2012 Segregation in Public Schools – NJ

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, once again I apologize. Dairy Queen likes to suck the life out of their workers (only a couple more weeks though!). Anyway, I have been wanting to do a post of this sort for quite a while, and finally I have some down time to efficiently write about it.

At the core of where my interest and passion for educational equity exist, is the realization of the differences of opportunities offered at different schools due to locations. In addition, the realization that segregation in our school system still exists played a large part of “igniting my fire” too (See related articles: Problem with segregation in schools today,The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools, American schools more segregated today than when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed). We are made to believe that every student has an “equal opportunity” to excel, that becoming successful is a result of hard work, and that those who end up “poor,” unemployed, or homeless, just didn’t “work hard enough.” Sure, of course hard work is essential in anyone’s success. Sure, if you’re a slacker you’re inevitably going to fall behind. Sure, everyone hears stories of “rags to riches” making it seem that anything is possible if you “just put your mind to it.”

Of course, I know instances in which determination and ambition make such beliefs very true. But what happens when that hard work counts for nothing? Or that due to uncontrollable circumstances (the location you are born into, the family you are born into, etc.) you are destined to follow the path to failure.

What I’m referring to are students in low-income, high-poverty areas. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a quality education essential to one’s life? I’m not saying everyone “needs” a high school diploma, or a college degree to be well-off, but often times that is where one gains a lot of basic and advanced skills. In “quality” schools, you will usually find a safe and healthy environment (working heater, air-condition, working bathrooms, no fear of shootings\robberies, etc.), experienced and well-trained teachers, guidance counselors\teachers who believe in their students’ futures, working computers with internet connection, variety of courses to engage in wide-ranges of students’ interests, college-readiness courses, extra-curricular activities, and textbooks for all students. Speaking from my own high school experience, I find myself extremely lucky to have all the opportunities I had (of course I did not realize how significantly lucky I was until I became aware of the disparities other schools face). As I’m sure many of you know, having teacher recommendations, a knowledgeable guidance counselor, being a part of extra-curricular activities, having good writing skills, knowing how to fill out a college application\gain assistance, AP\Honors courses are critical to getting accepted to colleges and universities.

Now what about those in the higher-poverty schools? How can our Nation claim itself to provide “equal opportunity” when we are still allowing segregation to flourish. How is it that one school has a graduation rate of over 93%, while another just 15-20 minutes away has only about 64% of their students graduating?

Our education “reformers,” and politicians enjoy putting the blame on teachers, rather than seriously tackling one of the main reasons for the achievement gap. Yes, I do know that there are teachers out there who have negative expectations of their students that is extremely damaging. But I cannot help see that self-perpetuating cycle. We allow these schools to suffer in low-income circumstances. I am no economist, but from what I’ve learned (please correct me if I’m wrong), schools are funded by taxes. When you have a high-poverty area, you’re invitably going to get a low-quality school. Now how are these students born in a high-poverty family and area, forced to attend a high-poverty school, ever going to get out of this high-poverty circumstance? Their only way out is either luck, or what they are supposed to be provided under law, a quality education that provides them opportunity. Of course there are various alternatives than attending a college or a university, but I think students should still at least have the chance to know that that opportunity exists for them. From personally mentoring students in a high-poverty school, many of them never even thought college was a choice for them. This is just one school, now imagine this epidemic occurring throughout the thousands of high-poverty schools in the U.S.. There are so many ignorant views and opinions I’ve heard that it makes me so sick sometimes: “It’s because they’re Mexican,” “It’s because they’re stupid,” “Maybe if they tried,” “Why fund their schools when they’re going to end up being drug-addicts or prisoners anyway?” Yes, these are all comments I’ve heard from people themselves, or students telling me they’ve been told this. Even scarier than blaming the teachers, people are putting the blame on the students.

I’m sorry, but I just do not see this so called “equality” in our education system. There is some type of segregation still very well alive. The terms at-risk or high-poverty should not even be terms allowed to be associated with the term “school.” But unfortunately, it has been for a very long time, and I’m wondering how many more decades it will take to see if they will ever be distanced from one another.

