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NJ Advocates To Secretary Duncan: NJ’s NCLB Waiver Will Harm Schools Serving Our Neediest Children

Trenton, NJ –  Dozens of New Jersey parent advocacy groups, researchers, civil rights and social justice organizations, organized labor, community activists and elected officialstoday urged Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to examine the disparate racial and economic impacts of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver granted to the state by the U.S. Education Department last spring. 

The request came in the form of a letter to Secretary Duncan outlining the signers’ concerns with the punitive accountability system put in place by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) as a result of the waiver. The new accountability system disproportionately impacts school districts serving low-income children of color, while rewarding selective schools and those serving wealthier, majority white students. The letter emphasizes that low-income communities of color were denied substantive input in the planning and implementation of the proposed interventions.

 “Not only have those residents whose children attend the targeted schools been left out of the planning and decision-making process, but so have local boards of education and district administrations,” said Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, a founder of Save Our Schools NJ, a statewide grassroots parents’ organization.  “New Jersey's entire waiver plan was adopted with minimal opportunity for public input, no legislative review and without the required regulatory rule-making process mandated by NJ's Administrative Procedure Act. Secretary Duncan needs to be made aware of this.”

Under the NCLB waiver, the administration of Governor Chris Christie has identified a target group of 75 “Priority” schools and 183 “Focus” schools for dramatic State-mandated intervention, including possible closings and conversions to charter schools.

NJ was also recently granted a Title I waiver, which relaxes requirements that federal Title I funding be used for its prescribed purpose of addressing the negative effects of poverty on academic performance. Governor Christie’s administration has proposed redirecting some Title I funds to schools without regard to the degree of student poverty, an explicit departure from federal Title I requirements.

The organizations that signed the letter call on the U.S. Education Department to “immediately suspend its No Child Left Behind and Title I waiver provisions in New Jersey until there is a thorough review of the State’s implementation scheme, especially as it pertains to disparate racial and economic impact and lack of community input.”

“We understand that the waivers were an effort to free states from the impossible targets set by NCLB,” said Rosie Grant, Program Director at the Paterson Education Fund. “Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, it is clear that the NCLB waiver is being used by the NJDOE to apply measures that are much more damaging than NCLB would have been, particularly for low-income Black and Latino children.”