Hijacked in Atlantic City

I’m just back from Atlantic City, gambler’s paradise, discount shopping mecca, and home to the annual NJ School Boards Convention. In a sign of the times, one strand of offerings was “Perspectives on NJ Education Reform,” a series of sessions that attracted a substantial crowd.

Yesterday morning’s panel, moderated by NJSBA’s Ray Pinney, was “Charters, Choice, and the Opportunity Scholarship Act.” Keeping things lively. the panel comprised Rev. Reginald Jackson, Julia Sass Rubin (Save Our Schools NJ), Chris Emigholz of the DOE, and Julie Cavanagh, producer of the anti- ed reform movie, “An Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman.”

Word of the morning: “hijacked.” Cavanagh says that public charter schools, while theoretically inoffensive, have been hijacked by corporate greed. Au contraire, explains DOE’s Emigholz: the charter school movement has been hijacked by “the suburban charter school discussion,” i.e., Sass Rubin’s SOS-NJ organization, which seeks to keep charters out of leafy backyard.

In a further injection of militarism, Sass Rubin says that NJ's charter schools laws are "so broken" that it’s “like Mao-ist China.”

Rev. Jackson tries to inject some urgency into the debate: “I’m concerned that in NJ there is a perception that school choice is the enemy of the public school system.” He agrees with Sass Rubin that our charter school laws are so ornery that some of the best charter operators won’t even come here.

In other words, he wants to loosen restrictions to attract the best operators. She wants to tighten them through a "community vote."

Rev. Jackson handles the lob. In Cherry Hill, explains Rev. Jackson, the majority of kids do great. But minority children in Cherry Hill are “doing very poorly.” If the community had a vote on a charter school that would target poorly-performing minorities, the majority of the public would vote it down.

Replies Sass Rubin, “the individual choice argument is a marketing gimmick.” Rev. Jackson concedes that charter schools are no panacea, but “we’ve got to see what works.” Despite the publicity over NJ’s high graduation rates (more on that later), if you factor in our alternative tests we’re actually 24th in the country. And if he were a parent in a failing district he “would look for any opportunity.” Including the Opportunity Scholarship Act, or the voucher bill.

Sass Rubin: “We are vehemently against it.”