Now, let’s look at some statistics.

I thought it would be interesting to research my hometown area, which is Atlantic County in Southern New Jersey. Also, to minimize conflicting variables and confusion, I chose to stick to public high schools.

Here’s a map of the area:

As you can tell, the schools are in pretty short distance from one another. The farthest distance from the schools is between Atlantic City High School and Hammonton High School. Which according to GoogleMaps is 31.2 miles, approximately 35 minutes from each other.

For argument sake, I’m going to stick the the four schools that are in that cluster towards the bottom. My high school, Egg Harbor Twp, along with Mainland, Pleasantville, and Atlantic City.

I have been at every school (due to sports) except for Pleasantville High School.

To begin, I’ll start with my old high school.

As I mentioned, I was very lucky to attend EHTHS. I had a fantastic counselor who I grew close to after my freshmen year. I had the opportunity to participate in field hockey, track, and crew, slong with clubs such as Interact Club, National Honor Society,and Student Council. Tutoring, accessible internet, working bathrooms, a large cafeteria, lockers, seats for students, heat in the winter and air in warmer seasons, pens, pencils, paper, and pencil sharpeners were all accessible. Rarely did we worry about gun shootings (well senior year we had a couple “bomb scares” but nothing that would keep us away from attending school). We had a variety of courses offered, Calligraphy, Workplace Readiness (now I believe it’s called High School 101), and a variety of AP\Honors courses. Growing up, I just assumed every school was just like mine. When I visited other schools I always thought, “Why don’t we have this?” It was not until my Intro to Edu class I realized something wasn’t right.

I used PublicSchoolReview.com to find information on the student populations, and the New Jersey Department of Education website for statistics of graduation rates and more in depth information of the schools.

Egg Harbor Twp High School

High School

Mainland Regional High School

Atlantic City High School

Pleasantville High School

Now here’s a different look at the map:

Atlantic County District Public High Schools – Students by Ethnicity

Only 2 out of the 8 schools do not have a population where the majority of students are white. Atlantic City High School is the only school where no ethnicity is the majority.

So what does this mean, if anything at all?

Well let’s take a look at the map with graduation rates with each schools:

Atlantic County District Public High Schools – Graduation Rates

Now with drop out rates:

Atlantic County District Public High Schools – Dropout Rates

According to NJ’s Department of Education, 5.3% of Pleasantville dropouts were economically disadvantaged, 3.3% were Black\African American,1.5% were Hispanic, and 0.8% were white. From Atlantic City High School, 3.5% of drop outs were economically disadvantaged, 2.7% were Black\African American, 1.8% were Hispanic, and .6% were white.

Pleasantville High School Dropout Rates

Atlantic City High School Dropout Rates

Now, what about those who think, it’s their ethnicity. It’s them not the school. Back to the four main schools I wanted to focus on, let’s look at some more statistics.

Faculty Attendance Rates

    • Egg Harbor Twp High School: 97.1%
    • Mainland High School: 97.6%
    • Atlantic City High School: 96.4%
    • Pleasantville High School: 94.8%

AP Courses Offered

Egg Harbor Twp (Source)

    1. Computer Science in Java I
    2. English III: Language & Composition
    3. English IV: Literature and Composition
    4. Calculus
    5. Calculus II
    6. Statistics
    7. Biology
    8. Chemistry
    9. Environmental Science
    10. Physics A
    11. Physics B
    12. Macroeconomics
    13. Microeconomics
    14. World History
    15. U.S. History
    16. Art History
    17. European History
    18. Psychology
    19. U.S. Government and Politics
    20. Art: Studio Art
    21. Music Theory
    22. French
    23. German
    24. Latin
    25. Spanish
    26. Spanish Lit

Mainland Regional HS – (Source)

    1. Studio Art
    2. Computer Science
    3. Economics
    4. US History
    5. World History
    6. Psychology
    7. European History
    8. US Government American Politics
    9. Human Geography
    10. English Language Composition III
    11. English Literature IV
    12. Calculus AB
    13. Calculus BC
    14. Statistics
    15. Music Theory (Offered Alternating Years)
    16. Chemistry
    17. Physics B
    18. Physics C
    19. Environmental Science
    20. Biology
    21. Spanish

