I got back yesterday from the 11th annual New Jersey Charter School Association Convention, which celebrates the school leaders and teachers who serve 55,000 students in alternative public schools. As NJCSA President Harry Lee noted, “public charter schools are knocking it out of the park in the Garden State and should be held up as a model for the rest of the public school community in New Jersey.” Here are a few highlights.
- Informal poll among attendees: Contrary to statements by Gov. Phil Murphy and Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, there is indeed a moratorium on approvals for new charter schools. Currently 17 applications have been rejected. Gotta keep NJEA happy, right?
- Senator Troy Singleton spoke eloquently Monday evening about his focus on the educational needs of children, particularly those who are low-income and disproportionately Black and Latinx, and who are offered their best chance of success through the charter sector.
- Dr. Repollet, to his credit, attended the convention and spoke at the cocktail reception Monday night. Worth noting: At last year’s convention, the NJ Department of Education announced its “Charter School Act Review,” which, as of yet, has produced no results. (Can we chew gum and walk at the same time? Apparently not.)
- Repollet told attendees that he once tried to start a charter school in Colorado and has “been amazed at the equity” he sees when he visits NJ charters. “You have the support of the DOE,” he claimed, “no matter what you hear.” We “look at best practices and our job is to break down silos.” There is “much innovation going on in charters but there’s also innovation at the DOE,” reiterating “there are too many silos” and concluding, “we have to find a happy medium.” [Notes from your observer: I’ve been told that the current DOE is bursting with silos, i.e., little communication between various departments and divisions. And, seriously, NJ charters educate 4% of NJ’s 1.4 million students. Why the animosity towards incremental growth?)
- At a session called “Hot Charter School Legal Topics,” a focus was the current lawsuit by Latino Action Network v. The State of New Jersey, which claims to be about segregation but is a thinly-veiled attempt to shut down charter school expansion. The plaintiffs are represented by Pashman Stein and Lawrence Lustberg, all who have chosen to ignore an independent report that found NJ charters have 0% impact on segregation. Today the Court will hold a hearing to decide if NJCSA, several charter school parents, and a Jersey City charter school can intervene, i.e., have input into the testimony. For my write-up on the intervention attempt see here; for an interview with charter parent and aspiring intervener Ana Maria De La Roche Araque, see here.
- There were many professional development opportunities for educators, including“Empowering Students with Deeper Literacy Instruction,” “Student Discipline: Achieving Fairness,” “What About Me: Student-Centered Personalized Learning,” “Taking the SEL [Social-Emotional Learning] Off the Bench,” and “‘Yo! I made that one!’: Increasing Student Engagement through Student-Generated Materials.”
- Shavar Jeffries, former Newark resident, civil rights attorney, mayoral candidate, and current President of Democrats for Education Reform, was the keynote speaker at lunch on Tuesday. He described the charter fight as “a freedom struggle for poor people” and lauded Newark’s charter sector as “the highest-performing in the country” where “students outperform the state average.” But closing the achievement gap, as some Newark charters have done, “is a pitstop, not a destination.” We’re in this fight, he said, “because our children are brilliant and can change the world,” but proficiency is a basic minimum: “’It’s possible’ is a very low bar. We still have to prove that our babies can learn, still have to prove that it’s possible for African-American and Hispanic students to graduate from college.”
- “Some of us us may not understand,” said Jeffries, “that putting your kid in a charter is an act of political warfare, an attack on unions and bureaucratic politics. Once you say to a parent, ‘you have the power to opt out of the traditional system,’ that’s political warfare. It’s not about us. It’s about giving parents the power to choose and that makes the parent the center of everything we do. Their needs and the needs of their children must be central, and we must be their partners in that fight for educational equity. We’ll have to strategic and intentional about how we advocate over the next 20 years.”
Finally, NJCSA announced in a press release yesterday that its Board recently voted to no longer permit schools that contract with for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) to be members of the organization. “NJCSA is sending a clear message that we do not believe for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) serve the best interests of children,” said NJCSA President Harry Lee. “Regardless of the management organization used, all charter schools are non-profit, tuition-free, public, and open to all.”