The state-operated administration of the Newark Public Schools is developing a plan—called “One Newark”—to close many conventional public schools in the city’s poorest sections and expand charter school enrollment. It is a Great Escape plan for parents who want to leave traditional schools for what the district’s state masters say are better charter schools.
“Our Future,” states a slide show representation of the draft plan obtained here, is “fewer, better schools in South, Central, and West Wards (with) better coordination with charter growth.’’ The aim is “reduction of district capacity” with “growth of high-performing charter schools.’’
How fewer public schools in those wards is not spelled out—but the plan does insist that, in those targeted wards, as many as three-quarters of the schools are “underutilized.”
Growth of charters there certainly will be—and much, if not all, of that growth will be at the expense of conventional public schools. The plan foresees growth of charter enrollment from 11,000 students this year to nearly 16,000 by 2016–with conventional school enrollment falling from 33,000 to 27,000. The percentage of enrollment in charter schools will rise from 25 percent to 36 percent. And that’s without opening new charters.
The amount of money—most of it coming from non-Newark sources—that will go to charter schools will soar from $182 million this year to $249 million, while resources for conventional public schools will drop from $685 million to $540 million.
“Families are ‘voting with their feet’ and choosing other options,’’ the plan reports, adding “As we seek to build the strongest future portfolio of schools for Newark, we will grapple with significant budget implications.’’
Of course, the changes in the enrollment patterns should hardly come as a surprise—the state officials running the school district, from Gov. Chris Christie on down, have been promoting privatization as the silver bullet solution. Instead of fully funding the state aid formula and repairing the public schools, they have encouraged Newark parents to escape to charters where there are fewer “problem” students—both because charters don’t have to take every applicant and because they can expel uncooperative and under-achieving students. Rutgers professor Bruce Baker’s work on the relative success of charters versus conventional schools explodes the myth of charter superiority.
The truth is the argument over quality is a side issue, especially for many parents. For all the years I covered education, I heard the complaint from both teachers and parents: If only we could get rid of the students who don’t perform well (or who bother other students or who disrupt the class or who had special needs or who can’t speak English) this would be a great school. Well, here’s the solution—charters!
Of course, the promise of charters 40 or 50 years ago was very different. Charters were supposed to be laboratories for helping the neediest students. But that’s not what they have become. In fact, the state likes to close charter schools that try to help needy students. Because success is based on test scores. And there is more money in charters that skim the best students.
The report boasts these as accomplishments: “Over 10,000 students on charter school wait-lists; CMOS”—charter management organizations—“and charters creating aggressive growth plans with no coordination with NPS.”
That’s an accomplishment? Lack of coordination?
State-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson gave a hint of what was to come in a story last week in The Star-Ledger about a planned “universal application” that will allow parents to apply to up to eight schools in or out of their neighborhood.
However, that universal application is only the beginning of the implementation of “One Newark” and soon will be followed by school closings, approval of more so-called “Renew” schools—where all staff members lose their jobs and must be rehired–expansion of charters, the development of “public/private partnerships” and the pursuit of “philanthropic investments” for other sorts of schools.
The school system must “repurpose buildings that are not 21st Century ready in order to invest in the future” adding that 39 of 71 school buildings “are poor and/or very poor quality in terms of facilities quality” and “approximately 40” schools are now “low quality in terms of performance.’’
The report also makes a veiled reference to “right-sizing” the city’s more than 7,000 staff members. “One Newark,” the report insists, will “ensure quality at all levels.”
Some teachers have privately expressed the fear such plans are aimed at reducing the number of teachers who can belong to the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), the bargaining agent for the city’s instructional staff. Charter schools are not required to be unionized.
“We think it’s aimed at the union,” said one teacher.
The report insists the reorganizationof the district and the inclusion of charter schools in a universal application process will increase access and equity. “All schools will be held to the common standard of equity for all students,” the report states.
However, it says this about access: “Students with the highest need will have some preference to attend a school of their choice, whether it is in their neighborhood or not.’’ It doesn’t explain what “some preference” means.
The report makes a rare admission—the population of high-needs groups in charter schools is low and, in most cases, getting lower: With special education, English-language-learning and Hispanic students declining.
Still, Anderson’s team can’t help but boost the charters–“Charters are demonstrating what it possible.” What is possible when a school can choose its students and expel those who don’t measure up, as charters can.
The report makes it clear—conventional Newark schools are emptying out while more selective charters are growing: “NPS will have gone from serving 95 percent of students in the school year 2009-2010 to about 60 percent by school year 2016-2017.”
Will the last student to leave the last public school in Newark please turn off the lights?