Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sorry Mr. Brown, but I gotta DIS your opinion piece

I have a thought or two about Neil Brown's guest opinion column.

I am disappointed by what is said by many of those who will establish recently approved charters. When asked what is special about their school’s program, they often say something like: “We plan to hire high-quality teachers and have longer hours.” My former students would call that a “duh” statement — their fancy term for a tautology.
All too often, proposed schools seem more like boutiques, catering to communities that demonstrate neither much need nor broad demand, while so many other communities are desperate for truly innovative schools. Rarely is anything proposed that is innovative or experimental, which circumvents the original charter school legislation’s intent. 

I am much more than disappointed Mr. Brown.  That the boutique charters getting approved are not "special" is the tip of the iceberg.  

In an earlier post I shared my Senate Education Committee testimony.  I was truly disheartened  to be steam rolled by lobbyists in crisp suits with shiny brochures as I and other parents from across the state tried to explain to the Education Committee the effect the current legislation is having on our districts. All of the lobbyists against the legislation Save Our Schools NJ is fighting for are bought and paid for by big foundations like the Walton Foundation whose "core strategy is to infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system."  While this may not have been the initial intention of charter legislation, that's who is impacting the legislative agenda now.

If you are truly paying attention to what's happening with charter schools in New Jersey you can't help but be genuinely dismayed.  Please see my previous post about the for profit charter operator already getting a foothold in New Jersey.  Please also read the numerous letters here and here and here from increasingly frustrated superintendents tired of receiving huge bills for charters they feel are not warranted in their districts.  The other common themes are that local district and community wishes are ignored in the application process, and real problems with applications are being ignored too in the NJDOE's charter approval process.  Did you know that in the last round paid national consultants led teams of NJDOE employees in reviewing applications?  Of course this was only revealed after a lawsuit and several OPRA requests.  

Are you seeing the pattern? The same national lobbyists that are pushing for legislation are reviewing the applications.  Gee, that just doesn't seem right now does it?

And this is your best argument against local control legislation that will take these decisions away from national lobbyists with corporate agendas and put the power back in the hands of the people of New Jersey?

Unless residents are privy to a proposed school’s mission statement and curriculum, how can they possibly make an informed decision? They can’t. Given our traditionally low voter turnout, the problem is compounded. 
You don't think voters could grasp the mission of a proposed charter yet they can vote on multi-million dollar budgets?  And why do residents have to be privy to the curriculum?  In the current application process a completed curriculum isn't even a requirement.  If the Acting Commissioner doesn't need to see the schools curriculum before giving a school the thumbs up or down, why is this a reasonable argument against the voters getting to decide?  And if low voter turnout is one of your reasons, hell, why do we vote on anything?  You definitely need stronger arguments here Mr. Brown.
Local control legislation sounds a lot more reasonable than a system where the Acting Commissioner gets to make the decisions but the districts and taxpayers get to foot the bills.  You don't find THAT disappointing
The more than 4,200 people that signed the Save Our School NJ petition for local control are distressed that not only do they have no say in how their district's money is being spent, they are almost entirely shut out of the application process.  
The charter proposal you are working on for homeless children and children of incarcerated parents sounds noble, but why shouldn't district schools have the funding and ability to service these children without taking much needed funding away from the rest of the children that will be left behind in the district schools?  
And while I agree that the state should reevaluate the original intent of the charter school law, it is abundantly clear that the players with money and influence have no intention of time traveling back to 1995.  Our state is on an entirely different trajectory.  
Disillusioning, isn't it? 


  1. Thank-you for your excellent, pointed analysis of the dilettantes of edu-reform. I live and teach in TN. We "won" Race to the Top money that cracked opened our paltry school budgets to the disaster capitalists, profiteers, and a Teach for America edu-commissioner. Making this even more disgusting, the state paid millions of dollars to the Miliken Foundation for a teacher evaluation program- top heavy with private consultants- that has NO valid research to back it's sales pitch. Did I mention that these are the same Michael and Lowell Milken brothers who were convicted of securities fraud in the 1980s? Lowell turned states evidence against his brother Michael who took one for the team and spent 10 years in federal prison. Michael had a prison conversion and now they're in business of saving poor kids from bad teachers. The irony would be funny if the results weren't so tragic.

    You should see the devastating effects these unproven, ill conceived mandates are having on the curriculum in poor schools across the state. Not to mention the millionaires building their political careers as education reformers (e.g., Bill Frist, Bill Haslam, and superintendents around the state)
    There needs to be signs at the TN state borders that say: Education Stops Here.

    Don't let NJ go down this path. My husband grew up and was educated in East Brunswick, NJ and NJ has, by far the best public education system in the country.

    I'll be keeping up with your blog and look forward to replicating some of your tactics down here in TN.

  2. jcg, thank you very much for your response. Your description of what is happening in TN should be a warning to all of us here in NJ and elsewhere. Please do stay in touch, and keep me posted on what's happening there. The best chance we have is to learn from one another.

    Your husband would be very sad to hear the trouble East Brunswick schools have been having with a Hebrew Immersion Charter that has already been approved and opened in 2010. I can send you some information about it if you're interested.

  3. Mr. Brown is mistaken in another respect.

    He wrote "There are some wonderful charter schools in New Jersey, such as the Princeton Charter School, Hoboken Charter School, Robert Treat Academy and North Star Academy. I¹m sure much can be learned from these schools and, as far as I¹m concerned, they have a duty to share the 'secrets of their success² with our public schools."

    Unfortunately, the primary thing these particular charter schools have to share is how they managed to segregate and cream-skim the population of students they are educating from the sending school districts, as each of their student populations has dramatically fewer low income, special needs, and limited English proficient children than the surrounding public