By, Barbara Martinez

Being a Jersey Girl, you would think I would be so proud to hear that New Jersey ranks number one in the nation in academic achievement.  

Unfortunately, that rank is somewhat of a mirage. Come a little closer so you can see better.

As Tim Daly, co-founder of EdNavigator and former President of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), points out, New Jersey actually ranks fairly low for Black and Latinx kids. While New Jersey’s White and Asian students ranked second nationally, its Hispanic students ranked ninth and Black students were 17th.

It’s even worse among students who qualify for free or reduced school lunches (an indicator of income level). While New Jersey’s eighth grade math performance ranks fourth among students who do NOT qualify, among those who do qualify, New Jersey ranks 25th– just one spot ahead of Kentucky.

Because of that, going around tooting our horn about the overall rankings does a disservice to the tens of thousands of kids in Newark, Camden, Union City and other predominantly Black and Latinx cities.

In order to change the future, we need to tell the truth. My truth is that I got straight A’s through high school and nearly flunked out of college because I was so woefully unprepared. For kids like me from Newark, the state “average” means nothing if it hides the fact that the quality of public schools in New Jersey is deeply uneven and unfair.

It is only when we can face this fact that we can make change.

This is precisely why Sen. Teresa Ruiz is pushing a package of thoughtful bills aimed at addressing the literacy crisis. She gets that we have to see through the mirage and focus on the kids who need us the most. We can’t keep operating from the illusion that all is well in all schools. It’s not.