Princeton v. State Smack-Down

We don’t want Princeton to be just adequate — we don’t want to revert to a mean that incorporates everyone in the state. We want to have local control.

Alan Hegedus
President, Board of Education, Princeton Regional School District

The Princeton Board of Education meeting last month, as recounted in a weekly Mercer County paper, is a harbinger of the inevitable revolt of wealthy districts against the DOE’s recent initiatives to standardize the curriculum and finances of New Jersey’s school system. Princeton’s Superintendent, Judy Wilson, and the Board’s President, Alan Hegedus, have requested a meeting with state senators to protest new legislation which, they claim, will send high-performing districts on a “forced march to mediocrity” driven by a “vise out of Trenton.”

Well, yeah. Princeton’s spokespeople have reason to interpret the recent slew of legislation as an assault on their rigorous curriculum, high cost per pupil, and countless extras. Let’s look at what they’re fighting for: ethnic homogeneity (91% of their kids are white or Asian), small class size (11.4 kids a class in Princeton High School), high test scores (100% of their non-special ed kids pass the HSPA, SAT’s are well above average), challenging curricula (for example, they offer 28 AP courses), low drop-out rate (0.6%), and, finally, tax levies that allow them to spend $16,809 per pupil (the State average is $13,701). (For DOE data, see here and here.)

No wonder they’re angry.

And they’re not alone. While the low-performing, poor, ethnically diverse districts in New Jersey see a shot at more opportunity for their kids through consolidation and standardization, wealthy districts like Princeton see ill-conceived, politically-correct government interference. This “forced march to mediocrity” is code for “mixing our kids in with neighboring Trenton” and the “vise out of Trenton” is the DOE regulations that mandate efficiency and accountability, including a desired cost per pupil which, to no one’s surprise, is considerably less than Princeton spends.

Who’s right? Doesn’t a community like Princeton, largely inhabited by upper-class families with high academic aspirations for their kids, have the freedom to create a school district that reflects those values, regardless of the cost? On the other hand, don’t parents in Trenton or even other (middle class) Mercer County districts like Ewing or East Windsor have the right to demand equitable opportunities and extras for their children?

There’s a sense in which the threat to prelapsarian Princeton, whether real or imagined, harkens toward a form of class warfare, pitting our rich communities against our poor communities. The resentment clearly articulated at the Princeton School Board meeting, doesn’t bode well for New Jersey’s sloppy march to provide decent education for kids, even if they live in Trenton.

What do you think?

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