Charter schools have been expanding rapidly in New Jersey in recent years due to strong parental demand. When a student attends a charter school, the education tax dollars follow the student. So good have charter schools performed that even the normally Left-leaning New Jersey Star-Ledger saw fit to chastise the leading Democrat 2017 gubernatorial candidate for his ties to the teachers union and “threat to successful charter schools.” This charter expansion has created a political backlash from the entrenched establishment, led by the teachers union.
As part of that backlash, a group of parents in Red Bank, NJ are demanding that a charter school in their town be closed “because, they argue, it has created the most segregated school district in New Jersey.” According to MaryAnn Spoto, reporting for NJ Advance Media for NJ.com,
The complaint said Red Bank residents spend $2 million annually to fund two public schools – one that is predominantly poor and Hispanic with about 1,400 students and another that is smaller, whiter and wealthier with 200 students.
The Red Bank Charter School opened 28 years ago, approved for 80 students. It then expanded to 162 students and now has applied to double its enrollment. But these parents want it closed.
One Red Bank, NJ woman laid out the case against the charter in her town—not being racially and economically balanced enough. In a NJ Star-Ledger guest column, N.J. mom: Why my town’s charter school doesn’t work if you’re poor and brown, Maria De Los Angeles Santamaria Zacarias observes:
The student body of the Red Bank public schools is 81 percent Latino, while at the charter school only 38 percent are Latino. If you look at the composition of the schools from a socio-economic perspective there is a similar disparity. About 89 percent of the children in the Red Bank public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches, an indicator of poverty, while at the charter school only 41 percent do.
I thought charter schools were supposed to reflect the racial, ethnic and socio-economic composition of the town. In Red Bank, this is clearly not the case. The Red Bank Charter School has become a bastion of segregation and privilege.
Only late in the article did Ms. Zacarias get around to addressing educational quality, saying the charter is no better than the traditional public schools, based on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. But that’s a Red Herring. The parents chose the charter, and their judgement trumps Zacarias’ opinions or standardized tests.
The Red Bank Charter School has applied to the state Department Of Education for permission to expand. It was denied, meaning that students already in the highest grade in the school must be forced back into the traditional public school, because expansion means adding the next grade to accommodate advancing students. The charter now has an application to renew its existing charter. Ms. Zacarias urges the permission be denied. Why? Because the charter “damages” our community:
Some people no longer talk to their neighbors. There is tension when parents from the schools come together at the kids’ sports games. But most hurtful of all are some of the comments I’ve heard from charter parents. They refer to me and people like me as “those people.”
We are just people. People like everyone else, who want what’s best for our children.
There are other issues. Ms. Zacarias also observes that the charter gets more funding than the traditionals—$18,726 per student versus $16,607. But, she says, “Red Bank is a small community. It should have one school system.”
No, it shouldn’t. I left these comments:
This shows the dark side of the collectivist “diversity” campaign, which ignores the individual humanity of actual children and instead seeks to categorize children by racial groupings.
Charter schools are not a magic bullet (I favor a fully free market in education, which would involve the separation of education and state). But charters do provide a modicum of freedom within the monopolistic government school establishment, giving parents some choice over their children's education and educators the chance to innovate. Yet, the Red Bank and other charters are being attacked—and by extension the educational choices charter parents made for their children—because it doesn’t fit some neat little racial statistic. What about actual education for actual children—not merely as determined by standardized tests or other bureaucratic criteria, but as judged by the child’s parents?
The Red Bank Charter “damages our community?” What is a community, but a number of individuals? How will some parents attacking the education choices of other parents foster a harmonious community? Peaceful coexistence is built on respect for the rights of others—including the right of parents to direct the course of their own children’s education. Respect for individual rights is the only basis for a decent community. No wonder the charter parents are angry. Other people want to shut down their children’s school, forcing their children back into the traditional government school that they believe isn’t good for their child. It sounds to me like the phrase “those people” refers not to race but to the anti-charter crowd.
But this is how collectivism works. It forbids anyone from excelling, pulling anyone who does try back down into the tribal brew—all in the name of the equality myth. The result? Dissention between those who try to rise up, and those who resent them.
No community “should have one school system”—especially a government-run system. Human beings are not a homogenous herd. The herd, or tribal, premise goes against our humanity. Collectivism breeds an us-versus-them mentality. This may suit people who want to run our lives or control what and how children are taught. But it doesn’t suit a free, enlightened, and civil society.
This mother shouldn’t be concerned with racial stats. Every parent should focus on getting her own child the best education possible, not “what’s best for our children”—i.e., other people’s children. If Ms. Zacarias is not happy with her child's school, she should demand more charter choices or, better yet, the ability to use her son’s education dollars—the $16,607—to fund tuition payments for Bryan [her son] to attend a school of her choice; choices that should include all available education options, including private schools and homeschooling; choices that should be open to all parents. The per-pupil cost of public schools is, at root, private money, and should be directed by private citizens, not politically advantaged interests.
When I think of segregation, I think of government-enforced separation of groups. The Red Bank charter is 38% Latino and 41% classified as poor, as opposed to 81% and 89% in the traditional public schools. This is hardly segregation. Charters, being tax-funded schools, should be forbidden from discriminating based on race or parents’ income in its admittance standards. Assuming that’s the case—and I have seen no indication of racial or economic discrimination—the statistical disparities are a result of parental school choice, not enforced segregation. Apparently, their is unsatisfied demand for more entries into the charter, as there are throughout New Jersey, and the charter seeks to expand to accommodate some of that demand.
Yet, rather than expand the opportunities for more parents to get their children into the school, many parents want the school shut down for racial and economic class, i.e., collectivist, reasons. Not a word about child education, educational innovation, or parental choice, either of those already in the charter or of others who want in because they are seeking better education than, in their judgement, the traditional schools can provide.
Granted, the original rationale for opening the charter feeds into this racial collectivism—the school was allegedly needed to stop “white flight” from Red Bank. So in part the charter is a victim of its own premises. But it’s a shame that in a nation based on individualism, schools are being judged by collectivist standards rather than educational standards and results. These kinds of conflicts would never happen in a free market for education.
Unfortunately, government-financed schools are not going away anytime soon. That doesn’t mean all schools should be government administered and run. And it doesn’t mean that parents with an apparent racial inferiority complex should be able to close schools and deny educational opportunities freely chosen. America is a nation built for the individual’s freedom to escape the tribal muck.