Is New Jersey the School “Apartheid” State?

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Last week a report was issued by the Institute of Law and Policy at Rutgers-Newark and the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles titled “New Jersey’s Dysfunctional State Education System: Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Schools as an Important Cause.” (Go to link in the second paragraph of the IELP site.) Leslie Brody of The Record was the first to notice the report; Alfred Doblin, Record columnist responded yesterday. Also, today John Mooney at NJ Spotlight has an overview.

The title of the report tells it all. New Jersey, write researchers Paul Tractenberg of Rutgers and Gary Orfield and Greg Flaxman of UCLA, has a state school system that has “become increasingly racially isolated, with fewer opportunities for white student and students of color to engage in learning together.” While South Jersey’s schools have become a little more diverse, Central and North Jersey remain intensely segregated.  The result is an “increasingly racially heterogeneous state separated into racially homogenous school districts.”

The report uses an inflammatory word for our most segregated schools: “apartheid schools,” which refer to schools with a 99-100% enrollment for non-white, poor kids. There’s 191 of those, or 8% or all our public schools, compared to 5% in 1989-1990.

The authors recommend a few remedies: inter-district transfer programs (we have an increasingly popular one called Interdistrict Public School Choice Program); regional magnet schools (we have some, but maybe not enough in our most segregated areas, and Mooney points out that they’re expensive); consolidation into 21 county-wide districts; compliance with the Mt. Laurel housing decisions, which require towns to provide low-income housing; tweaks in charter school law to “monitor racial segregation.”

For me, this report is underwhelming: old news, old recommendations.  The writing is uneven and redundant.  The charter school discussion is flawed by inaccuracies. The use of the word “apartheid” is either weirdly casual or deliberately provocative, an odd choice for an academic report. Doblin especially objects to the terminology: 

Children, regardless of skin color, are constitutionally entitled to a quality education. But the state cannot force communities to become racially diverse. Throwing out “apartheid” in a scholarly report focuses attention away from education and makes it all about race. We should have come further than that by 2013. 

No doubt Tractenberg wants to improve the educational opportunities for every child in New Jersey; he was the lead attorney in the state Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke decision that was supposed to equalize education in New Jersey. It did not, and it wasn’t for a lack of money.

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