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A new analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research sheds some light on an ongoing lawsuit pressed by the New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools (NJCDIS) that challenges New Jersey’s segregated school system and lays particular blame on public charter schools, especially in Newark, of exacerbating segregation. This lawsuit made news again because Gov. Phil Murphy’s nominee for State Board of Education, Mary Bennett (pictured above), is on the board of NJCDIS. This new paper shows that the lawsuit’s premise—white fairy dust is what low-income Black and Brown students need for academic success–is malarkey.
Sorry for the snark. Yet the study’s conclusions are important when we’re dealing with what JerseyCAN’s Paula White calls post-pandemic “achievement gulfs” between white and Black students.
The NBER study looks at two initiatives, one in Boston and one in New York City, that offer Black and Hispanic students a large choice of schools within their respective cities, with the cities footing the bill for transportation. Indeed, the programs led to decreases in segregation: Black students in Boston experienced close to a 17% drop in minority isolation and in NYC Hispanic minority isolation decreased 8%.
But here’s a surprise: the experience of attending integrated schools had minimal effect on standardized test scores and college attendance. In fact, Black students in Boston and Hispanic students in NYC who participated in these programs actually had slightly lower rates of college attendance, a result that the researchers suggest bears “further investigation.” They also suggest that the money spent on transportation might be better spent on improving neighborhood schools.
From the paper:
Non-neighborhood enrollment boosts integration in the sense of reducing minority applicants’ same race exposure and, for Blacks in Boston and Hispanics in New York, by reducing minority isolation. We might therefore expect non-neighborhood schooling to increase learning and college enrollment as well. The 2SLS estimates reported in Table 4, however, show little evidence of non-neighborhood schooling effects on achievement and college attendance to match the integration gains documented.
In fact, says Meredith Coffey at Fordham, for Black students in Boston and Hispanic students in New York, travelling to integrated schools actually decreased college attendance by 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
Integrating New Jersey’s segregated school system is a noble goal that can be achieved in two ways: 1) vastly expanding affordable housing (Gov. Murphy’s FY2024 $53. billion budget doesn’t touch this) so low-income families can move to better districts or 2) creating countywide districts so, say, Trenton students can attend schools in Princeton.
Yet the NBER report reminds me of what Black and Brown parents have been telling me for years. Here’s Ruthven Haneef Auguste:
“Look, the formula to calculate the area of a square is the same in the books in Millburn and in Newark. I don’t need any white fairy dust for my kids to learn.
The NBER study appears to bear that out. Integrating schools is not the silver bullet Mary Bennett and her anti-charter allies claim it to be if we’re to provide equitable educational opportunities for all New Jersey students.