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Institute on Education Law and Policy Report Details Enduring Racial Isolation in New Jersey Public Schools

October 11, 2013 – 

The Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University–Newark (IELP), whose co-director is Rutgers School of Law–Newark Professor Paul Tractenberg, and the Civil Rights Project at UCLA (CRP) today jointly released two reports which document the continuing growth of a racial and socioeconomic divide in New Jersey public education. Tractenberg is lead author of the IELP study. 

The studies are products of close collaboration between the two research centers and are interrelated, but each develops a distinctive set of issues. While the IELP study shows that extreme isolation of poor students of color is concentrated in mostly urban areas, the CRP report focuses on the growing segregation of New Jersey schools from 1989-2010. 

The IELP report, “New Jersey’s Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Urban Schools: Powerful Evidence of an Inefficient and Unconstitutional State Education System,” finds that a disproportionate number of New Jersey’s black and Latino students are isolated in urban school districts that enroll virtually no white students but have a high concentration of poor children. These urban districts are often located in close proximity to overwhelmingly white suburban school districts with virtually no poor students. The study was co-authored by UCLA professor and CRP co-director Gary Orfield and the CRP study’s lead author Greg Flaxman.

In the CRP report, “A Status Quo of Integration: Racial and Economic Imbalance in New Jersey Schools, 1989-2010,” Tractenberg provides a legal analysis and history of New Jersey school segregation. He highlights proactive litigation related to school and residential desegregation, and documents the lack of implementation and enforcement that have allowed segregated schools to persist. Evidence of segregation’s educational harms, such as higher dropout rates and less preparation for college, is included in the report. 

“These reports zero in on the second of New Jersey’s constitutional mandates regarding the public schools—that the schools have to be racially balanced whenever that is feasible,” said Tractenberg. “The state has defaulted in its responsibility to enforce that constitutional requirement, and, in the process, diminished educational achievement for poor minority students isolated in urban schools, and deprived them and their white student peers of opportunities to get to know and work with one another. Equally important, it undermines the economic viability of New Jersey as it transitions to a majority-minority state in the near future.”   

Both reports include several recommendations for alleviating racial imbalance in the state’s schools:

  • Prioritizing the use of regional magnet schools with goals for ensuring student diversity;
  • The adoption of explicit racial and socioeconomic diversity goals and procedures for all existing state-supported choice programs, such as charter schools and New Jersey’s public school interdistrict choice program;
  • A commitment not to build or subsidize low-income housing in areas where neighborhoods and schools already are intensely segregated;
  • A requirement that all existing and new state and local legislation, regulations, policies and practices be screened to ensure that they promote, rather than impede, racial and socioeconomic diversity of communities and their schools; and
  • The development of a serious and long over-due state policy to consolidate school districts for racial and socioeconomic reasons, as well as economic efficiency, and, to consider adopting the county school district model in place in many states.

The IELP report concludes: “Figuring out how to offer a real path to lifetime opportunities for students facing apartheid conditions is a mark of a fair and decent society, as well as a society that is pragmatic about advancing its own collective self-interest.”