Thursday, January 18, 2007

Separate And Unequal In New Jersey?

Some 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools, community leaders in Newark, New Jersey are saying that segregation still exists:
Children in New Jersey schools are racially isolated, a harmful state of affairs that deserves action, according to educators, advocates, lawyers and African-American community leaders who discussed the issue during a symposium Wednesday at Essex County College.

"The key is, What are we going to do about it?" asked moderator Bob Pickett, a former counselor to Gov. Jim Florio. "Nothing will happen if we simply stand by."

Better teachers, improving pay, expanding charter schools and considering regional districts were among the partial remedies explored during wide-ranging discussions at the event, which was organized by Excellent Education for Everyone, or E3, a school-choice advocacy group based in Newark and Camden.

The state constitution has prohibited public-school segregation since 1947, but it persists because of residential segregation and a patchwork of 617 small school districts. A 2001 study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project ranked New Jersey's schools the fourth most-segregated in the United States. In Passaic's public schools, white children numbered 208 out of 12,321 students during the 2005-06 school year. In Franklin Lakes that year, 52 out of 1,741 students were black or Latino.

"This state has promised to do what's necessary to reform public schools, and brothers and sisters, it simply has not happened," said the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey.

Panelists questioned why parents have not protested widely after years of low test scores at schools with large numbers of minority students. Although the state's graduation rate of 84.5 percent is the nation's highest, rates at urban high schools are often far below that. At Eastside High School in Paterson, the rate is about 60 percent.

"Where is the rage?" asked Peter Denton, who co-founded E3 in 1999 with Cory Booker, who now is the mayor of Newark. Dropouts are "sentenced to jail, drug addiction centers, at best low-wage jobs, or death -- because we cannot educate them."

Teacher quality is one key to student achievement, and it is often overlooked, said Heather Peske of the Education Trust, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

"What we now know is that student demographics matter much less than the quality of the teacher that stands in front of the class," she said, noting that students at high-poverty schools are twice as likely to have an inexperienced teachers compared with other schools.
Peske's quote, "What we now know is that student demographics matter much less than the quality of the teacher that stands in front of the class," says it so well.
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