Look at this picture. What do you see? A group of (almost all) white suburban people in front of the New Jersey Statehouse protesting the expansion -- indeed, the existence -- of public charter schools. As a white suburban N.J. resident I’m a bad proxy for urban parents of color, particularly those relegated to long-failing school districts who rely on (or wait for) seats in high-performing charter schools. So let them speak for themselves.
First, a little context.
The N.J. Board of Education is considering several regulatory changes to the state’s twenty-two year old charter law. These changes would allow the highest-performing charters to hire teachers without traditional certification who have Bachelor’s degrees, 3.0 GPA’s, demonstrate content knowledge and/or have classroom experience. Principals wouldn’t need Master’s degrees and hiring requirements for Business Administrators would be relaxed. In addition, some charter school students would be able to join sports teams in traditional schools and charters would be allowed to hold weighted lotteries to give economically-disadvantaged students better odds of enrollment.
That’s the original purpose of charters, right? To serve as “incubators of innovation.” Why not try this out?
Well, you can imagine how NJEA and its allied organization Save Our Schools-NJ feel about this. Hence, the rally pictured above. According to NJ Spotlight, those who oppose these new regulations came “from suburban communities like Highland Park [61% White/Asian] and Princeton [81% White/Asian]."
Media coverage focused on the voices of the protesters. So, in the interest of equal time, here are some of the voices and testimony of pro-charter parents who can’t afford to buy their way into districts like Highland Park and Princeton, as well as a few voices of teachers and administrators who work in NJ charter schools. These quotes come from NJ Spotlight, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Facebook page of Hands Off Our Future Collective.
Nicole Appice Davis, mom of two children in the HoLa Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, a school with a weighted enrollment for low-income and special needs kids. She "countered the claim that the school was causing more segregation in her city." (Irony alert: a primary talking point of the Princeton/Highland Park contingent is that charter schools increase segregation in communities they'd never live in and districts they'd never send their kids to.)
HoLa Hoboken has changed my life and for my children in the best way possible. Please take serious consideration into seeing the school for yourself and speaking with us before making drastic decisions to shut us out. The public schools in Hoboken are more segregated than they will admit. I've seen with my own eyes, and I'm friends with a lot of the disadvantaged kids who attend the public schools and sad to say, they are far from diverse as ours is.Natasha Levant, Newark charter school mom:
I need her to be in a safe environment and receive a good education. She’s in ninth grade now. I still can’t send her to her neighborhood school and feel that she is in a safe environment and receive a high-quality education so I sent her to North Star [an Uncommon School].Lunedar Girault, Newark charter school mom:
To say that charter schools are segregated is disrespectful to the historical facts and to the whole community. We are not segregated Our children will actually be well-educated. They’ll learn. They’ll go to college. As far as what the Board is proposing, I support everything.Karen Johnson, Newark charter school mom:
I drafted why I choose a Charter School, sent a few text messages, silently prayed. I know and understood the importance of advocating for my child’s education BUT at the school with the teachers and school leaders. My first time speaking in front of NJBOE. I was NERVOUS and SHAKEN.Haneef Auguste, Newark charter school dad:
I have a son right now who is in college with a full scholarship. As far as being segregated, it’s not true. I went to school in Newark. I never saw any white kids. The problem isn’t segregation. The problem is that the traditional school wants to be able to do what our charter schools do. But they can’t because of the bureaucracy.Cynthia Leger, administrator at North Star:
Less than 10% of low-income students graduate from college. Our students at North Star graduate at five times that rate.Ian Fallstich, administrator at STEM charter school in Jersey City:
He “told board members the school was struggling to find qualified candidates and needed to move quickly to hire qualified candidates, some of whom have Ph.D.s or have taught at community colleges, but don't have certification to teach in public schools.”Kyle Rosenkrans of KIPP NJ:
I'm glad people are seeing the disgusting garbage that gets said about charter school teachers.Crystal [last name unknown], charter school mom:
“Awesome North Star mom talking about how important her school is to her and her community. She is disappointed in suburban parents trying to curb her children's access to a great education.”
Altorice Frazier, Newark charter school dad:
I’m a parent of two children who go to charter schools. I’m on the KIPP NJ Board. It gets emotional because we keep coming down here listening to everyone else who knows the answers to what our children need. I work with average kids every day. I know the prison pipeline and I know black education and I know the kids and I know how they feel about their schools and their community. To see experts tell us how it is -- I’m emotional and I’m mad right now -- and listening to people call us names...Who’s our kids’ first teachers? We are our kids first teachers. I’m confused about how this is going. We’re not puppets. I’m an involved parent. Look, man, I served thirteen years in prison. I’m no one’s follower. I’m a parent who’s not going to be told what to do and how to do it. I’m finished.