NJ's Top Schools; Magnets and Charters

Central Jersey has a new list of NJ high schools with the best SAT scores. The top ten are all magnet schools, mostly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and typically run by counties under the aegis of vocational schools. The ten are, in order, High Technology High in Lincroft; The Academy for Math, Science and Engineering in Rockaway; Bergen Academies in Hackensack; Middlesex Vocational Academy of Science and Engineering in Edison; Biotechnology High School in Freehold; Academy of Allied Health and Sciences in Neptune; Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains; Communications High School in Wall; Marine Academy of Technology and Environment in Manahawkin; and Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Sandy Hook.

The top “regular” high school, based on SAT performance,  is Millburn Senior High School. Millburn, for what it's worth, is one of the richest communities in NJ, earning a "J" District Factor Grouping.

We’re justifiably proud of our county magnet schools, although not all counties provide such high-performing oases. These top magnets listed above have  competitive admissions processes based on rigorous screening for academic proficiency. Cost per pupil is typically higher than in traditional high schools.  At Bergen Academies, with an average SAT score of 2083,  the annual cost per pupil is almost $27K. NJ's average cost per pupil is about $17K. The students at Bergen Academies are almost all white and Asian. Two percent are classified with a disability (the average in NJ is about 16%) and 3% are considered economically-disadvantaged.

Another example: at High Technology High in Monmouth, no students are classified with disabilities and no students are economically-disadvantaged. 0.4% are black and 0.7% are Hispanic. The rest are evenly split between white and Asian. Average cost per pupil is $21,927. County freeholders get to decide what percentage local districts pay for tuition costs. Districts also provide transportation.

Of course, magnet school teachers have to be union members. There’s no similar requirement for charter school teachers, although some of them do join local bargaining units.

NJ’s magnet schools are a form of school choice although, interestingly, they don’t inspire the venom sometimes directed at charter schools, which are also non-traditional public schools. The arguments directed at charters -- they "cream off" top students, don't reflect the diversity of communities, discriminate against special education students, and siphon funds from local districts -- seem more apt when applied to magnets. After all, charter admission systems rely on lotteries, not GPA scores or standardized test performance.

Magnet schools are great, cherished by parents and students, although it would be nice to see them embedded in every county, not just wealthier ones. (Bruce Baker has a thought-provoking post on Princeton Charter School, which he describes as an example of  "quasi-private-elite schools" created by wealthy parents "to serve their needs – effectively seeking taxpayer charity to support their country club preferences.")

NJ charter schools, certainly recently, are targeted for low-income communities with lousy schools where parents have few options.

Who do we have to do to get charter school opponents to lighten up and view charters as another kind of school choice for kids who don't live in Bergen or Monmouth County?

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