Hentoff: Growing Divide between Teacher Unions and Black Parents

In the Village Voice, Nat Hentoff considers the growing divide between the teacher unions and black parents who struggle desperately to get their kids into charter schools:
In Harlem, where thousands of parents apply for charter schools on civil rights grounds, State Senator Bill Perkins—whose civil liberties record I've previously praised in this column—is in danger of losing his seat because of his fierce opposition to charter schools. The UFT contributes to his campaigns. His opponent, Basil Smikle—who has worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Bill Clinton Foundation, and, unfortunately, Michael Bloomberg—says: "Education has galvanized the community."
And, particularly apropos for New Jersey:
As I've reported here, there are now more segregated public schools in big cities than when the Supreme Court ruled public-school segregation unconstitutional (1954). The betrayal of that decision began and continued long before there were ever charter schools, because of lower federal court decisions ultimately confirmed by the Supreme Court (Elena Kagan won't be asked what she thinks about it at the confirmation hearing).
Hey -- we beat NYC. Some of our most segregated school districts are outside of big cities. Primary example: Willingboro in Burlington County, which would win top prize if there was a contest for most dysfunctional school district in the state.

The Burlington County Times recently reported that the district has hired an “expert” ($650/day) to provide “technical assistance” to a nine-member school board comprising 6 spanking new members just elected in April (never a good sign of a district’s stability). In a report on May 21st, Expert Donald Warner explained that “I am very concerned that we have regressed to dangerous levels of noncompliance with local and state-mandated indicators of educational effectiveness." Another one of his concerns: “no budget committee meeting was held and that the spending plan was not "thoroughly reviewed and/or discussed with board members" before negotiations with the Township Council to certify a tax levy that was rejected by voters.”

Not to mention that the district goes through administrators like nurses go through latex gloves: in the last five years it’s disposed of six superintendents and five business administrators.

And the kids? The audience members "gasped" as Warner reported that 65 of the 175 Willingboro High seniors won't graduate because they can't pass the new Alternative High School Assessment (though this was before the DOE insisted that all scores be recalibrated).

Willingboro is one of our most segregated school districts. It can't compete for poor performance with the likes of, say, Camden High or Trenton Central, and it's barely a mention in our list of poor-performing schools in our Race To The Top application, just squeaking into the list of Tier III schools (i.e., not necessarily eligible for federal funds). It's bad enough to wince, but mediocre enough to ignore.

Charter schools? Not really. There are two new charter schools in Burlington County, but Willingboro kids won’t have much of a shot. The Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter School (no website) serves kids from North Hanover, Springfield, and Pemberton Township, and the other, Riverbank Charter School of Excellence, will draw its kids from Florence. Another proposed charter, Yes We Can Academy, aimed at Willingboro K-3d graders didn’t make the cut. So parents and their children in one of our highly segregated and dysfunctional school districts are trapped.