Will NJEA Cry Segregation When They See Niche Rankings of Our State’s Top Schools? I Doubt It, But They Should.

Niche, the platform that rates schools across the country, just announced the “top five public high schools in New Jersey.” They are:Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, High Technology High School in Lincroft, Biotechnology High School in Freehold, Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science in Manahawkin, and Union County Magnet School in Scotch Plains.

What do these five high schools have in common?

They are magnet schools. Each has strict admissions criteria, increase segregation, “cream off” top students from other non-magnet public schools, “siphon” money from districts, and increase segregation.

Yet they’re held up by charter school foes like NJEA as exemplars of excellence. Education Law Center, which refuses to represent public charter school students in Abbott districts and is regularly in court trying to stymie charter school growth by arguing that they’re segregative, is silent on New Jersey’s magnet schools.

Let’s take a quick look at one. Of current students at Bergen county Academies, in Niche’s #1 spot, only 6.6% are economically-disadvantaged, 0% are English Language Learners, and 1% are eligible for special education services. Two percent are Black and 7 percent are Hispanic; everyone else is white or Asian. Prospective students apply in 8th grade by taking two standardized tests, writing essays, getting references from math, science, and English teachers, interviewing with the admissions committee, and submitting transcripts from middle school. 

The acceptance rate is about 15 percent. You can buy a book called “The Get Ready for the Bergen Academies Admission Test,” now in paperback.

Bergen Academies is located in Hackensack, right near Hackensack High School. There, 49% of students are economically-disadvantaged, 9.4% are English Language Learners, and 15% are eligible for special education. Among current students, 56% are Hispanic, 23% are Black, and 20% are white and Asian.

At Bergen Academies, cost per student is $28,345. Maybe that’s because art history students are offered opportunities to “travel to Florence and Rome for a week of exploring the most iconic museums and cultural sights of central Italy with their Art History teachers” and  International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program students go to London to “visit Oxford University and tour the UK Parliament.” Back on campus, science students “conduct hands-on lab experiments to synthesize, manipulate, analyze and visualize interesting nanoscale structures with the help of the state of the art equipment for interdisciplinary nanotechnology applications.”

The cost per pupil at Hackensack High School is $15,746. The students there don’t go to Europe and don’t have access to nanotechnology.

I could go through the other 4 schools on Niche’s list but the results are the same: Admissions are based on high test scores and accolades from teachers; demographics are heavily skewed white, Asian, and wealthy; students lucky enough to get in have opportunities unavailable to traditional public school students.

Yet there’s no outcry about inequity or privilege or segregation. Curious, isn’t it?

In 2016, Sean Spiller, current Veep of NJEA and a resident of Montclair, testified to the State Board of Education that he was opposed to the opening of a dual-language charter school in his leafy suburb because it will take “state funding from the district…and further segregate the student population.” Last year Education Law Center was in court challenging the approved expansion of seven charter schools in Newark because they cause a “segregative effect,” enrolling more than their share of Black students. 

NJEA and its legal arm Education Law Center virulently oppose charter schools yet don’t aim their vitriol at magnets. Yet the alleged transgressions are the same, right?  Magnets take state funding from traditional districts and increase segregation. But here’s the rub: Magnet school teachers are all teacher union members, while charter school staff get to vote on whether they want to unionize. 

NJEA and ELC don’t care about the well-being of students.They care about power and market share. Their beef is a political one, not an educational one.

I’m reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics in The Devil’s Dictionary: “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

Congratulations to the magnet schools that made the Niche list. And I’ll throw confetti if someone notices the hypocrisy embedded in arguments against public school choice.

What do you think?

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