Despite the hysterical demonization of the charter school movement by the reactionary defenders of the public school establishment, charter schools’ success is really about market demand: i.e., the desires of individual parents to attaining the best education available for their children. Charter schools are in demand, especially in the bigger cities, because they satisfy parents by giving their kids a better education than the public schools can.
These motivated parents are the ignored faction of the anti-school choice side. But it only takes one parental voice to demolish the whole anti-choice edifice. One such parent is Newark, New Jersey’s Shayvonne Anderson, who argued from personal experience in a NJ Star-Ledger guest column that Newark's charter schools get an A-plus for education. Newark is a central battleground in the charter wars.
Anderson shares her happy story of how she got her kids a better education by taking advantage of the choice accorded to her:
I applied to just about every charter school in Newark and was successful. My children were accepted into Newark Collegiate Academy, Paulo Freire Charter School, Great Oaks Charter School and Marion P. Thomas Charter School. After One Newark was introduced in 2014 I prioritized specific schools for my children that I knew, based on my research, would be best for them. Now, my children attend Newark Collegiate Academy, Team Academy, Spark Academy and The Paulo Freire Charter School. My children are learning life skills and receiving the benefit of a great education that every child deserves.
My children are learning so much more than I ever did [w]hen I attended Newark Public Schools. . . .
Anderson recounts the dramatic improvement charter schools engendered for six of her childrens’ performance. Here is one example:
-- My 13-year-old son has been a challenge in school behaviorally and academically, but since coming to charter school he, too, has become a star student in his own right. Although he still has his challenges, his teachers work with him and me. The teachers take time to understand his learning process and they work very closely with me to develop plans that support and help him.
As Anderson learned, acceptance into a charter school is done by lottery, and is not guaranteed. (typically, demand far exceeds charter school openings.) She was lucky to get six of her children (she has 10) into these superior schools. But Anderson is not content to rest on her own personal laurels. She ends her column with a resounding call for something bigger:
In each school, the teachers care about the students and they are invested in helping them succeed. I love that my children are held accountable for their actions, taught to take responsibility, and taught that hard work hard [sic] is the process to get good grades. My children are held to a higher standard in charter schools, where they are taught to push past the thought of being average and work to be excellent. I am grateful that my children have been afforded this opportunity, but I feel strongly that this opportunity should not be something that is afforded, but rather something that is required for and owed to, every student no matter where they live. A ZIP code should not impact whether my child - or any child - has a great educational opportunity. That's just a fact.
“A ZIP code should not impact whether my child - or any child - has a great educational opportunity.” Amen to that. Stories like Anderson's make public school establishment-defending anti-choicers look trivial and mean (which they are). They would sacrifice children to save their unearned, undeserved monopolistic status.
I left these comments:
I have been advocating for parental school choice for years. I even got an article published advocating a tax credit-based plan for universal school choice. But there is no better advocacy than real-life stories. Ms. Anderson’s inspiring saga says it all about school choice: It’s about real parents and real students, as opposed to the establishment’s utopian ideals and standardized assessment schemes.
Charter schools are definitely a step in the right direction. But the important point here is that motivated parents, in direct cooperation with educators, are perfectly capable—and by far the best equipped—to direct the course of their own children’s education.
Charter Schools – Good, but Not the Long-Term Answer