How Do New Jersey Schools Rate Through an ‘Equity Lens’? Not As Well As You’d Think.

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Education Trust, a nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families, has teamed up with CASEL to look at whether schools are equitably addressing  students’ academic and social-emotional needs.  While learning losses are front and center after two years of pandemic learning, it’s critical that we address whether teachers are prepared to support students, that discipline policies aren’t discriminatory, that all students have access to a rigorous curriculum, and that individual school districts are adequately including parents and community members in these efforts.

How did New Jersey do?

Better than Montana and Nebraska but not nearly as well as Massachusetts and Minnesota.

On a spectrum from “Fully Supportive” to “Least Supportive,” New Jersey’s state school system earned a “Barely Supportive” in Discipline, a “Partially Supportive” in Professional Development, a “Barely Supportive” in Rigorous and Culturally Responsive Curriculum,” a “Barely Supportive” in Parent and Community Engagement, and a “Supportive” in Wraparound Services.

Back in 2018  Shavar Jeffries, president of Education Reform Now, highlighted some of NJ’s shortcomings at a hearing with the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. At that hearing he discussed, for one example, Montclair Public Schools District’s inequities where Black students are shuffled into classrooms with low expectations and subjected more harshly to disciplinary actions than White and Asian students.

Here’s Jeffries:

Black students are five times more likely to be suspended than White students; and Black students are substantially less likely to be assigned to honors or Advanced Placement courses as White students. The New Jersey State Department of Education, however, doesn’t recognize the yawning and persistent gaps at Montclair High School – where Black students have not made significant progress and where outcomes on most indicators last year slightly declined – as worthy of its attention.

These the sort of inequitable practices EdTrust and CASEL seek to address.

For our full report card, see here. Below are some highlights and lowlights within each section, with specific goals and grades. One note: When EdTrust says “ESSA Plan,” it is referring to the federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. Each state submits its ESSA plan to the U.S. Education Department, outlining its approach to multiple school-related issues, including student well-being.


Goal: Does the state set clear goals for decreasing the use of exclusionary discipline and reducing disparities in discipline?

Grade: Partially Meets. “New Jersey clearly states in its ESSA plan that it aims to reduce exclusionary discipline but does not state that it aims to reduce disparities in disciplinary outcomes.”

Goal: Does the state have human resources within their state education agency for supporting districts with technical assistance and implementation for positive discipline practices?

Grade: Does Not Meet. “New Jersey does not have human resources for supporting districts with positive discipline practices. The state should create a state team, hire a state lead, or partner with an external organization to ensure technical assistance is available to schools and districts working to address discipline disparities.”

Goal: Does the state ensure students do not experience physical harm in schools, including banning corporal punishment and having sufficient parameters around the use of restraint (including requirements for only staff trained in both de-escalation and safe restraint being allowed to restrain students, prohibiting prone restraints, as well as a requirement for only using restraint in instances of immediate harm to oneself or others)?

Grade: Partially Meets. “New Jersey has banned corporal punishment but has insufficient parameters around the use of restraint.”

Goal: Does the state provide evidence-based guidance and funding for professional development in positive discipline practices, or provide free training modules on restorative practices?

Grade: Does Not Meet. “New Jersey does not provide guidance or funding for professional development in positive discipline practices. The state should create opportunities for professional development to support educators in implementing restorative practices, or partner with an organization that can provide evidence-based trainings.”

Professional Development

Goal: Does the state require educators to demonstrate mastery of a combination of skills and knowledge needed to holistically and equitably support students’ social, emotional, and academic development for licensure renewal or recertification? (Skills and mindsets could include things like diversity, equity, and inclusion; asset-based pedagogies; adult SEL or adult mindsets; anti-bias/anti-racist training; strategies and approaches for systemic SEL for students)?

Grade: Meets Criteria. “New Jersey requires educators to demonstrate a mastery of a combination of skills and knowledge needed to equitably integrate and support social, emotional, and academic development, including skills and knowledge that promote asset-based mindsets and equitable practices for licensure renewal or recertification.”

Goal: Does the state publicly report, and make accessible online, data or information at the district level on educator perceptions of professional development offerings?

Grade. Does Not Meet. “New Jersey does not public report data or information on educators’ perceptions of professional development offerings.”

Rigorous and Culturally-Responsive Curriculum

Goal: Does the state set clear and actionable goals for using curricula that is rigorous and culturally sustaining?

Grade: Partially Meets. “New Jersey has issued goals that identify the need for education to be grounded in both rigorous and culturally sustaining components but these goals are not easily accessible in the state’s ESSA or strategic plan.”

Goal: Does the state have a clear and actionable goal to equitably enroll and ensure success in advanced coursework opportunities?

Grade: Does Not Meet. “New Jersey has not issued public goals to equitably enroll students in advanced coursework opportunities.”

Goal: Does the state report data on high school advanced coursework enrollment and success that is disaggregated by student demographics and by types of advanced course (e.g., advanced placement, dual enrollment, international baccalaureate)?

Grade: Partially Meets. “New Jersey includes advanced coursework enrollment data this is disaggregated by type of advanced coursework on its website, but does not disaggregate by student demographics and does not provide advanced coursework success data.”

Student, Family, and Community Engagement

Goal: Is student, family, and community engagement part of a state’s strategic plan or ESSA plan?

Grade: Partially Meets. “New Jersey mentions student, family, and community engagement in its ESSA plan or strategic plan but does not provide details on how districts can use evidence-based practices.”

Goal: Does the state offer ongoing professional development to districts or schools for student, family and community engagement and integrate this topic into teacher evaluation rubrics?

Grade: Does Not Meet. “New Jersey does not offer professional development in student, family, and community engagement, and does not include this topic in teacher evaluation rubrics.”

Goal: Does the state elevate student voice in its office of family and community engagement, State Board of Education, or student advisory council?

Grade: Meets Criteria. “New Jersey ensures student voice is included in state-level decisions by having a student representative on the board of education.

Goal: Does the state intentionally incorporate family and community voices in decision-making, such as by including family and community representatives in decision-making groups, or by creating a parent advisory council, or other state-level group?

Grade: Does Not Meet.  “New Jersey does not have an explicit structure to incoporate seek out family and community voice and consult in state-level decisions.”

Wrap-Around Services

Goal: Does the state explicitly include multi-tiered or integrated system goals in its strategic or ESSA plan and do they explicitly prioritize students with the highest needs in developing and implementing these multi-tiered or integrated systems of support?

Grade: Meets Criteria. “New Jersey includes integrated system goals in its ESSA plan, and explicitly prioritizes developing and implementing these systems for students with the highest needs.”

Goal: Does the state have policies in place to ensure students have access to nutrition without stigmatization in their schools, including mandating participation in federal school meal programs, preventing districts and schools from punishing or shaming students for unpaid meal debt, and requiring licensed ECE programs to provide meals/snacks that meet nutrition guidelines?

Grade: Partially Meets Criteria. “New Jersey requires some but not all schools to participate in the School Breakfast Program or similar model, but not the National School Lunch Program. New Jersey also does not have a policy to prevent lunch-shaming for unpaid meal debt, and has licensing requirements to ensure early childhood education programs provide meals or snacks that meet nutrition guidelines.”



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