Newark Mayor's Attack on Charter Expansion is a Failure of Educational Leadership

Here’s Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s response yesterday to the announcement that KIPP NJ, wildly popular with parents, will add five schools and over 5,000 seats:
To move forward in this manner without any consideration of the impact on students is highly irresponsible and shows no consideration for the majority of children in the Newark Public School system," he said. [This expansion] will inflict more damage to the fragile education infrastructure in our school district."
And, on Twitter,
How can you say you want all children to be successful when you knowingly will expand at the demise of some of them without even a pause!
In other words, the Mayor argues that “the fragile educational infrastructure” which, by any metric, has been in failure mode for almost one hundred years, is more important than parent preference or student outcomes. Save the broken system! Join the union members who held a vigil last night to protest potential loss of jobs! Ignore parent preference, which overwhelming leans towards independent public charter schools!

But let’s be fair. Even with KIPP’s expansion and (also announced yesterday) the move of Uncommon Schools to Star-Ledger’s large abandoned office building, at least half of  students will continue to be enrolled in Newark traditional schools. A few of  those schools – Ann Street, for example, -- are great..  But many of them struggle, and that struggle is compounded by the messy, painful work of reducing infrastructure, funding, and staff to accommodate enrollment shifts from one sort of public school to another sort of public school.

Yet the Mayor’s privileging of the system over families falls short of educational leadership. If he’s talking about students with moderate to severe disabilities who might not find the services they need at a local charter school, then he should remember that in N.J. students with more complex special needs are rarely served in-district but typically attend, at district expense, one of N.J.’s many private special education schools. (Also, KIPP is expanding its special education services.)

If he’s talking about Newark’s poorest students, then he should read Andrew Martin’s enrollment analysis, particularly the part that describes how “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” and “in the last school year, Newark charters enrolled a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the district did.”

If he’s talking about African-American residents (who comprise more than half the city population), someone should tell him that this year Newark charter schools will enroll half of all black students and that, according to the recent Education Post poll, 72% of African-American families across the country believe that charter schools offer their children “options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

But Mayor Baraka isn’t talking about students with disabilities or students in poverty or students of color. He’s talking about preserving that “fragile educational infrastructure” that provides union jobs and union power Of course, current NPS employees, whatever their position in the infrastructure, can apply to work at non-NPS public schools. But those aren’t union jobs.

We tiptoe around this too much. Better to just call it. Mayor Baraka’s objections to charter school expansion in Newark has nothing to do with education and everything to do with adult jobs and money.

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