As many of us know, there’s been an ongoing conversation about charter policy changes in New Jersey over the past few years.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan added further fuel to the fire in recent months when they announced their charter moratorium bill. Although Asw. Jasey has said the bill was meant to be a “conversation starter,” this bill is an unproductive way to do so. In truth, the bill would prohibit the growth of high quality charters – and fails to recognize the true impact and value of charter schools in our state.
In an op-ed published recently, Asw. Jasey wrote that the purpose of public charter schools is to serve as laboratories for innovation that “share best practices and strategies,” without creating competition or parallel systems to public schools. I certainly agree that public charters schools can, and do, share best practices with district schools, but it can be difficult to collaborate in an environment where education and political leaders are hostile to charter schools’ very existence. And even in cases where schools have found ways to bypass the toxic nature of that ecosystem, the idea that collaboration should be the primary role of charters is outdated. Fundamentally, the primary role of public charter schools is to ensure urban families receive high quality public education.
Charter schools have evolved significantly over the last 20 years – and that’s a good thing. They’ve outgrown their model under New Jersey’s original 1995 charter law and are even better, serving more New Jersey students today than ever before.
While serving thousands of students across New Jersey, charter schools have made enormous gains, especially in urban communities like Newark. And they’ve got the real results to prove it. According to a recent study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Newark is among the regions “where the marginal improvement of charter school learning over [traditional public schools] is dramatic.”
Asw. Jasey is right to say public charter schools have a lot to offer by means of sharing best practices. The good news is that many schools are already there. KIPP’s TEAM Schools in Newark and Uncommon’s North Star Schools are among some of the leaders in this work.
- Newark teachers at both George Washington Carver, a district school, and Seek, a school in the KIPP network, engage in excellent ongoing professional development and regular visits to each other’s schools. Leaders from both schools work together in a variety of ways, including joint school tours and shared community engagement efforts.
- Among charter schools, North Star has been a national leader in disseminates best practices. Last summer, ten Newark Public School teachers and leaders joined North Star’s three-week summer professional development for teachers. In addition, Newark Public School teachers and leaders have worked with North Star for one and two-day workshops around Common Core reading and Teach Like a Champion, another popular training course.
- These are just a few examples and many independent schools across Newark engage in best practice sharing as well. Schools That Can, a non-profit organization, regularly convenes district, charter and independent schools in Newark to share best practices and strategies.
I also understand Asw. Jasey’s concerns about the impact of charter growth on school districts. And I agree that back in 1995 when the first charter law was written here, it’s unlikely that anyone sought to create parallel systems for kids. But if such systems now exist, it’s because families and communities want – and need – these schools badly. As recent stats from One Newark Enrolls show, for two years in a row families in Newark are consistently requesting KIPP and North Star, as well as other charters such as Marion P. Thomas, University Heights and Newark Legacy Charter Schools as among their top K-8 school choices.
There are certainly policy conversations needed to help district schools and public charters fully embrace and replicate each other’s successes. And there are serious and immediate policy conversations we need to have about creating the right conditions for districts as their enrollment decreases. But what we cannot do is allow these concerns to outweigh the needs of families who demand access to high quality schools now.
So I say, let’s roll up our sleeves and take on those tough conversations. Attacking the growth of charter schools, even if just intended as a “conversation starter,” only adds fuel to the fire in the intense debates that are playing out on charters at the state and local levels.