Racial Segregation In A Northern State. A Challenge To My Governor Christie

By Tommy DeSeno, Originally published on ricochet

I’m a bit moved today that an issue I’ve been hammering away at by my lonesome for a decade is finally getting some attention.

New Jersey is racially segregated.   Some of it is naturally occurring or of personal economic genesis. The birth of that kind of segregation requires no immoral act by mankind, though whether something should or can be done about it I leave for another debate.

Some of New Jersey’s racial segregation is state sponsored.  State sponsored racial segregation shouldn’t be, from both moral and economic perspectives. Something must be done about it.

New Jersey has the highest incomes in America, but Camden is the poorest city in America. The only way to have the highest incomes and the poorest city is to have a segregated poor.   Some of that segregation might have to do with the way public housing is built.   That might be a real issue, but that is not my issue today.

My issue is education, where state sponsored segregation is a certainty in New Jersey.   Brown v Board of Education may as well never have happened as far as the racially segregated City of Asbury Park is concerned. That is ironic since Asbury Park has a school named in honor of Thurgood Marshall, who was lead counsel on Brown v Board of Education.  Thurgood Marshall and its sister schools in Asbury Park, the High School in particular, are some of the most racially segregated schools in the country.

Let’s talk about how that happened.  Asbury Park is home to some of the poorest people in New Jersey, and while it is racially diverse, it is majority Black.  It’s only a little bigger than a square mile.  It is surrounded by other small towns, some of which rank as the wealthiest in New Jersey.  They are super-majority White. They are all tiny towns, too small to have their own High Schools. So for about 100 years, children in all the rich surrounding towns attended Asbury Park High School.

Asbury Park High ran well as a racially and economically diverse school.

In 1996 state action occurred.  New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education ruled that 15 miles away, another public school in very wealthy and very white Little Silver, NJ had a better music program than Asbury Park. Therefore, anyone who wanted to study music could be bused past their home school in Asbury Park and go to Little Silver, at taxpayer expense.

Suddenly, an unexplained outbreak of the desire to learn the oboe developed among the White students, who were instantly so musically gifted that they all passed the required audition and were accepted into the other public high school’s music program.

Over the past 15 years, they quietly allowed the rich surrounding towns to peel away from the Asbury Park School District to join districts geographically further away.

That took from Asbury Park it’s economic, cultural and racial diversity.  It left Asbury Park with just he lowest income students in the state, who for whatever reason you may wish to ascribe, happen to be Black.  To look at the class pictures in Asbury Park, you would think that in 1996 aliens abducted all the white kids, because they just suddenly disappear.

Some may not have a problem with this, but that’s only because I have yet to tell you about the money side.   If it is activist courts, social engineering and throwing money at poor schools as a magic elixir that stirs your emotions, behold:

New Jersey had a Supreme Court case called Abbott come down.  It stands for this proposition:  Poor school districts must be funded to the same level as the richest districts in the state. 

Thirty-two of the State’s 500+ school districts are identified as poor “Abbott Districts” and they receive billions of dollars in extra money from the State, because the Supreme Court says they have a “right” to everyone else’s money for being poor.

Asbury Park is one of those “Abbott” districts. It is one of the lowest performing school districts in the state.   Its budget?  About $90 million yearly.  It’s High School graduating class?  About 90 students. 

However, if we didn’t bus all those kids past the Asbury Park district and brought them back home where they live, Asbury Park would lose it’s “Abbott Designation” and taxpayers would save about $60 million in Abbott funding yearly.

Such an easy fix!  Now brace yourself for the ugly side of politics to learn why it isn’t done:

Most of the suburban White people will complain to high heaven about the money Asbury Park gets each year.  But ask them if they are willing to send their children back to their geographic home district, and they will say, “On second thought, why don’t you just keep that $60 million.”

The urban Blacks in Asbury Park are just as guilty.  While they may claim to abhor racial segregation, ask them to desegregate their school and their answer is, “And lose $60 million? No way!”

The children are caught in the middle.  They are racially and economically segregated by state action, and they know it.

Since no one’s hands are clean here, there is no reason to waste time with allegations that this happened because the White towns acted racially or the Black school was greedy.  Just fix it for the children, and the taxpayer.

I have been calling on every politician since 1996 to change that awful “music ruling” and bring the White children back to Asbury Park, or close Asbury Park and send the children to the surrounding High Schools, where each school would have to take only 15 students per grade.

