Updated: October 16, 2012 | 1:05 p.m. October 16, 2012 | 12:52 p.m.
The new accountability system implemented by New Jersey’s Education Department is disproportionately damaging for districts with lower-income minority students than schools with majority white students, according to a letter sent on Monday to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The letter, signed by a coalition of educators, administrators and civil-rights groups, alleges that the No Child Left Behind waiver, which New Jersey received in February, resulted in new standards put in place by the state Education Department.
The new state system targets certain “Priority” and “Focus” districts, which are threatened with closings and conversions to charter schools if they do not meet certain achievement outcomes. The classification, the letter charges, disproportionately includes school districts that serve predominantly low-income black and Hispanic student populations and would “reinforce racial and economic segregation and inequity in New Jersey’s public schools.”
In addition, the letter says, the state standards have classified “Reward” schools that are eligible for financial bonuses, which primarily include wealthier school districts with higher white student populations.
According to an analysis by the Education Law Center, an equal-opportunity advocacy group in New Jersey that co-signed the letter, 97 percent of “Priority” schools and 72 percent of “Focus” schools are largely Hispanic and black. In comparison, just 20 percent of students at “Reward” schools have students of color.
The Obama administration began issuing waivers releasing states from core NCLB requirements after it became clear that Congress had stalled on reauthorizing the act. To be approved for the waiver, states must present their own education-reform plans, including their own accountability standards.
Since July, the administration has granted waivers to 32 states and the District of Columbia.
The coalition asks Duncan to temporarily suspend New Jersey’s waiver until the administration can review the state’s plans.