Opt-Outers in N.J. Are on a “Collision Course with Low-Income Families of Color”

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Robert Pondiscio’s article, “Opting Out, Race, and Reform” (referenced in the post below), deserves a little more detail than just NJEA’s insult to poor families. I have spoken before of how the highest opt-out numbers are in N.J.’s wealthiest districts (see here, here, and here) but haven’t had the, er, bandwidth to carefully collate the numbers.

Lucky for me,  Pondiscio’s colleague Dominique Coote put the numbers on a spreadsheet. The data comes from NJEA’s list, which it intends to use for lobbying purposes.The results shows that 14 of N.J.’s 591 school districts had 500 or more refusals and all but two of these districts were wealthy and white. For example, three of those 14  districts were Cherry Hill, Livingston, and Princeton, the home base of SOS-NJ, which, along with NJEA, is successfully lobbying the State Assembly to pass anti-testing bills. (Both groups have  Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan in their deep pockets. Diegnan is chair of the Assembly Education Committee and also sponsored the anti-testing bills which, sources tell me, were co-written with SOS- NJ lobbyists.)

The only district with 500 or more refusals that wasn’t “extremely white” was East Orange

Pondiscio continues,

[I]f New Jersey is a litmus test, and the move to opt out of testing remains “a thing” chiefly among affluent, white, progressive, families, it puts them on a political collision course with the low-income families of color who have been the primary beneficiaries of testing and accountability in the reform era. Blacks, Latinos, and low-income kids have generally benefitted from test-driven accountability, particularly in the increased number of charters and school choice options, as well as some promising (but not necessarily causal) upward trends in NAEP scores and graduation rates during the accountability era. Test scores have created a powerful catalyst for reform—both educationally and politically—that disproportionately benefits low-income families.

Now take a look at the refusal numbers for districts that serve predominantly low-income, black, and Hispanic families—places like Newark, Camden, Paterson, and Trenton. Actually, you can’t. They’re not among the approximately 250 districts on the NJEA list. Of the thirty-one so-called “Abbott Districts” in the state, named for the 1985 court case aimed at ensuring adequate education funding for schools serving poor children, only seven are on the NJEA list. East Orange, with 520 reported PARCC refusals, is the only Abbott District to see significant opt-outs. The other six range from thirty refusals in Hoboken to a single reported refusal in Long Branch.

Let’s  hear that again: districts that serve predominantly low-income minority families are not on NJEA’s list because every parent there chose to have their children “opt-in.”  And, with the exception of East Orange, the only refusals in Abbott districts were so small as to be statistically insignificant.

What is undeniable is that those most likely to be negatively effected by the opt-out impulse are low-income children of color, for whom testing has been a catalyst for attention and mostly positive change. [NYCAN’s Derrell] Bradford sees the conflict as “a study in power in American politics.” Even though the opt-out impulse may unite the far right and the progressive suburban left, he notes, it’s really a combined effort by people who are largely white and affluent. “Three suburban moms in Indiana decide they don’t like Common Core and all hell breaks loose. But when 250,000 minority kids languish in New York’s worst schools, any proposed change is too much, too fast, and too punitive,” he concludes. “I don’t blame people for who they are, but you cannot miss the message here unless you willingly choose to.”

Read the whole thing if you have any interest — pro or con — in N.J.’s current preoccupation with annual state standardized testing. 
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  • Julia, March 27, 2015 @ 9:04 pm Reply


    It's astonishing how much misinformation and how many outright lies you can pack into a single paragraph. Let's unpack one of those piles, shall we?

    “14 of N.J.'s 591 school districts had 500 or more refusals and all but two of these districts were wealthy and white.”

    Actually, the preliminary list of districts that NJEA put together represents less than half of all NJ school districts. It's based on publicly available data so is not systematic in any way. NJEA is adding information to this list as it becomes available because the NJDOE has so far refused to make this information public and many residents want to know how many refusals there were in NJ.

    “For example, three of those 14 districts were Cherry Hill, Livingston, and Princeton, the home base of SOS-NJ, which, along with NJEA, is successfully lobbying the State Assembly to pass anti-testing bills.

    Princeton is not the home base of Save Our Schools NJ. SOSNJ has no facilities and no budget, so no home base. We do have members – more than 28,000 of them, who live in just about every community in New Jersey, including large numbers in Newark, Camden, Paterson, Trenton and Jersey City. If you don't believe me, ask the legislators who represent those cities and who regularly hear from our members on issues related to public education.

    “Both groups have Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan in their deep pockets.”

    Since Save Our Schools NJ does not have any funding and is not even incorporated, how can we have deep pockets? Assemblyman Diegnan definitely listens to the parents in his district, who are overwhelmingly opposed to high-stakes standardized testing. That has nothing to do with deep pockets and everything to do with being a good and responsive legislator. Three of the four testing bills passed the NJ Assembly unanimously and the fourth one passed with a vote of 63 yes to 7 no, reflecting the strong opposition to high-stakes standardized testing all over New Jersey. Those votes demonstrate that ALL legislators are paying attention to that opposition.

    “Diegnan is chair of the Assembly Education Committee and also sponsored the anti-testing bills which, sources tell me, were co-written with SOS- NJ lobbyists.”

    Well, you don't need very good sources to find that out since we posted that information in multiple public locations. The bills were written at the request of parents, as Assemblyman Diegnan himself made clear at the last Assembly Education committee meeting. As an unfunded, all-volunteer organization, Save Our Schools NJ does not have paid lobbyists, just parents who care a great deal about public education. Is there something wrong with parents advocating for high-quality public schools? Do you think only professional lobbyists should be able to guide legislation?

  • Ryan Hill, March 29, 2015 @ 2:01 pm Reply

    If parents in Deignan's district are “overwhelmingly opposed” to PARCC, I assume that means way more than half of them opted out. Is that the case?

    Throughout NJ, of course, parents must be overwhelmingly supportive of PARCC. because if 40,000 opted out, that means over a million opted in. And a million is overwhelmingly more than 40k.

    The reason rich families opt out more than low income families is that rich families don't have to worry about their schools and making sure the world knows how their schools are doing. The world takes care of rich people. Families in low-income communities have no such assurances, so they need tests to shine a light on the performance of their schools.

  • kallikak, March 29, 2015 @ 5:51 pm Reply

    You are ignoring two things: ALL residents of New Jersey, regardless of community demographics, are guaranteed a “thorough and efficient system of free public schools” under the state Constitution; and several of the low-income communities you cite have school districts run directly (and seemingly ineptly) by the NJDOE FOR YEARS. The only lights that need shining in those cases should be pointed toward Trenton. To paraphrase your comment, “The world takes care of rich people, while the political world here in New Jersey preys on poor people.”

  • Ryan Hill, March 30, 2015 @ 6:36 pm Reply

    And how is it you're assessing the ineptness of the state's running of the school districts? Test scores? Anecdotes? Intuition?

    Seems like there's value in shining a light on the performance of our state's and our cities' schools, especially to highlight areas in which kids from low income families are getting the short end of the stick.

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