I find it interesting that some very influential people have come out in support of the expansion of charter schools in our state, including Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark, and Reginald Jackson, director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey.
Charter schools are often viewed as a way for many children, especially those from “low performing schools” to receive a “better” education, with many parents embracing the idea. Education is often a great equalizer in our society, regardless of someone’s socio-economic background. It appears to me that some of these unsuspecting parents are being misled by those who have anointed themselves educators, but are actually charter school and voucher advocates. But the fact remains that charter schools have no better track record in educating children than the public school system.
This is not just me haphazardly tossing out my opinion, but the view of many educators, statisticians, and educational policy makers from coast to coast.
It is also significant that charter schools are allowed to follow a different set of policies and procedures than public schools. Advantages include allowing charter schools to set their own pay scale for administrators, ignoring the salary constraints imposed upon public schools by the Christie administration. Even so, charter schools fail at a significant rate, according to the state.
Currently, there are five charter school sites in New Jersey for which the commissioner of education approved the application, but denied a final charter. Apparently, these schools failed at the launch pad. Eleven charter schools that were operational with students enrolled had their charters revoked by the commissioner later, leaving parents scrambling to enroll their children somewhere else. Most likely they’ll be going right back to public school.
There are another 20 charter schools which voluntarily closed down. Apparently operating a charter effectively is not as easy as some applicants thought. It takes expertise, money, and the ability to keep religion out of the curriculum. Yet, I do not believe it is coincidental that a large number of churches, often predominantly black ones, are jumping into the charter school business.
The Rev. Reginald Jackson has submitted an application for a charter school and has also assisted others from the Black Ministers Council to open schools. If all goes as desired, ministers will open charter schools in Linden, Camden, Mays Landing and Trenton.
The last thing the public school systems in any of these cities needs is a charter school siphoning off financial and other resources from the public school system. It is also interesting to note that the residents of these cities have absolutely no say whether a charter school opens or not.
The state is the only and final authority in the matter, even though taxes paid by the residents will go to operate these schools. Tax money will now fund both public and charter schools; the same pool of money, but different buildings, teachers, books, computers, etc.
I also find it interesting that although religion cannot be a part of the curriculum, a church or religious institution can be used to house the school and students. Thus, several Jewish organizations have applied to operate charter schools. The Hebrew language will be part of the curriculum, but no religion will be taught.
Opening charters is, in essence, discriminatory. This is not racial or ethnic discrimination, but discrimination based on class and academic ability. The black churches that are petitioning to open charter schools will first and foremost attempt to serve the children of their congregants. They will desire the path of least resistance and embrace good students, just as a Hebrew language school will attract primarily Jewish students with an interest in, and desire to learn Hebrew.
Show me the charter school ready and willing to admit students with learning disabilities, or attention deficit disorder, or a child with behavioral issues that require additional supports, or just children who learn differently. No, charters will seek out the academically strong with the grades to prove it, and that’s a big concern for me.
This appears to me to be an attempt by some to dismantle the public school system, which does have its own set of issues. But instead of wasting money and trying to start a competing school system, fix the one that is currently up and running, and has a solid track record.
Right now, no one — not Gov. Christie, not Mayor Booker, not Rev. Jackson — is saying anything aboutthe long-term outlook for those kids who will remain in public schools, which will face larger classes, more layoffs, and less money for technology, curriculum, and instruction.
While looking forward to charter schools, don’t forget to look back at, and discuss, those left behind.
-Milton W. Hinton Jr. is director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government. He is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. His column states his personal views, not those of any organization or agency. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.