Newark’s charter schools–especially those with money and national backing like KIPP (TEAM Academy) and Uncommon Schools (North Star)–will be the big winners in Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. If Anderson pulls it off, even she may be a big winner, leaving Newark with the reputation as the biggest privatization advocate since Michele Rhee and all that will mean for book contracts and speaking fees. But let’s think a moment about the biggest losers–they are almost certain to be the most vulnerable children in the city, the disabled, and their parents. They are on track to be warehoused in the least funded, most neglected public neighborhood schools.
Charter schools, after all, have evolved from laboratory schools offering alternatives to conventional practices to havens from children with problems–whether those problems are disabilities, behavioral issues, language difficulties, parental indifference, or anything else that many parents who believe they have choices want to avoid. Charters are the instrument of the new segregation–based, not simply on race, but on more nuanced distinctions: Ethnicity, language, wealth, parental engagement, political connections, and other attributes of the better off. Even just the slightly better off.
This site, a few days ago, reported that, under “One Newark,” no charter high school or magnet school would be faced with the burden of providing self-contained classes for special needs children.
Now, we know–as expected–no charter elementary school will have to face that burden. If charter schools are a good, a gift, a positive experience, they will be denied to disabled children. The chart included here proves that.
Keeping special education classes out of charter schools accomplishes a number of goals for Anderson and her allies among those who would privatize public education. It saves money for charter school operators who would otherwise need to spend money on adaptive facilities and specialized teachers. It is a plus for those parents who, concentrating narrowly and understandably (if selfishly), on their own children, do not want to send their children to schools with substantial numbers of disabled children. So it is a marketing ploy–although often unmentioned–for charters.
It also contributes to the decline of neighborhood public schools that must, under law, take these children–the same public schools whose employees believe it is part of their mission to train the neediest children. Their scores will decline while those of the charter schools go up. Anderson has used these invidious comparisons to push these plans. Test scores–along with waiting lists (if such actually exist)–are worth gold.
For special needs children and their parents, however, the abandonment of the most vulnerable is just one more insult. It is part of what one special needs advocate calls the “tragedy” of what is happening in Newark.
Let’s look at the numbers. One number especially–zero. That is the number of self-contained special education classes charter schools will have to accommodate under the “One Newark” plan. That alone is evidence the plan is flawed because it sets up a two-tiered system, based on disability.
Here are more numbers: 211, the number of self-contained special needs classes that will be operated out of 31 public schools. The conventional public schools will face the burden of educating children that will not be allowed inside charter schools. Their teachers will be judged on the success of these children.
Just last night, Anderson released a letter in which she wrote about how the “district’s average language arts score was 189, compared to TEAM and Northstar’s average of 210.” Ah, yes, test scores. But charter schools pick their students and they also can–and do–expel them. It isn’t rocket science to know the apparent success or failure of any educational institution relies on the selectivity with which it admits and expels its students. The universal application won’t change that if charters are not required to take special education students whose IEPs require self-contained classroom instruction.
Special education teachers–like all Newark public school teachers–are afraid for their jobs. They should be because dissent is treated harshly. Lisa Brown, the principal of Ivy Hill School, and Deneen Washington, the principal of Maple Avenue School, still have not been restored to their positions–they were among the five principals suspended for raising questions about “One Newark.”
Still, some Newark employees have been brave enough to report to me that NPS leadership is trying to manipulate special education teachers, parents and students. One reported, “Child study team members were asked to review the IEP ( individual education plan) (the legal document that is written when a child is classified to outline the plan for what that special needs child needs) they were asked to review them to see if they could take students out of self contained classes ( classes with all special needs students with similar disabilities) and placed in general education with resource room. This would give them more kids involved in universal enrollment but a great disservice to special needs students who are not being accommodated properly.”
Another educator reported that some principals have been pressured to call parents who have not filled out a universal enrollment application and tell them they must. This could have serious consequences for parents and their children if they are deemed to have waived special education services. Advocates have told parents they should seek help before they apply to any school that provides no guarantee it will comply with the law. Unfortunately, Newark schools do not always comply with special education law.
The legislature, the courts and the mainstream media don’t seem to care much about what is happening to public education in Newark. The disruption to children’s lives, the threats to jobs, the disenfranchisement of voters, the public assets handed over to the wealthy private charter chains, the likely re-segregation of the city’s schools–these are all issues that hardly move the dial of concern among state residents.
If Newark schools have been forgotten by the rest of New Jersey, certainly the special education students in Newark won’t have much of a lien on the conscience of the state’s people. Yes, they are children.
Children with special needs. But to many outside Newark, just other people’s children.