CC: Respectfully, he is incorrect. When I became commissioner of education, I worked extremely hard to make sure any charter school only had the privilege of operating if it was successful. I personally directed the closure of more than 10 percent of charters on the basis of their academic success, or lack thereof.
We also put in place accountability and screening systems that made it extremely difficult to get a charter. Something like 1 in 15 or 20 were actually granted.
SL: If Murphy supports a moratorium or a local vote, what would be the result in cities like Newark?
CC: It would hurt impoverished children, who are disproportionately children of color. About 31 percent go to charters, and about 46 percent of the African-American children go to charters.
They go only if they or their families have chosen to. And if you look at our kindergarten class this year, 50 percent of the children in Newark selected a charter as their first choice…Parents of means have lots of choices. If you look to the elected officials who are loudest about charter schools, their children often go to private school or to wealthy suburbs like Millburn or Livingston. It is ironic and inappropriate to say that parents who do not have the economic means to make that choice should be denied that choice.
I think charter schools are an anti-racist, egalitarian option for educational opportunity that has otherwise been wrongly denied to African-American parents.
I stay up at night wondering how otherwise good-hearted people could say they want to impose a moratorium or somehow stop the addition of charter schools, when so many children are choosing them and being successfully launched into adulthood on the basis of that choice.
Unfortunately, I think the answer is a raw political one. By statute, traditional public schools are unionized and charter public schools could be unionized, but are not required to be.
The interest group in the state that spends by far the most money in Trenton, the teacher’s union, would be economically hurt by the increased number of charter schools because it would lose dues-paying members. I think this is a purely economic argument. They do not want to lose members. All their talk about creaming and hedge funds is just so much propaganda that they have focus grouped and determined works in the public debate.
SL: Do you worry that opposition in the suburbs might do political damage to the charter school movement and wind up limiting progress in cities?
CC: I look with astonishment at groups like Save Our Schools, highly represented by white wealthy suburbanites that have made it their mission to undermine the opportunity of poor African-American students to have access to quality education.
Many don’t honor their own principles by sending their children to private schools or living in leafy green suburbs. I ask myself whether the strength of their argument would be affected if the focus of charters did not include suburbs like Princeton.
Mostly, I’m aghast at seemingly progressive individuals who so deeply misunderstand the profound injury their position will cause families of vastly more limited means.