Oy Gevalt: Newark Teachers Union President Needs a Little R & R

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon has an editorial in today’s NJ Spotlight  where he argues  that New Jersey taxpayers should "take a close look at corporate-sponsored charter schools in New Jersey” because they are designed to “protect the status quo when it involves the quasi-secret operations of privately managed charter schools in cities like Newark and elsewhere.”

One hardly knows how to begin.

Perhaps with this.

During a panel on charter schools last Friday at the N.J. School Choice Summit in Jersey City, Ryan Hill, CEO of KIPPNJ, suggested that traditional school districts have “an immune system that attacks anything it perceives as a threat.” Extending Ryan’s analogy a bit, the traditional sector of Newark Public Schools has been stricken by an immune system disorder. NPS's  immune system -- or at least the part of the organism that functions as protectorate of tradition -   is so farmisht that it  is mistakenly attacking its own healthy cells. In this case, the president of the Newark Teachers Union is behaving as a proxy for the disordered immune system's attack of Newark’s high-functioning charter school sector.

This analogy is a good way of understanding Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's recent letter to Education Commissioner David Hespe demanding that the state place a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. That’s why Education Law Center, likewise stricken, issues paper after paper attacking charter school growth. That’s why Save our Schools-NJ founder Julia Sass Rubin desperately reaches for justification for eschewing escalating parent demand for choice in Newark by claiming that “corporate education reform defunds schools for low-income students of color. This impedes their access to high-quality education and violates a fundamental tenet of Judaism.”

(I get it. I support school choice. Therefore I’m a bad Jew. Vay iz mir. Maybe Prof. Rubin forgets that the fundamental tenet of Judaism is in the Talmud: “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” See here and here.)

Back to Mr. Abeigon’s display of immune system disease. First, he utilizes the usual lingo common to these flare-ups, dissing the the “lack of transparency” of “corporate” charter schools and  the way the “corporate charter industry throws millions of dollars into advertising their schools and broad claims of undocumented success.” He must have forgotten to read  KIPPNJ’s 2015 Annual Report. Or was snoozing during  NJEA’s $15 million campaign last year against PARCC testing, which included prime-time television commercials, radio ads, and billboards.

Then he says,
Second of all, corporate-charter advocates try to make the argument that Newark parents are “voting with their feet” and leaving public schools. But this is very misleading. Strong community schools like Dayton Street School were closed, forcing students from their communities. And still a vast majority of students elected to choose traditional public schools at their first option when they filled out their choices under One Newark.
Strong community schools like Dayton Street? You mean where 78% of third-graders failed basic skills test in language arts and 82% of third-graders failed basic skills in math? Where the State says that “academic performance significantly lags in comparison to its peers”?

And about that “vast majority” of students choosing traditional schools: actually, for the 2015-2016 school year 42% of all families in Newark chose charter schools first in the Newark enrollment system.

Mr. Abeigon questions the lower numbers of challenging populations in Newark charter schools, like children with special needs, English Language Learners, and the poorest kids. Certainly, the charter sector can do better – Newark and Camden’s  simplified enrollment system is an important first step that can serve as national models  --but Newark itself is actually an outlier in the larger context. Special education students represent 15% of traditional Newark enrollment and 10% in the Newark charter sector. KIPP is at 12%. That's not good enough, but it's getting better, especially after one factors in the over-diagnosis problem in NPS. (Perhaps NPS can learn from the best charter schools about addressing special needs early enough to keep students with mild disabilities in general education classes.)

Also see  Andrew Martin’s great report: “Charters now enroll a higher percentage of free and reduced-priced lunch students than Newark Public Schools and are drawing students from Newark's neediest neighborhoods.”

But then Mr. Abiegon’s immune disease really flares. He writes,
Lastly, the state legislature has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to post a charter-school moratorium bill at legislative education committees that would allow taxpayers and educators to hear publicly what exactly is going on in these corporate charters. 
Exactly. Let’s staunch the spread of hope and health in Newark’s public school ecosystem – parent demands be damned – and attack the healthy cells.

Better Mr. Abiegon should stymie his rash campaign of misinformation and help the Newark Teachers Union accept the whole mishpokha -- the extended family of public education schools in Newark, be they traditional or charter. Celebrate diversity, not just among students but among schools. And gai gezunterhait, or go in good health.

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