Look at this picture. What do you see? A group of (almost all) white suburban people in front of the New Jersey Statehouse protesting the expansion — indeed, the existence — of public charter schools. As a white suburban N.J. resident I’m a bad proxy for urban parents of color, particularly those relegated to long-failing school districts who rely on (or wait for) seats in high-performing charter schools. So let them speak for themselves.
First, a little context.
The N.J. Board of Education is considering several regulatory changes to the state’s twenty-two year old charter law. These changes would allow the highest-performing charters to hire teachers without traditional certification who have Bachelor’s degrees, 3.0 GPA’s, demonstrate content knowledge and/or have classroom experience. Principals wouldn’t need Master’s degrees and hiring requirements for Business Administrators would be relaxed. In addition, some charter school students would be able to join sports teams in traditional schools and charters would be allowed to hold weighted lotteries to give economically-disadvantaged students better odds of enrollment.
That’s the original purpose of charters, right? To serve as “incubators of innovation.” Why not try this out?
Well, you can imagine how NJEA and its allied organization Save Our Schools-NJ feel about this. Hence, the rally pictured above. According to NJ Spotlight, those who oppose these new regulations came “from suburban communities like Highland Park [61% White/Asian] and Princeton [81% White/Asian].”
Media coverage focused on the voices of the protesters. So, in the interest of equal time, here are some of the voices and testimony of pro-charter parents who can’t afford to buy their way into districts like Highland Park and Princeton, as well as a few voices of teachers and administrators who work in NJ charter schools. These quotes come from NJ Spotlight, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Facebook page of Hands Off Our Future Collective.
Nicole Appice Davis, mom of two children in the HoLa Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, a school with a weighted enrollment for low-income and special needs kids. She “countered the claim that the school was causing more segregation in her city.” (Irony alert: a primary talking point of the Princeton/Highland Park contingent is that charter schools increase segregation in communities they’d never live in and districts they’d never send their kids to.)
HoLa Hoboken has changed my life and for my children in the best way possible. Please take serious consideration into seeing the school for yourself and speaking with us before making drastic decisions to shut us out. The public schools in Hoboken are more segregated than they will admit. I’ve seen with my own eyes, and I’m friends with a lot of the disadvantaged kids who attend the public schools and sad to say, they are far from diverse as ours is.
Natasha Levant, Newark charter school mom:
I need her to be in a safe environment and receive a good education. She’s in ninth grade now. I still can’t send her to her neighborhood school and feel that she is in a safe environment and receive a high-quality education so I sent her to North Star [an Uncommon School].
Lunedar Girault, Newark charter school mom:
To say that charter schools are segregated is disrespectful to the historical facts and to the whole community. We are not segregated Our children will actually be well-educated. They’ll learn. They’ll go to college. As far as what the Board is proposing, I support everything.
Karen Johnson, Newark charter school mom:
I drafted why I choose a Charter School, sent a few text messages, silently prayed. I know and understood the importance of advocating for my child’s education BUT at the school with the teachers and school leaders. My first time speaking in front of NJBOE. I was NERVOUS and SHAKEN.
Haneef Auguste, Newark charter school dad:
I have a son right now who is in college with a full scholarship. As far as being segregated, it’s not true. I went to school in Newark. I never saw any white kids. The problem isn’t segregation. The problem is that the traditional school wants to be able to do what our charter schools do. But they can’t because of the bureaucracy.
Cynthia Leger, administrator at North Star:
Less than 10% of low-income students graduate from college. Our students at North Star graduate at five times that rate.
Ian Fallstich, administrator at STEM charter school in Jersey City:
He “told board members the school was struggling to find qualified candidates and needed to move quickly to hire qualified candidates, some of whom have Ph.D.s or have taught at community colleges, but don’t have certification to teach in public schools.”
Kyle Rosenkrans of KIPP NJ:
I’m glad people are seeing the disgusting garbage that gets said about charter school teachers.
Crystal [last name unknown], charter school mom:
“Awesome North Star mom talking about how important her school is to her and her community. She is disappointed in suburban parents trying to curb her children’s access to a great education.”
Altorice Frazier, Newark charter school dad:
I’m a parent of two children who go to charter schools. I’m on the KIPP NJ Board. It gets emotional because we keep coming down here listening to everyone else who knows the answers to what our children need. I work with average kids every day. I know the prison pipeline and I know black education and I know the kids and I know how they feel about their schools and their community. To see experts tell us how it is — I’m emotional and I’m mad right now — and listening to people call us names…Who’s our kids’ first teachers? We are our kids first teachers. I’m confused about how this is going. We’re not puppets. I’m an involved parent. Look, man, I served thirteen years in prison. I’m no one’s follower. I’m a parent who’s not going to be told what to do and how to do it. I’m finished.
Oh! Look at the picture! Amazing what cropping will do. Give us all a break. I was there, not part of the presser, but I saw firsthand the composition of the crowd. Who I did not see, though, was you. I'm certain you will now follow up with by providing quotes from Superintendents (Franklin, Princeton) who were there to describe exactly how the practice of using PUBLIC tax dollars to fund quasi-private charter schools in their districts has impacted ALL children. Thanks. Looking forward to that.
Laura, you were not there.
Because had you been (I was, it was freezing, it was insanely well-attended, it was an exciting, empowering day) you would have seen organizations that represent people of color, as well as parents and activists, all standing out in the same windy cold. But you weren't there. You cropped that photo to omit a large group of people of color who were right there with us all. You are cherry picking, and in doing so, silencing a group of folks who disagree with you.