I’ve never gained any traction, because no one wants to admit that Abbott funding is “segregation hush money.”

Until today.  I’m delighted that Art Gallagher, who runs New Jersey’s most prolific center-right blog More Monmouth Musings, has taken up the cause.

Art notes today that David Sciarra, Director of the Education Law Center who was responsible for bringing those Abbott cases, gave a speech yesterday lamenting the racial segregation he suddenly sees throughout New Jersey schools.

That is huge news.  I don’t care if Mr. Sciarra sees racial segregation as his organization’s fault or not.  I’m just glad he sees it.  He, of course, is on the left.  Mr. Gallagher is on the right.  For the first time in 30 years, New Jersey’s left and right identified the same problem with education: Segregation.

Art Gallagher has gained enough gravitas through his blog that he has been granted one-on-one interviews with Governor Christie himself.

I hope Art and Mr. Sciarra can get the Governor’s attention to tackle racial segregation in New Jersey schools.

Posted: May 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Race, Tommy DeSeno | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments »

12 Comments on “Racial Segregation In A Northern State. A Challenge To My Governor Christie”

  1. MLaffey said at 8:05 am on May 20th, 2011:

    First the issue is not race, it is socio-economic status. Those people in the surrounding “rich towns” would not send their kids to Keansburg schools either. The school in Little Silver that Tommy refers to is Red Bank Regional, an extremely racially diverse school.
    Why would these rich town people object to their kids going to school with a majority population of economically disadvantaged children? That has to do with why they (the parents) are poor. It is because they lack education. As a result they do not make education a priority in their home life and this creates a cycle of poverty. This culture is why schools in economically distressed areas are failing. It is not because the schools are bad it is because the culture is. Go to parent teacher conferences. The kids who are getting A’s and who are in honors classes are generally the ones who have parents show up. The no shows are usually the kids who are struggling. Any teacher will confirm this.
    So ask yourself as a parent would you want your child to go to a school where the dominant culture causes educational failure? Of course not. In fact if the government tried to force you to send your kids to such a school you would either move or send your kids to a private school. So Tommy’s plan to “desegregate” would probably not work.
    We could take (force) half the kids in Keansburg or Asbury Park and send them to Holmdel or Rumson Fairhaven and send an equal number of kids from those districts the other way. That would even out test scores. Bring them up in one district and down in another. Abbott districts would then magically disappear. What it would not do is improve the educational results of the children from the economically distressed towns. Most of them would still not do well because they would lack the parental support that is the biggest indicator of student success.
    The only way to fix the problem is for local communities to wake up and create a culture that values education and impart that culture to students of parents who can’t or will not make education a priority. Throwing money around will not solve the problem nor will moving kids around. I thought the mentoring program Asbury Park started a few years ago was a small step in the right direction. It is a difficult problem to fix and will take a long term sustained effort at the local level to do it. The first step however is to recognize why the problem exists.

  2. JustifiedRight said at 10:05 am on May 20th, 2011:

    M.Laffey: “The only way to fix the problem is for local communities to wake up and create a culture that values education and impart that culture to students of parents who can’t or will not make education a priority.”

    Mike I agree, and that’s exactly what you will do if you don’t allow the segregation.
    These students in Asbury Park aren’t computers responding to just the data we want to feed them.

    They see and know things on their own. Having been segregated affects them. It would affect you.

    They will do better when they are in a school with kids whose families are thriving. They see the advantages and want them.

    Please don’t say “Tommy wants to desegregate.” Tommy wants the students to go to school where they live. It is the state that “segregated” contrary to the natural geography.

  3. MLaffey said at 10:50 am on May 20th, 2011:

    First, The only way you will segregate is by taking away the right of people to move or to send their kids to private schools.

    You could take 20 of these kids and send them to Holmdel and w/o parental support it is unlikely to change outcomes for most of the 20. That is why I liked Asburys mentoring idea. it provides a surrogate parent.

    You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

  4. Justified Right said at 11:35 am on May 20th, 2011:

    Mike I think we are talking about different things.

    Asbury Park District was alreadly segregated.

  5. MLaffey said at 12:58 pm on May 20th, 2011:

    sorry I meant desgregate.

  6. MLaffey said at 1:00 pm on May 20th, 2011:


  7. Justified Right said at 11:39 am on May 21st, 2011:

    Mike they didn’t segregate Asbury Park by taking away people’s right to move or go to private schools.

