It’s a system that requires nearly 100,000 African-American and Latino students to attend urban public schools that enroll only 314 non-minority students.
The most racially segregated of these schools are those operated directly by the state in Newark, Camden, Paterson and Jersey City. This is what an as yet unreleased report prepared by Rutgers University’s Institute for Education Law and Policy (IELP) says about state-run, racially segregated schools:
“The problems of apartheid schools are particularly apparent in the districts operating under direct state control. Three of these four districts have extraordinary levels of apartheid education. These four districts account for 89 apartheid schools with almost 41,000 students. More than half of the apartheid schools and students are in Newark where 55% of all students attend such schools. The highest proportion is in Camden where the 28 schools account for 72% of all the district’s schools and 79% of its students. Paterson has 12 schools serving almost a fourth of its students (23%). Just these three districts account for 43% of the New Jersey students in such schools.’’
An “apartheid” school, according to IELP, is one in which one percent or less of the students are non-minority.
The report adds: “These state-operated districts provide the most dramatic evidence of the state’s failure to enforce its longstanding constitutional mandate for racial balance. Given the fact that the state has been in charge of three of these districts for an extended period of time—Jersey City since 1989, Paterson since 1991 and Newark since 1995—it is hard to conceive of how it can justify that failure.’’
Of course, it can’t justify that failure. For decades, no governor, no Legislature, not even the state’s highest court has intervened to end school segregation.
New Jersey has been wracked by controversy over so-called “reform” efforts, much of it centered now on privatizing public education through charter and voucher schools. But, whatever these efforts might do for entrepreneurs/political bosses like George Norcross and Steve Adubato and their business associates who promote them, they have done nothing to alleviate racial isolation.
The IELP report cites the example of Essex County, perhaps the most racially isolated county in New Jersey, where virtually all-white districts operate within a few miles of virtually all-black and Latino systems. Even their charter schools are segregated by race and poverty:
“Essex County has 17 charter schools, most in Newark. But…all 17 are intensely segregated with nine having 0.0% white students, four having between 0.1-0.3% white students and four having 0.8-2.5% white students. Fourteen of the 17 have black student enrollments of 84.7%-100% and the other three have Latino student enrollments of 59.7%-72.1%. ‘’
In an almost exquisitely ironic way, the immense costs of trying to improve public education in urban districts—a frequent topic of complaint by right-wingers like Gov. Chris Christie—is, in effect, the price our state pays for keeping black and brown children locked up in segregated schools.
The report notes that, while New Jersey has spent a lot of money on improving urban schools, money alone cannot eradicate the problems caused by walling up our poor and minority children in blackboard ghettoes:
“Money can buy important things such as good preschool training, strong facilities and educational resources, if it is well targeted, but it does not typically buy the same kind of teachers, curriculum, level of instruction, level of peer group academic support and positive competition, and stability of enrollment of classmates and of faculties that are usually found in white and stably diverse schools.’’
The report comes close to suggesting what should be obvious—for so long as we continue to imprison poor and minority children in racially and economically isolated schools, the problems of urban education will not be cured, no matter how much money is spent trying to solve them:
‘’Such double segregation by race and poverty is systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities and outcomes. Research has shown for a half century that children learn more when they are in schools with better prepared classmates and excellent, experienced teachers, schools with strong well-taught curriculum, stability and high graduation and college going rates. Concentrated poverty schools, which are usually minority schools, tend to have a high turnover of students and teachers, less experienced teachers, much less prepared classmates, and a more limited curriculum often taught at much lower levels because of the weak previous education of most students. They have much higher dropout rates and few students prepared for success in college. The academic climate tends to be very different. The neighborhood the school serves is likely to have far fewer resources for the positive and educational out-of-school and summer experiences that enrich the learning of middle class students and neighborhoods. Students in segregated impoverished areas tend to experience serious summer learning loss.”
The apartheid schools are only the worst examples cited in the report, entitled “New Jersey’s Dysfunctional State Education System: Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Schools as an Important Cause.” It was written by Rutgers law professor Paul Tractenberg; Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, and Greg Flaxman, a researcher for Orfield. Orfield’s group is expected to release a comprehensive statistical report on racial segregation when the IELP study is released next week.
The report also notes that many more black and Latino students attend “intensely segregated” schools that have less than 10 percent non-minority enrollment. In fact, nearly 50 percent of all black students in New Jersey attend schools that have 90 percent or more minority enrollments.
The study adds, ‘’Although New Jersey is a rich, largely suburban state with an educated population, with growing diversity, and a tradition of strong public schools, its black students face far more extreme school segregation than black students in the South, the region where segregation was long mandated by state law and state constitutions.’’
New Jersey’s schools are more racially isolated than those in Mississippi and Alabama.
Segregation by race is illegal in New Jersey. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the courts looked at racial disparities in places like Plainfield, Union, New Brunswick, Morristown, Englewood and other communities. But, just about the same time that attention was paid to school funding changes, the urgency to integrate the public schools vanished. Attention shifted from racial integration to equity in school funding.
“New Jersey’s uniquely strong state law regarding racial balance in the schools has not been seriously implemented for the past 40 years,’’ the report states.
All three branches of state government sold out the cause of racial integration in the public schools—and it doesn’t look like any of them will pick up the cause again.
The report provides the no-brainer example of Essex County, a small, compact geographical area that contains some of the most rigidly segregated schools.
“By many measures, Essex County is the most intensely segregated of New Jersey’s 21 counties. As indicated, it has almost half of all the apartheid schools in the state; and it has more districts with 100% intensely segregated schools than any other county and 25% of all such districts in the state.
“Essex County is compact (third smallest of all the counties in area at 126 square miles) and populous (third largest of all the counties at 783,969). Its 21 school districts include the largest in New Jersey (Newark with 33, 393 students) and one of the smallest (Essex Fells with 242 students). Those 21 districts break down into three distinct categories:
- “Those four districts whose schools are all (East Orange, Irvington and Orange) or overwhelmingly (Newark, 84.1%) intensely segregated and whose poverty levels are between 60.3 and 86.4%;
- “Those 12 districts without a single school that is intensely segregated in terms of minority student enrollment, but where the district enrollment shows intense or nearly intense reverse ‘segregation’ (eight have 90% or more white and Asian enrollment, the others have 85.4%, 88.4%, 89.1% and 89.8%) and whose poverty levels, with one exception, are miniscule (five have 0.0%, six range from 0.6 to 3.1%, and one has a rate of 9.2% still substantially less than one-third the state average); and
- “Those five districts that are more diverse (three have no intensely segregated schools and the other two have one each) with the white population ranging from 19.2% to 51.1%.’’
If Essex County were a consolidated school district—in the way, for example, that Maryland structures its education–the problem could disappear overnight. But that, of course, would require districts like Millburn to open their schools to far more black and Latino students than they have now. The report notes that the court-ordered consolidation of Morristown and Morris Township schools has been a great success.
School district consolidation is one recommendation cited in the report for beginning the long journey toward integrated education. Magnet schools are another. Such policies carry political risks, of course, but the results might well be worth it.
“ Obviously, the situation could be improved dramatically if black and Latino students currently in apartheid and other intensely segregated schools got access to more diverse and better schools and were treated fairly there. What good policy could do, where feasible, would be to give a better opportunity to as many as possible of students confined in schools where they have very limited chances and a high probability of failure.’’
It depends, of course, on the will of the people of New Jersey—and the leadership its political leaders provide.
The future, sadly, does not look promising.