Jasmine Morrison is a parent organizer and founder of Unapologetic Parents, an organization that advocates for better school options and equity in education. She grew up in Newark and is raising her two sons there.
Last summer, the New Jersey Supreme Court finally upheld the 2016 expansion of seven charter schools to continue to serve thousands more students after a contentious fight that undermined family choice and student achievement. That percolating tension still exists.
Although 56% of Newark charter students were proficient in English language arts and 44% in math in 2018-19, compared to some 36% and 26% of district students, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration recently rejected North Star Academy and other charter networks from enrolling more students and barring parents from looking elsewhere for education quality. With 8,000 students on charter waiting lists, the future remains bleak for families demanding better school alternatives and for children to obtain what they rightfully deserve: a quality public education that will overcome the trappings of generational poverty.
The barriers to transferring a child from a failing school too often beset families of color. And the cynicism directed at charters that outperform public schools in their own districts is morally senseless for charters parents whose kids might not have had the chance to academically shine with the right support systems. When 62% of Newark voters say charter schools are an important part of the public school landscape in the city it is not hard to understand why.
I’m unapologetic when I say I expect my kids’ public school to be a high expectations vessel that prepares them to thrive in the future workforce. This persistence to get my boys to the finish line of high school graduation — through the best possible education that still evades many Black and brown families — is rooted in my own misgivings as a survivor of public education in Newark.
I am a champion of expanding school options and charters like North Star Academy because the teachers and staff produce better academic outcomes and believe in my children. The school has raised the bar for my entire family. At North Star, I don’t have to worry about supplemental learning and low expectations. I don’t have to think twice about my sons ever starting their first day of college at the back of the line, like so many of us who got into college only to find we had more challenges ahead with remedial courses to make up for the subpar education at our own underperforming schools. Yet, motherhood has given me the 20/20 vision to see the miracle education and school choice has gifted my sons: the chance to dream about going to Georgetown University or Stanford University and to invest time and effort into their education.
The charter school model should be considered the benchmark for education in Newark for thousands of kids who desperately need a drastic change from the status quo. Schools should be evaluated every five years and designed to work for students first so more kids are prepared for higher education and equipped with the tools to succeed in the future workforce. The data from the New Jersey Children’s Foundation speaks for itself: 93% of charter school parents feel positively about their child’s school compared to 66% of district parents who feel positively about their child’s school.
From the moment kids walk into a school, their guiding light should be to make it to college — not to make it through high school graduation by mere chance —and charters like North Star take this mission seriously. When I hear my second grader singing songs about courage and being a leader, I know I’ve done right as a mother to not give up on the search for a good school that goes a step further in cementing the right ideals of courage, respect and leadership to cultivate resiliency and self-agency.
As an advocate for more high-performing schools, I’m never far removed from the uncertainty that plagues families like mine in the fight for educational justice. The present moratorium on charter growth in New Jersey is frightening for families that need charter flexibility to implement standards that work and who are desperate to get their child out of a failing school.
I’ve lived through the angst and fear to get my children to high-performing schools and don’t wish the burden on working families, who work for the dream and possibility to see their child climb higher up the socio-economic ladder.
I urge Governor Murphy and other elected officials to not lose sight of the educational opportunities and the transformational change bestowed on children who attend charters in Newark. Let’s expand what works and ensure all kids have a path forward to tap into their God-given potential — time is of the essence.
(This first appeared in Advance Media.)