    They used busing. Just like the social engineers did in the 1960’s.

    Every time I bring up this topic, the knee jerk reaction is to defend the concept of separate but equal.

  8. MLaffey said at 8:31 am on May 22nd, 2011:

    I did not say either of those two things.

    I said if you tell surrounding “white” school districts they have to send their kids to Asbury public schools they will move or go to private schools.

    I also did not defend seperate but equal. What I said was your solution might make the Abbott Districts statistically dissapear and save you taxes but it will not improve educational outcomes for any children.

  9. Justified Right said at 9:16 am on May 22nd, 2011:


    We need to straighten out some terms first to maybe find some common ground.

    When you say, “If we tell white school districts they have to got Asbury…” you’ve got a problem – there are no other “districts.”

    These white students are in the Asbury Park School district. It stretches from Lake Como to Deal. That’s the Asbury Park School district.

    It’s a terribly important point. Casual observers have this all wrong. They think I’m asking to do what social engineers did in the 1960’s, which was to bus black kids out of their home district, and white kids out of theirs, to create diversity. Their plan was against the natural geography.

    With Asbury Park, the social engineers are at it again. They’ve once again bused kids out of their own district for more social engineering, this time to get Black students billions of dollars.

    No one will move their homes if they stopped busing the white students away. No one moved when they went there for 100 years.

    You are defending separate but equal. Your assertion that there will not be a better experience for the students is an assertion that all things will be equal if we keep them together or apart. That’s supporting separate but equal without using those words.

    When I was in APHS, I was one of those kids from Asbury Park. And it did make a difference to what I thought of my school that I was sitting next to the doctor’s son from Interlaken, the lawyer’s son from Avon and the indutrialist’s son from deal.

    Rubbing elbows with thriving families was good.

    Most people can’t imagine, becuase they won’t talk to them, what it does to the spirit of the kids left in Asbury Park High School after the 1996 segregation.

    There is a sense of abandonment – of being penned off and left out.

  10. MLaffey said at 2:48 pm on May 22nd, 2011:

    Please stop playing semantics. You know very well what I mean. You can do anything you want and the genie will not go back in the bottle. Those white kids in Interlaken and Deal will not go to Asbury. (Just like kids in Lincroft would never go to Keansburg) if they where told that is the only district they could attend. They will move or go to private schools.
    Further I have lived in Monmouth since 1972. Asbury’s school system was in the crapper long before 1996.

    I am sure it did matter to you that you where sitting next to a Drs or a bankers son. I also bet your parents took an interest and an active roll in your education and your life in general.

    That is why it mattered to you because of the family culture you were raised in.

    My parents where not college educated but they read to me as a child, they bought me books, They punished me when I did not do well in school and they constantly drilled into my head that I was going to college.

    On the other hand I had a lot of friends who where very smart. Some probably smarter then me. They did not have that same parental support and did not do well in high school or go onto college.

    Yes you will find the exceptional child who will rise above bad parenting and that child is helped by having classmates who do want to succeed but we are talking about the big picture not the exceptions.

    No I am not saying things will be equal whether you keep them apart or not. I am saying nothing will change if that is allthat is done.

  11. Or, said at 3:42 pm on May 22nd, 2011:

    you can, for once and for all, close down a place with such a dwindling population, like Asbury, ( with maybe 90 graduates a year, now?), stop propping it up with this “overkill” funding for Abbotts, that almost never succeeds, and mingle the kids into more diverse, successful districts: agree that it would help them rise to a better ambition and experience, and a desire to try harder, (whether or not there’s support at home), and begin to break the cycle of failure/dispair..

  12. Justified Right said at 2:50 pm on May 23rd, 2011:


    If the kids from Interlaken, etc. won’t go to Asbury Park, then let them pay to go to private school.

    Why are we paying to send them to another public school, thus CREATING Asbury as an Abbott, costing us $60 million yearly?

    I thought you were a fiscal conservative. I thought you would be the first one to say no to all of that.

    But I disagree anyway. When it was their school, they went there.

    I strongly disagree about Asbury Park “being in the crapper” between 1972 and 1996.

    I went there between those years. Dave Rible went there between those years.

    The real problems started after 1996.

    And commenter “Or” just above this post is right. Probably the best solution is to close APHS down.