Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Irony Alert: Closing Down Segregated Schools Reinforces Segregation

Education Law Center, standard bearer for poor minority students in New Jersey, issued a press release yesterday charging that Gov. Christie and Ed. Comm. Cerf, “under the guise of accountability,” have created “a perverse system of school punishment and reward” that will “single out public schools” serving minority kids “for disparate treatment in its most extreme form – closing the schools altogether.”

What’s this racist cabal, which ELC Exec. Dir. David Sciarra derides as a “throwback to the days when State policies worked to reinforce the intense racial and socio-economic segregation in New Jersey's public schools”? It’s contained in our No Child Left Behind waiver application, which shields Jersey schools from the punitive measures of the federal legislation and, instead, directs extra resources, intervention, and, yes, potential school closures (if there’s no improvement) for our 75 worst schools, those that rank in the bottom 5% of student achievement.

Here's an excerpt from that new "perverse system":
While in the aggregate New Jersey’s students perform at nation-leading levels, the State has a number of troubling deficiencies. On the 2011 NAEP exam, New Jersey ranked 50 out of 51 states (including DC) in the size of the achievement gap between low and high-income students in 8th grade reading. Tens of thousands of children attend schools where only a minority of students meets basic levels of proficiency in reading and math. Across the State, over 40 percent of third graders are not reading on grade level. And perhaps most alarmingly, a distressingly high percentage of those who do graduate from high school are unprepared for success.
Tweets of the ELC press release are thrumming through cyberspace from Save Our Schools-NJ and Defeat NJ Bullies,  some sort of anti-charter/Christie/accountability organization.

So let’s unpack this a bit. ELC is irate because the NJ DOE has created a process with teeth that intends to address decades of inequity and substandard education slung at poor minority kids in our worst 75 schools. Those 75 drop-out factories include 23 of Camden’s 26 schools and 10 of Trenton’s 20 schools, plus assorted other chronically failing public schools, including some charters. (Here’s the list.)

For decades now we’ve shoveled money at these schools, at least the ones in Abbott districts. That has had little impact, none in some cases. The kids who live in Camden or Trenton (or other districts in the list) have no access to higher-performing schools, precisely because of NJ’s “intense racial and socio-economic segregation,” a product of various historical factors like our affinity for home rule, the uneven enforcement of the Mt. Laurel housing decisions, our school funding structure, the limitations of our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.

ELC charges that the DOE’s classification of our worst schools as “Priority Schools” will “do nothing to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for the most at-risk students in our state.”  Fine. What should we do then? More money to Abbotts, in spite of the poor track record of providing money without reform? (Yes: here’s Monday’s press release.) Leave the kids where they are?  (That's worked out so well.) What is ELC's solution other than a failed status quo that, ironically, "reinforces intense racial and socio-economic segregation in New Jersey's public schools”?



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