Impact of NCLB waiver on poor schools challenged

President Obama and Arne Duncan talk about NCLB waivers last Feb. 9. (YURI GRIPAS/Reuters)

Below is a letter sent today to Education Secretary Arne Duncan from a coalition of organizations, researchers, activists and government officials who are questioning the racial and economic impacts of the No Child Left Behind waiver granted to New Jersey.

 The letter says that the “accountability” system put in place by the state’s Education Department as a result of the waiver rewards schools that serve majority white students while is more punitive toward school districts serving low-income students of color.

 Duncan’s department began handing out waivers that would exempt states from the most onerous mandates of No Child Left Behind if those states agreed to reforms that the Obama administration supported. Critics said the waivers required accountability systems that actually extended NCLB’s reliance on high-stakes standardized tests to evaluate students and teachers.

Here’s the letter:

October 15, 2012

 

Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202

 

 

Dear Secretary Duncan,

 

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the negative impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver on New Jersey’s most vulnerable children. 

 

We understand that the waivers were an effort to return more control to the states to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.  Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, it is quite clear that the NCLB waiver is being used to apply measures that are more damaging than NCLB would have been, particularly to low-income Black and Latino children. 

 

Below, we detail our most pressing concerns with the program the State is implementing under the waiver:  1) introduction of a punitive accountability system that disproportionately impacts school districts populated by low-income children of color while rewarding selective schools and those populated by wealthier, majority white students; and 2) a process of State intervention that excludes low-income communities of color from substantive input in the planning or implementation of the proposed interventions.

 

To replace the NCLB framework, the State has adopted a new classification system that will reinforce racial and economic segregation and inequity in New Jersey’s public schools.  The classification system uses state standardized tests, graduation rates, and gaps in achievement, to target a group of 75 “Priority” schools and 183 “Focus” schools for dramatic State-mandated intervention, including possible closings and conversions to charter schools.  These Priority and Focus Schools serve overwhelmingly Black and Latino, very poor communities, and educate many students who do not speak English as a first language.  The Priority schools are concentrated in some of the most distressed communities in the state and have a staggering 24% student mobility rate (please see Attachment A).

 

In contrast, the State has classified a group of 122 schools as “Reward” schools, based on high achievement or high levels of growth on state tests.  These schools, which are targeted to receive financial bonuses, are located in the highest wealth districts in the state, serve a small percentage of Black and Latino students, have low poverty rates, few English language learners, and little student mobility.  Many of these schools are magnet high schools and vocational schools, with highly selective admissions. 

 

The blatant economic and racial inequity built into this classification system harks back to the days when such segregation and inequity were policy objectives for our State.

 

To accompany the new school classification system, the NJDOE is creating an infrastructure of 5 to 7 Regional Achievement Centers (RACs).  The RACs, which are being partially funded by grants from private foundations, will have authority to take over the management of Priority and Focus schools, completely bypassing duly elected or appointed local school boards and district administrations. 

The NJDOE is giving the targeted schools two years to reach arbitrary new achievement levels or face sanctions.  It is highly improbable that the targeted schools will achieve the increased standards that the State is requiring, particularly as the State is simultaneously imposing severe funding cuts on these same school districts.  Should they fail to achieve the increased standards, these schools will be subject to closure or the imposition of private management, not only without substantial community input, but in direct opposition to the wishes of the primarily low-income Black and Latino host communities.

 

In fact, this lack of participation or engagement of the host communities is evident in all aspects of the NJDOE’s implementation of the waiver proposal, underscoring NJDOE Commissioner Cerf’s expressed belief that fixing schools “isn’t about consensus and collaboration.”  Not only have those residents whose children attend the targeted schools been left out of the planning and decision-making process, but so have the local boards of education, and the district administrations.  Moreover NJ’s entire waiver plan was adopted with minimal opportunity for public input, no legislative review and without the required regulatory rule-making process mandated by NJ’s Administrative Procedure Act.

 

The potential end result of NJDOE’s implementation of the waiver, with its lack of transparency, its punitive attack on high-poverty school districts, and its insidious disenfranchisement of communities of color, is the undermining and possible destruction of urban public education, including the systematic dismantling of any semblance of democratic governance.    