Atlantic City HS – (Source)

    1. English IV
    2. Language and Composition
    3. French
    4. Chemistry
    5. Environmental Science
    6. Physics C
    7. Statistics
    8. US Government and Politics
    9. World History
    10. US History
    11. Studio Art

Pleasantville (Source)

    1. English IV
    2. French
    3. Spanish
    4. Calculus
    5. US History
    6. Studio Art
    7. Art History

Additional sources: Oakcrest, Buena, Absegami

Why do I mention AP opportunities? By no means am I saying AP Courses are the key to success. Yet, I do believe that having higher level courses offered in schools can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons. Yes, I am aware that anyone can take the AP Exam to possibly receive college credit. Yet, it is no doubt that having a course that is designed to help you do well and receive the necessary score to receive that credit is an advantage. Other than potential college credit, it introduces you to higher level thinking (from my personal experience). Some of my colleagues may argue, but having the opportunity to take AP courses in high school prepared me for college level work. For schools such as Pleasantville, there are very limited opportunities for a large group of students to positively engage in a variety of subjects. I wonder how many students have left Pleasantville High School never realizing they had an underlying passion for subjects such as Psychology, Computer Science, or Politics. Limiting courses is equivalent to limiting reasons for students to be interested in their education, or performing well in their education. As I’m sure you know from your personal experience, (and a little tidbit I took way from Educational Psych this past semester) interest often drives motivation. Limiting opportunities for positive intersest in our most struggling schools does not seem like the correct approach on closing the achievement gap.

Gang Violence

According to NJ Gang Survey Viewer:

      • Pleasantville – Reported 8 gangs, 4-6 School Incidents related to gangs, 0 homicides
      • Atlantic City – Reported 9 gangs, 7-9 gang related school incidents, 2 homicides
      • Egg Harbor Twp – Reported 5 gangs, 4-6 gang related school incidents, 0 homicides
      • Linwood (area where Mainland Regional High School is located) 0 gangs were reported

The reason I am mentioniing gangs in my post is due to acknowledgement that students are faced with additional struggles many “reformers” and politicians rarely take into consideration. From reading “Lessons from an Urban Classroom,” various articles from my Intro to Edu class, and my personal experience with students facing these dangers, I have learned how harmful external pressures can be on the likeliness of student success. One statement that always rings through my head is, “How can you expect me to care about going to college when I don’t even know if I’m going to make it home alive today?” And this past April, when there was a shooting near the school I mentor at, myself and other mentors were terrified when our students were put on lockdown. After things were all clear and we asked our students if they were okay, one replied calm as could be, “It’s not a big deal. Miss, we hear gun shots everyday. I hear them in my backyard.” And still, for some odd reason, people are expecting these students to excel and reach the same exceptional levels of students who have never heard a gun shot in their lives.

On that note, I will close on what I was trying to get across with this article. Ultimately, I am curious about where the justice promised by the Brown vs. Board of Education case went.

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren read the decision of the unanimous Court:

“We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race…deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy for public education, and required the desegregation of schools across America. [Source]

Over 50 years later, there are still signs of segregation. Segregation in which the court ruled deprived children of equal educational opportunities. Of course Atlantic County is only one county out of thousands across the U.S., so of course this is by no means a statement definite of all counties. Here is another look of an area around the school I mentor at (New Brunswick High School)

As conveyed in the map, you can see schools with a white majority population have higher graduation rates (Metuchen – 95.21% and South Plainfield – 93.29%), while the school where white is the minority has the lowest graduation rate (New Brunswick High – 58.76%).

After doing this analysis, I’m extremely curious how this runs throughout the entire state of New Jersey. I’m going to try to do an analysis of this sort of each county once a week. With that being said, I hope this has raised some type of interest and\or awareness of segregation occurring in today’s education system. I wish I had some words of wisdom, or words of advice on how to battle this, but I’m not that knowledgeable in the area, yet. All I can hope is that you are aware of this issue, and maybe will pass this along with others.

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