Let’s Play a Guessing Game

There is a sector of schools in New Jersey that rigorously creams off top-performing students, provides little (if any) support for students with disabilities, doesn’t backfill (accept students to fill open spots when students leave), increases segregation, and is paid for by a combination of tax dollars and tuition payments from traditional district schools.

If you get your state education news from NJEA, Education Law Center, or Save Our Schools-NJ, then you would most  likely submit this answer: it’s charter schools! 

But you’re wrong: these schools are our beloved “magnet schools,” the school choice Teflon of New Jersey.

The Star-Ledger recently ran a series on N.J.’s magnets, instigated by U.S. News and World Report’s recent high school rankings, which ranked Monmouth County’s High Tech High School as the top high school in the nation.“The county-run high schools” — magnets are run by county vocational districts — “also dominate lists of New Jersey’s top schools,” explained journalist Kelly Heyboer. (Here’s the link to one article; the Ledger’s website is twitchy and doesn’t let me access the articles that ran last week.)

At Monmouth County’s highly-rated magnet High Technology High School, 49% of students are Asia and  49% are White. Two percent of students fall under the category of economically-disadvantaged and not a single one is classified as either an English Language Learners or special education student. At Morris County’s Academy for Math, Science, and Engineering where seventy percent of students are Asian, thirty percent are white, and two percent are economically disadvantaged, prospective students must finish Algebra 1 in 8th grade, take a test in November of their 8th grade year, interview, submit GPA’s and recommendations, and have transportation arranged privately to attend a two-week program where “students spend time in CAD, Math Analysis I, Physics 1, and Humanities classes.” The admissions rate for last year was 16.4%.

Segregated, exclusionary, and siphons tax dollars: someone alert an honest broker among the anti-charter contingent. Or at least tell Phil Murphy.

As long as we’re playing guessing games, here’s a stumper: if New Jersey’s traditional middle and upper-class suburban schools are so great, why are parents opting to transfer their kids out to non-traditional public schools?

Maybe they’re not so great.

Our recent PARCC scores revealed this inconvenient truth, which accounts for the anti-PARCC fervor as traditionalists (and many of our gubernatorial candidates, desperate for NJEA funding) struggle to defend old-school standards and assessments. But isn’t it smarter to face the truth? Aren’t our public school children — traditional, charter, and magnet — better served if the adults among them own up to vain myths and, instead, strive to prepare them all for post-high school life in colleges or careers? 

Magnet parents vote with their feet. Many would join them if they could. There’s a message there that bears listening.

What do you think?

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