 

We also want to highlight the threat posed by the recent granting of an additional Title I waiver to the NJDOE, which relaxes requirements that federal Title I funding be used for its prescribed purpose of addressing the negative effects of poverty on academic performance.   Governor Christie has proposed redirecting some Title I funds among schools without regard to the degree of poverty, an explicit departure from federal Title I requirements.  This diversion of funding flies in the face of the Title I program’s objectives and would further hinder our ability to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students.   

 

We ask that the US Department of Education immediately suspend its  No Child Left Behind and Title I waiver provisions in New Jersey until there is a thorough review of the State’s implementation scheme, especially as it pertains to disparate racial and economic impact and lack of community input. 

 

Time is of the essence. The RACs are due to come on-line this fall and the clock has begun ticking for targeted schools in low-income communities of color. 

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Reverend Toby Sanders, President, Trenton Board of Education

Dr. Jonathan Hodges, Member and former President, Paterson Board of Education

Rosie Grant, Program Director, Paterson Education Fund                                             

Julia Sass Rubin, Spokesperson, Save Our Schools NJ and Associate Professor of Policy, Rutgers

Frank Argote-Freyre, President, Latino Action Network

William Colon, President, The Latino Institute

Laverne Harvey, President, Camden Education Association

David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center

Deborah Sagner, Sagner Family Foundation

Junius Williams, Director, Abbott Leadership Institute

Kathleen Witcher, President, Irvington NAACP

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director, New Jersey Citizen Action

Katie Strom, a Founding Member of NJ Teacher Activists Group (NJ TAG)

Terry Moore, Save Our Schools March, NJ Information Coordinator

Donna M. Chiera, President, American Federation of Teachers NJ

Sharon Smith, Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE)

Michelle Fine, Professor of Psychology, City University of New York

Ras Baraka, Newark Southward Councilman

Rev. Dr. Ken J. Gordon Jr., President, Southern Burlington County NAACP and Willingboro Councilman

Leah Owens, Chairperson, Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus

Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Chairperson, Newark Public Schools Advisory Board

Arnold Williams, Founder and Chairperson, League of Black and Latino Voters

Jose Delgado, Community Activist and former Camden BOE member

Teresa Vivar, Executive Director, LAZOS America Unida

Trina Scordo, Executive Director, New Jersey Communities United

Gordon MacInnes, Former Assistant Commissioner for Abbott Implementation and NJ State Senator

Donna Jackson, President and Founder, United Parent Network

Naomi Johnson-Lafleur, President, Trenton Education Association

Marcia Marley, President, BlueWaveNJ

Irene Sterling, President, Paterson Education Fund

Elease Evans, Chairwoman, New Jersey Black Issues Convention

Geraldine Carroll, President, Great Schools of New Jersey

Charles Wowkanech, President, New Jersey State AFL-CIO

Mary G. Bennett, Retired High School Principal, Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools

Reverend Darrell L. Armstrong, Founder, Shiloh CDC, Trenton

Paul Tractenberg, Professor of Law, Rutgers & Co-Director, Institute on Education Law and Policy

Wilhelmina Holder, President, and Laura Baker, Board Member, Newark Secondary Parents Council

Willie Rowe, Vice Chair, Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools

Edward Barocas, Acting Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey

Kevin Walsh, Associate Director, Fair Share Housing Center

Dierdre Glenn Paul, President, African American Caucus of Montclair State University

Dr. Tamara Spencer, Literacy Graduate Program Coordinator, ECELE, Montclair State University

Sterling Waterman, Vice President, Jersey City Board of Education

Debra Jennings, Executive Co-Director, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network

James E. Harris, President, New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP

 

 

cc:           President Barack Obama             

Governor Chris Christie

The New Jersey Congressional Delegation

The New Jersey State Legislative Delegation

Commissioner Chris Cerf, New Jersey Department of Education

Arcelio Aponte, President, New Jersey State Board of Education

 

 Attachment A

 

 

Demographic Composition of New Jersey’s Priority, Focus and Reward Schools

Classification

Number of Schools

Black & Latino Students

Free & Reduced

Lunch Students

English Language Learners

Student Mobility Rate

Priority

75

97%

81%

7%

24%

Focus

183

72%

63%

10%

15%

Reward

112

20%

15%

2%

5%

Source:  Education Law Center

 

 

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