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Fine Print: Reports Detail Racial Segregation in New Jersey Public Schools

Rutgers-Newark and UCLA studies cite stark disparities and even ‘apartheid’ in education system

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Provocative titles: “New Jersey's Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Urban Schools: Powerful Evidence of an Inefficient and Unconstitutional State Education System” and “A Status Quo of Segregation: Racial and Economic Imbalance in New Jersey Schools, 1989-2010”

The authors: The reports were released jointly on Friday by the Institute on Law and Policy at Rutgers-Newark and the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles. The first report was written by Paul Tractenberg of Rutgers and Gary Orfield and Greg Flaxman of UCLA. Flaxman was lead author of the second report.

What they are: The studies update and detail the long-running picture of race in New Jersey schools, which continues to have some of the most segregated schools in the nation. The Civil Rights Project report tracks data since 1989 to show little change, even as the general population has grown more diverse. The Rutgers report details how the most segregated schools are in the urban centers, sometimes within a stone’s throw of suburban schools where there are few black or Hispanic students. Both reports make specific recommendations, including a new focus on desegregation models that succeed.

What it means: The reports seek to bring renewed public attention to New Jersey’s long history of segregated education, a history driven in part by its homogeneous housing patterns but possibly caused other factors as well. UCLA’s Civil Rights Project has been a leader on the issue, releasing such data about New Jersey and other states every few years. All generally show little progress has been made as we pass the half-century mark of the Brown v. Board of Education rulings and the peak of the civil-rights movement.

Stark numbers: The new reports present the New Jersey data in a number of ways, but it can be summed up in the finding that in the 2010-11 school year, almost half of black and Hispanic students were in schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students were white, and many were in schools where there was virtually no white students.

What’s different this time: The data hasn’t much changed over previous years, even as the U.S. Supreme Court has knocked down desegregation laws. However, New Jersey’s own laws and policies could be in peril, as well. The state Department of Education has scaled back its regulations related to monitoring desegregation efforts in schools and Gov. Chris Christie has been openly critical of Mount Laurel affordable-housing rules.

Housing matters, but …: The Civil Rights Project documents that while housing and population trends clearly play a part in the segregation of schools, New Jersey schools have remained segregated even as the general population has grown more diverse.

Like South Africa? The reports go for the dramatic, describing New Jersey’s most severely segregated schools – a total of 191 -- as “apartheid schools,” defined as having less than 1 percent of students who are white and where at least 79 percent of students are low-income.

The recommendations: The reports make a number of recommendation that have been put forward before, with varying success, while proposing some new measures as well. For example, they recommend new attention to magnet and other regionalized schools that would draw students across local borders. Connecticut is held up as a model, with its recently created magnet schools.

Charters and choice: The report’s newer recommendations relate to New Jersey’s existing charter school and inter-district choice programs, imploring the state to institute requirements on schools to weigh racial and income diversity in enrolling students.

Regionalization for desegregation: The reports also suggest the old idea of regionalizing schools by county or other large districts, with the intent of helping diversify schools as well as provide cost efficiencies.

The prospects: The political prospects for any of these changes are daunting. Regionalization has been a difficult concept in this state, even without race overtly on the table. New requirements for charter schools aren’t out of the question, but even those would be hard-fought, too. And while magnet schools have proven successful in some communities in providing some diversity, they have also proven to be expensive.

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