New Jersey’s performance on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as “the Nation’s Report Card,” should come as no surprise. Released last week by the U.S. Department of Education, the results show that, as in past years, our state’s public school students rank near the top in reading and mathematics when compared to their peers throughout the nation. The report is significant. While curriculum standards and state testing programs may vary from location to location, the NAEP enables an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement nationwide.

Digging deeper into the NAEP results, one finds another statistic that also comes as no surprise, but nonetheless is troubling: a persistent economic and racial achievement gap.

Any number of studies detail the ways that poor children fall behind academically. Their families often lack social support networks, live in high-crime neighborhoods, have limited access to healthcare, and struggle to simply meet the daily needs of their children. From the vantage point of executive county superintendent in Essex County, I observed firsthand the challenges faced by economically disadvantaged students.

Poverty is no friend to academic achievement. Neither should it be an excuse for allowing children not to succeed.

NJSBA President John Bulina, the Officers and I believe it is critical that we help school boards meet the educational challenges of economically disadvantaged students by identifying best practices, ideas and strategies that can boost student achievement. To that end, we have formed the NJSBA Task Force on Student Achievement. It will review relevant studies, consult with experts, and consider factors, such as limited access to technology (the “digital divide”) and the impact of high rates of incarceration.

The task force includes nine local school board members, drawn from the Association’s Standards and Assessment and Urban Boards Committees. In addition, we will have experts who will serve as resource persons to the task force. These educators include Willa Spicer, former state deputy commissioner of education, and Dr. Penelope Lattimer, former assistant education commissioner and current director of the Rutgers Institute to Improve Student Achievement. Both of these individuals enjoy outstanding reputations as curriculum leaders in New Jersey. Also participating will be Rev. DeForestBuster” Soaries, Jr., a former New Jersey Secretary of State and senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Franklin Township. He will bring an invaluable perspective on the needs of economically disadvantaged communities.

Vince DeLucia, NJSBA’s educator-in-residence, will provide staff support to the task force. Vince has spent more than 25 years in our state’s public schools, including administrative leadership positions in curriculum, instruction and professional development, as well as service as a principal and a classroom teacher. I might add that Mr. DeLucia also has extensive experience in urban education.

Finally, the task force will be chaired by Avery Grant of Long Branch and co-chaired by Pete Calvo of Glassboro, both long-term dedicated school board members.

As a former special education teacher, I am familiar with meeting the needs of children with educational challenges. In the classroom, one of my most satisfying experiences involved determining specific approaches or techniques to help each child reach his or her potential.

Enabling all students—regardless of their economic circumstances—to achieve academically is the challenge facing every school board and educator today. We owe them nothing less.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected]