knowing that our kids are being educated in a safe space and worry very little about the high school profile or SAT participation rate in our town. It’s human nature to listen to our hearts instead of our heads and it’s normal to be driven by connections we feel to teachers and coaches and school leaders to whom we entrust our children every day. Hard truths however are better learned early than too late. Parents in my little state of Rhode Island deserve to know how their kids match up educationally against kids from Massachusetts, Connecticut and even Maryland. Is the education they’re receiving as good as it feels like it is or are there systemic and measurable deficiencies that parents need to acknowledge? Indeed, there’s a presumption among suburban parents across the nation, including New Jersey, that their local schools are immune from lagging student outcomes typically associated with urban schools. Even in New Jersey’s most acclaimed public high schools—Livingston, for instance, where Governor Christie announced his candidacy yesterday to the boos of teachers and where, in fact, he went to high school—1 out of 4 seniors score below 1550 on SATs, considered the cut-off for college and career-readiness. The median household income in Livingston, by the way, is $133,271. At Montclair High School, another monied suburban district (median household income: $126,983), only 59 percent of students get that 1550 on their SATs. For a less exclusive example, see Woodbridge High School, where the median household income is $79,606, about $10,000 above the New Jersey average. There, only 32 percent of senior test-takers have an SAT score of over 1550. In other words, 2 out of 3 students in Woodbridge don’t make the college-career readiness benchmark—and that’s of the 73 percent of students who even bother to take the SAT, a typical prerequisite for four-year colleges. So that means fewer than a fourth of Woodbridge graduating seniors are considered college-ready. Mythology is hard to crack. One of our myths is that our suburban schools adequately prepare students for success after high school graduation. Joseph Campbell once said that “myths are public dreams.” Maybe it’s time we wake up.  
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks and NJ Spotlight. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years. An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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