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Today Mary Ann Koruth of The Record has a great update of a lawsuit currently before the state Superior Court in Mercer County pressed by the Latino Action Network (LAN). LAN argues (more here) that our state school system is “intensely segregated racially and economically” because we assign school districts based on neighborhoods, which are, of course, intensely segregated racially and economically. “We know that this is the civil rights issue of our time now,” said Cuqui Rivera, LAN’s program manager and, indeed, NJ has the sixth most segregated school system in the country.
Example: I live close to Route 206, which wends its way across the state north to south, one school district and municipality after another. Drive 12 miles down the road and you’ll pass three districts: Princeton at the north (median home price $882K, mostly white/Asian), my town Lawrence in the middle (median home price $370K, fairly diverse), and at the southern tip low-income Black and Hispanic Trenton (median home price $155K, although 60% of Trenton residents are renters). Student outcomes skew accordingly. Here are two simple metrics: Princeton High School offers 32 AP courses, Lawrence has 25 choices, and in Trenton you’re stuck with 10. What are your child’s chances of reading proficiently? In Princeton your kid has a 72% chance, in Lawrence your kid has a 62% chance, and in Trenton it’s 31%.
This is every kind of wrong.
So all hail LAN!
Except for one thing.
This righteous lawsuit contains a gratuitous argument that is neither fact-based nor relevant to the mission of offering low-income families equitable educational opportunities: an attack on public charter schools which in Trenton, for instance, are the one public school option for families desperate to rescue their children from a system where, districtwide, 20% of students read at grade level and math proficiency scores are in the cellar. Yet one of LAN’s demands is that the state make it illegal to for charter schools to “prioritize enrolling students who live in-district.”
What’s up with that? Should Achievers Early College Prep Charter School or Paul Robeson, two high-performing public charters in Trenton, prioritize enrollment for Princeton and Lawrence kids who already attend relatively high-performing schools? What does this do to promote equity? Shall we note that a mere 4% of New Jersey public schools students attend charters? That’s more like a rounding error and hardly a strategy to combat segregation. What would LAN have Trenton’s public charters do? Hand out leaflets in posh Palmer Square to shoppers exiting lululemom and Ralph Lauren to exhort them to bus their children to the inner city? Puts a whole new spin on the the state capital’s motto, “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.”
Sure, that’ll work. (Probably worth mentioning here that LAN is funded, at least in part, by the state teachers union whose leaders continue to praise the Murphy Administration for shutting down the expansion of the state charter school sector, including long-planned expansions to those two Trenton charters.)
I want a pair of lululemon leggings but is the price of selling my kidney really worth my butt looking amazing?… the answer is absolutely
— manny wee (@madz__6) November 14, 2017
Moving on, there are three other demands in the LAN lawsuit Judge Robert Lougy will rule on: that NJ’s segregation of Black and Latino students and assignments to schools based on respective municipalities is “unlawful;” that the State Legislature adopt a “replacement assignment methodology” within three months; and the state pay all legal fees.
Sure, that’ll work.
New Jersey’s school system is outrageously and immorally segregated through our long-standing practice of bundling the ability to afford granite countertops with access to high-performing schools. Yet decades of efforts to merge districts and municipalities have gone almost nowhere. (Princeton Borough did merge with Princeton Township, where there already was a school district that served both: whoop-de-do.) The problem is not charter schools’ enrollment practices: it’s our addiction to local control and our State Legislature’s inability to act (which may be the same thing; LAN spokesman: “I imagine this would be politically unpopular”). If someone can figure out the antidote for New Jersey’s municipal madness, we might have a shot at integrating schools. Short of that, I don’t know why LAN is wasting the Court’s time.