Friday, July 24, 2015

The Non-Results of Abbott Funding

When Marilyn Morheuser, executive director of the Education Law Center, was asked about what the results would be of massive increases in education funding for the Abbott districts she said the following:

"The state can't guarantee results. It can guarantee opportunity. However it's a little hard to tell what the results might be when opportunity is never made available."

Now, after 20 years of "Parity Plus" funding for the Abbott districts we know what those results are and they are not good. The Abbott districts, despite huge financial advantages over high-poverty non-Abbotts, perform no better and oftentimes worse than their underresourced demographic peers.

For instance, in Guttenberg 82% of students are FRL eligible. Guttenberg isn't an Abbott and its per student spending is $11,116. Jersey City (75% FRL)is an Abbott and spends is $17,859.

Guttenberg gets only $150,000 for Pre-K. Probably enough for five kids per grade. In the Abbotts Pre-K money is universal even for the kids of investment bankers.

Despite the underaiding and underfunding, Guttenberg’s students perform at the 29th percentile in statewide academic achievement. Jersey City’s students score at the 26th percentile.

Nor is that result a fluke. Guttenberg outperforms Hoboken and Harrison, which perform at the 19th and 25th percentiles, respectively. Guttenberg underperforms Union City and West New York, which are at the 28th and 30th percentiles, respectively, but not by a large amount,

Since all of the Abbotts have huge financial advantages over Guttenberg, advocates for the Abbott regime should explain how financial advantage does not translate into results. Hoboken is a relatively low 49% FRL-eligible and spends $22,199. Union City's (95% FRL) spends $17,400. Harrison's (81% FRL) spends $16,600. West New York (data incomplete, but prob 82% FRL) spends $14,800 per student.


Not every low-resource/high-need non-Abbott does as well as Guttenberg, but many others do.

Belleville is "only" 60% FRL-eligible, which is lower than most Abbotts, but it only spends $10,800 per student, one of the lowest figures in New Jersey. Despite that, its schools still perform at the 27th percentile, which is superior to most Abbotts.

Even one of New Jersey’s most underresourced districts, East Newark (88% FRL), does not lag that significantly behind the Hudson County Abbotts. East Newark only spends $9,980 per student and desperately needs more aid. However, even with that shameful underaiding, its students still scores at the 20th percentile. This is not satisfactory performance, but it is significantly ahead of the highest aided Abbott, Asbury Park, which spends $28,229 per student, and yet whose schools are at the 1st-3rd percentiles.

Prospect Park (85% FRL-eligible, $12,140 per student) is also low-resource/high-poverty and it is also at the 19th percentile. This is better than most of the Abbotts.

I want to pull out Hoboken's scores. Hoboken's 49% FRL rate is barely above the state average of 38%, but at $22,199 per pupil in spending, Hoboken has the second highest spending of K-12 district in NJ after Asbury Park.

Some people would say that Hoboken's low scores are due to higher-performing children enrolling in charter schools. Indeed, that could be a cause of the low scores on the elementary and middle school levels, but Hoboken has no charter high school Hoboken has only one charter high school (HCS), it only enrolls 20-25 children per grade, and Hoboken High School is still only at the 18th percentile. Only 11% of Hoboken High School students score above 1550 on the SAT, compared to a demographic peer average of 16%. 18% of North Bergen's students score above 1550. 24% of Belleville's do. 33% of Dover's do.

The high-poverty non-Abbotts tend to have more Latino students than their Abbott peers, but not always.

Let's do an a more detailed comparison of Dover and Phillipsburg (an Abbott).

Dover is 69% FRL eligible and 82% Latino and 7% black. It's a non-Abbott and only spends $11,362 per student. It gets $350,000 for Pre-K, probably enough for 11-12 kids per grade.

Phillipsburg is 53% FRL-eligible and only 17% Latino and 13% black. It's an Abbott and spends $15,998 per student. All the kids there get Pre-K.

Based on the FRL and spending numbers, you would think that Phillipsburg would outperform Dover, but the opposite is true. Phillipsburg's schools score at the 37th percentile. Dover's schools score at the 53rd percentile. Dover, in fact, outperforms all of the Abbotts. Union City, praised in the book Improbable Scholars, only scores at the 28th percentile.

Likewise, you would expect an Abbott like Pemberton with relatively lower-FRL rates to do much better than it does. Pemberton's FRL-eligibility rate is 44%, even lower than Hoboken's. Pemberton is also 58% white or Asian and only 42% black or Hispanic. Pemberton spends $18,931 per student, an extremely high figure.

And yet, Pemberton only scores at the 24th percentile. If you factor out the relatively-high performing Ft. Dix School, Pemberton only scores at the 21st percentile.

The Education Law Center and the NJ Supreme Court look like they were wrong about the importance of money to academic success. If you compare test scores in the Abbotts with the brutally underfunded and high-poverty districts that didn't participate in the Abbott lawsuit, such as Guttenberg, Prospect Park, East Newark, and Belleville, you will see that there are no wide differences or any differences.

My evidence here has been anecdotal, but the NJ DOE did a more comprehensive analysis in its 2012 Education Funding Report and likewise determined that Abbott money made no difference in score improvement.

Not all high-poverty/low-resource non-Abbotts do as decently as Guttenberg, Dover, and Belleville. I am NOT saying that money doesn't matter. I write this blog because I badly want the underaided non-Abbotts to get more money, but there is a point where more money produces diminishing returns and most of the Abbotts are beyond that point.


  1. Hi,
    I'm a writer interested in education and inequality and I grew up in one of the towns listed here. I would love to talk with you.