Let me be crystal clear—as a parent, a former school board member and now as an Assemblywoman, I support our public system of education. I also support charter schools as part of that public school system. Contrary to what some may believe, the two are not mutually exclusive.
New Jersey's charter school law must be rewritten. The original vision for the role of public charter schools has yet to be realized after 20 years of charter school operation in New Jersey. The legislative intent of the 1995 law that created public charter schools never was to replace public schools or establish a parallel education system. It has become clear to me that the purpose of charter schools—to share best practices and strategies—is not being actualized, and without that, charter schools are not functioning as part of the larger school community.
Charter and traditional public schools can be a 'win-win' for our students and our state if deliberate action is taken to make the two partners. The partnership hasn't happened organically, and it won't happen if the focus is on charter schools as a manifestation of "choice." School choice, as it is commonly perceived, fosters competition, not partnership. That was not the design of the New Jersey law, nor do I advocate the positioning of charter schools in this way. School choice as used in the charter school law was meant to foster learning environments, which could not be made available in the larger public school system. The law was enacted to improve public education for all students, not to provide a small segment of students with a better education.
We must formalize the process of finding and replicating best practices. We need to figure out how to do it on a larger scale and do it, while treating students, staff and the larger communities beyond classroom walls with respect and soliciting their input. Charter schools can be the nimble scouts, adjusting the path of educational theory to maximize educational achievement. Their successes should pave the way for a larger scale commitment of resources.
The dynamic between charter and traditional public schools needs to be reshaped to resemble the original intent and to reflect what New Jersey's experience has been with charter schools. A partnership between charters and traditional public schools, charter schools functioning in concert with the communities in which they reside and charter schools as complements to the broader public school system would be the success story for New Jersey.
Some of our most successful charter schools have shown the potential to be laboratories of innovation and models of successful strategies which should be replicated on a broader basis throughout the public school system. To reach their real value, we need to promote a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Charter schools are public schools, and as such, they should be operated on a basis that promotes the welfare and educational accomplishment of all of our public school students.
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