Who spoke at the press conference? Notably:
1) Deborah Smith-Gregory, head of the NAACP in Newark, spoke in favor of a charter moratorium. JUST LIKE the NAACP nationally. You may want to acquaint yourself with their arguments against charter expansion here: http://www.naacp.org/latest/statement-regarding-naacps-resolution-moratorium-charter-schools/
In sum: Charters aren't transparent. They aren't accountable to citizens. And they deepen segregation. That last one is an inconvenient truth, isn't it? But I guess you know this issue better than the NAACP?
2) Frank Argote-Freyre, director of the Latino Coalition in NJ. He spoke out against expansion given his concerns with funding, equity, and transparency.
Several other parents and folks, from all over NJ, of all shades and races, spoke out during testimony and were present at that event.
How dare you erase their comments and their presence by cherry picking a photo and making false reports about who was there and who spoke that day.
I'm all for a healthy debate about the merits and massive problems of charters, but please don't present false evidence. You can do better.
I just have one question..why would you crop the picture? Really. Do you not have anything better to do with your day? The only reason I can think of is that you just want to start trouble and my goodness you were on the Lawrenceville BOR? You should be ashamed of yourself.
Thank you for sharing the voices of low-income parents desperate for a better education for their children. They simply want to exercise their right to choose — the same right that middle class families have — the same right that wealthy parents have. The same right that all parents should have. The case against charters is immoral.
This exploitation of the underprivileged has become more transparent over time. Recognize it and run from it Laura, before you shame yourself more. We all know the code. The “bad” schools are the ones with the “bad” kids in them. Parents choose schools by the composition of the student population. That's the elephant in the room. The segregation is tacit and deliberate. That's why those who can afford to, buy their segregation by buying their way into suburban communities or more directly, writing a check to a private school in a place like Princeton. This assures their children will rub elbows with a “better” class of peers, and circulate in a more educated, better-connected, privileged community.
It works the same way up and down the social scale. You are not advocating for fairness for children. You and your ilk are promoting policies to solidify and refine this caste system. So you trot out the cream of the charter crop to exploit them as props. Easy enough to do when your people cynically steal resources from the public schools where you leave the untouchables behind.
The NAACP sees what you are doing. Suburban school leaders see what you are doing. Everyone sees what you are doing, although many won't say it out loud. Your own allies have even confessed to it. Look at a mirror. Find some honest work.
As usual, Waters and Cunningham are gaslighting the public.
And of course, protests are not just in NJ, they run nationwide:
Profits can become so lucrative that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter founder Nick Trombetta spent $8 million of taxpayer dollars for extravagant homes and an airplane. When Trombetta was arrested, it was not for the exorbitant profits, which were legal, but for tax fraud.
“Why worry about this type of student at school? Come visit Arts Academy Charter School. Now enrolling grades 6-12.”
Bethlehem residents were outraged.
Conflict of interest issues:
In 2007, Atiyeh had purchased the property in which her school would reside for $900,000. The month he bought it, he sold it for one dollar to Catty Schools LLC, a privately held company that lists him as its principal.The Lehigh Valley Christian High School moved in instead, paying Atiyeh’s LLC $94,195 in rent in 2008. The next year, the rent jumped to $364,636. By 2013 when the private school left the building (because the building had no “curb appeal”), it had paid $1,736,691, total, in rent.Prior to its departure, Lehigh Valley Christian was sharing Atiyeh’s building with the Medical Academy Charter School, which was founded by Atiyeh’s friend, Craig Haytmanek, in 2012. In 2013, Medical Academy also paid rent costing $295,088. The next year, it paid $404,717 to Linden Land Development LLC, another corporation at the Atiyeh address.
Failure issues and student transition
The Medical Academy Charter School was beset by serious problems from the start. Its curriculum came under question. Videos of student violence in the school started appearing on social media, and enrollment was stagnant. In 2015 and 2016, it had the lowest ratings in the Lehigh Valley. When it closed its doors in June 2016, still owing its teachers money, it had earned only 29.8 out of 100 points on the state report card.
In its place, however, would be yet another charter school, the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School, the school with the anonymous flier to which Atiyeh loaned $100,000. Members of the board of the failed charter, including Haytmanek, were members of the applicant board. Atiyeh, of course, receives the new charter’s rent as well.
The district budgeted $26 million (about 10 percent of its annual budget) this year to pay for tuition and associated costs to charter schools. According to Roy, “We estimate that if all of the students in charters returned, even with hiring the additional needed staff, we would save $20 million. This is the cost of school choice.”
“If we weren’t spending so much on charters, we would have more academic and social supports for our students living in poverty. We would have more professional development focused on equity and literacy. We would have social workers. And, importantly, we would not have raised property taxes to the extent we have if not for the charter expenses.
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Really artful photo crop. Looking back of the photos I took of the event, I don’t even know how I would begin making a crop that showed only white faces. In any event, it’s a shame you missed this event. You would have heard Deborah Smith-Gregory, the president of the NAACP Newark chapter, talk about the ways charters hurt children of all colors and incomes by draining resources from public schools with no accountability to local communities. You would have also heard Frank Argote-Freyre, president of the Latino Coalition, talk about the segregation caused by the Red Bank Charter School, which has managed to for years to exclude children who begin school speaking English as a second language.
Really sad, Laura. Really, really sad that you would stoop this low. Don't ever again say that public ed activists 'cherry pick'. You've been caught red handed.
Thanks for reading, everyone. FYI, I didn't crop the photo. It was sent to me by one of the Newark parents, who took the photo and, in fact, didn't crop it either.