Thursday, March 22, 2018

As NJ State Closes 3 ‘Failing’ Charters, What About the Parents and the Children?

Under Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey greatly expanded charter schools, especially in urban districts where traditional public schools are the worst. This has given thousands of parents an opportunity to get their children into better schools—and parents have seized the opportunity in droves. Charter schools have been an educational lifeline for tens of thousands of kids.

But as I have argued, charters are not the long-term answer for people seeking better education. For one thing, charters are still government schools—albeit schools that are better because they enjoy more freedom to innovate and cater to needs of actual children. Parents who are lucky enough to get their children into charters (the demand for charters still way outstrips the openings) are still at the mercy of politicians.

We can see why in the NJ Department of Education’s decision last March to close three Newark Charter schools for “low performance”. Both the charters’ administrations and the parents are devastated. As Karen Yi reported at the time for NJ.Com (As charters face closure, 750 students need schools),

"Our parents are just devastated, we have a lot of students here, this is all they know," said Merit Prep Principal Ron Harvey [Merit Prep is one of the three charters]. He said he heard about the closure after a reporter called the school for comment on Wednesday.

"It definitely caught us out of the blue, it was very disturbing for us to hear it that way," Harvey said.

Merit Prep enrolls 483 students in grades 5-10 and opened in 2012. The school has 93 employees and was renewed last year on probation. 
"We've created a school over the last couple of years for (the students) that they've seen grow and change and improve over time," Harvey said. "They're upset; it just feels unfair to the kids, what are they supposed to do?
Another of the charters, Paulo Freire Charter School, sent a letter to parents and staff saying “the state's decision was ‘not reflective’ of the school's accomplishments.”

Families of students were devastated.

Hundreds of parents and students were left scrambling last week after news spread that the state was ordering three Newark charter schools to close at the end of the academic year.

"I am terrified for these children. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do at this point," said Frances Huggins, whose grandson attends Merit Prep. "Merit Prep was my light at the end of the tunnel two years ago when I was lucky enough to learn of an availability for my grandson."

The school administrators and staff, as well as the parents, were taken by surprise. This means that government bean-counters never consulted with parents and educators. Remember that charters are chosen voluntarily by the parents. But their opinions apparently have no reality to the state’s education bureaucrats. The students were to be “placed” in “new schools” determined by the state. 750 of them.

This is a reminder of how little control parents have over their own children’s education under government-controlled schools. Even with charters, which parents freely choose, students are vulnerable to arbitrary dictates, at any time, of government officials. That is, at the mercy of politics. And this, from an administration philosophically friendly to charter schools and parental school choice. What will happen under the new Governor Phil Murphy administration? Murphy has been openly hostile to charters, being a hack for the teachers union.

Charters are a form of parental school choice, and an improvement for parents lucky enough to get their child into one. But they are only a small step. As this episode demonstrates, justice demands that government get out of running the schools. The state was to reassign the 750 students beginning last April (2017). As far as I can tell, the plight of these families dropped out of the news: They are the forgotten victims of government-run schools.

The only solution, long term, is to move toward a fully free market, with schools run and funded privately. Only a free market recognizes and legally protects individual rights in education. Short of that, universal school choice through tax credits or education savings accounts (which give to parents the per-pupil cost of public school to spend as they judge best) would leave parents much less vulnerable to bureaucratic tyranny of the kind experienced by these three charter schools and families.
Related Reading:

Charter Schools – Good, but Not the Long-Term Answer

Real School Choice Depends on Free Exercise of Individual Rights

Newark's Successful Charter Schools Under Attack—for Being Successful

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 1

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 2

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 3

No comments: