Separate and Unequal in Jersey

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.” It’s certainly the civil rights issue of New Jersey. Check this out:

The Burlington County Times just reported on bleak Willingboro High School, a low-performing district in Burlington County. At a recent meeting, students complained that expectations were so low for academic performance that many of them are in both honors and remedial classes. Only 48% of the last year’s graduating class passed the HSPA, (the state assessment that EdSec Lucille Davy described as a middle school-level test), though another 40% received diplomas through the Special Review Assessment. The school itself is in its 6th year as a School In Need of Improvement under NCLB.

Willingboro Township (here’s a map of Burlington County and its municipalities) shares borders with Delran, Moorestown, and Burlington Townships, all which offer high schools that meet NCLB requirements. Regarding demographics, Delran is 83% White, Burlington is 68% White, and Moorestown is 89% White. Willingboro is 92% African-American.

So the Black students are cordoned off within one failing district, surrounded by high-performing high schools populated with mostly White students.

Here’s another recent news story from CentralJersey on Edison Public Schools. Edison High School has just been labeled as a School In Need of Improvement through NCLB but, luckily for students, there’s a second high school in the township, J.P. Stevens High, and NCLB sanctions allow Edison High kids to transfer there. Now, it’s unclear how that would work if all 1900 Edison High students took that option (so far only 12 have). At least they have a choice.

There’s no other high school in Willingboro School District.

What if we allowed students from failing high schools to transfer to successful high schools, even if that meant crossing a township border? What if the DOE partnered with successful charter organizations to replace diploma mills (or SRA mills) like Willingboro with actual schools where kids had equal opportunities to succeed academically like their neighbors in the next town? When did we start condoning separate and unequal?

Update: The Star-Ledger now reports that parents have requested that 34 students be transferred from Edison H.S. to J.P. Stevens and wish they had been notified of that option when school district officials knew about it in August.