Murphy’s Education Department Needs a Refresher in Statistics: Looking at Segregation in South Jersey

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on twitter

If you’re like most (all?) New Jerseyans I know, you wish our state school system wasn’t the sixth-most segregated in the country.

If you’re like most (all?) New Jerseyans I know, you are aware that meaningful integration will take systemic change, like not assigning students to districts based on ZIP codes; or vastly expanding affordable housing through unbreachable state mandates; or moving from a system of 600 relatively small districts to 21 county-wide districts. Anything less substantive is frivolous tinkering around the edges.

Yet that’s what Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan is doing with her denial of Absecon Board of Education’s request to sever their sending-receiving arrangement with Pleasantville Public Schools and send their high schoolers to Absegami High School instead. Why? She says granting the request will increase segregation but it does no such thing. 

Here’s the short version: Absecon has been sending their high-schoolers to Pleasantville because it doesn’t have a high school; like all K-8 districts, it pays tuition to send 9th-12th grade students to a nearby district that has a high school. But Absecon parents would rather their kids attend a different high school, not a shocker because Pleasantville meets no proficiency targets: 15% of students are grade-level in reading, none are in math, and the graduation rate is 71%. Most of the 90 or so middle school graduates end up at other public or private schools.

Therefore in 2019 the Absecon Board of Education did a feasibility study on sending district students to nearby  Absegami High School instead, where 47% of students pass reading tests, 31% pass math tests, and the graduation rate is 88%. The independent study confirmed this plan was feasible and, according to the Press of Atlantic City, the Pleasantville School Board approved unanimously of the decision.  Then-president Julio Sanchez said, “I just don’t feel like it’s our fight,.” So Absecon filed a request with the DOE to sever their relationship with Pleasantville High School.

Then something big happened, at least if you live in Absecon: Pleasantville changed its mind. This happened after a statewide organization called Building One New Jersey (I’ve written about this organization here)  jumped in and said Absecon board members and officials were “segregationists” and “racists.” 

Last May Acting Education Commissioner Angelica  Allen-McMillan issued her ruling., agreeing with Building One America and denying Absecon’s request. In the ruling ( hosted by Building One America) she explains that while “Absecon’s white population represents only about half a percent of Pleasantville’s total population, with about 1 white Absecon student in each Pleasantville graduating class of approximately 200 students,” severing the sending-receiving relationship s would cause a “substantial negative impact…on the racial composition of Pleasantville” Why? Because “26 Absecon students attended Pleasantville, 4 of whom were white, while Pleasantville High School had 5 total white students out of a total student body of 820 students.” She rules, “the Commissioner cannot find that the loss of 50 to 80 percent of Pleasantville’s white population is insignificant.”

Eighty percent! Wow. Sounds like a lot. Until you remember we’re talking about  a 2.5% change in demographics, about four or five kids out of an enrollment of 820  students.

So what drives her analysis?

It certainly isn’t statistics.

It certainly isn’t because she thinks this will ease segregation in South Jersey.

But here’s one clue: upon her ruling, an organization called the New Jersey Coalition Against Racial Exclusion (NJ-CARE), with ties to Building One NJ and NJEA, celebrated Allen-McMillan’s “deadly blows struck against the demonic and opportunity-destroying structure of racial and economic segregation in New Jersey.”  Then last month they named her “Powerful Ally of the Year” and threw a big party to honor her, where they also honored former NJEA president Marie Blistan.  Rev. Willie Francois lectured that Absecon parents who wanted to send their teens elsewhere were “segregationists who literally argued that our children were inferior.”

Dr. Angela Allen-McMillion, the Reverend said, in her “historic, wise, and righteous decision,” agreed with Building One America when she “strenuously objected to the severance, maintaining that it would completely isolate Pleasantville as a segregated and impoverished district, and would leave its students without any hope of an integrated and inclusive education.”  

Let’s all take a deep breath:  How does adding five white kids to an 840-student school where 62% of students are Hispanic and 32% are Black create an “integrated and inclusive education”?

It doesn’t. But it sure makes Building One America and its affiliated organizations happy. 

Absecon? Not as much. The district has filed a motion for reconsideration, in part because they’re being forced to send kids to a district where, based on these minutes of a public session of the State Ethics Commission, Pleasantville board members are vocal about the district’s corruption. One said the Board is “creating dysfunction and disruption at the expense of the education of our children.” Another pleaded for “emergent intervention” because “seasoned Board members that are well aware of bylaws, Robert’s Rules of Order and ethics, they are in violation of every single last one of them purposely to satisfy their own personal political interests and basically  basically turn our District assets over to people who’ve been previously convicted of corruption.” (If you want to get a sense of Pleasantville’s dysfunction, go  here.)

One Absecon resident, who wants to remain anonymous, pointed out to me the irony of Building One America “trying to thwart an attempt to provide an equitable education for the minority students of Absecon who attend Pleasantville School District – a district where its own school board members admit to the dysfunction.”

Sounds about right. Whatever this is, it has nothing to do with integrating New Jersey schools.



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *