Letters to the Editor

Chartered Race to the Bottom

Member, Paterson Board of Education, speaking for himself.

The Paterson School district is fighting to keep its schools.  I'm not speaking for the school board or the commissioner of education here. But as I understand it, the state department of education (NJ DOE) "encouraged" the state appointed superintendent in Newark to put forth an educational reform plan that included closing schools and leasing them to new charter schools.  Now Paterson is being asked to devise educational reform plans and presumably the same type of "encouragement" is in effect.

The plan was supposed to be developed by the board, the state appointed superintendent and representatives from the education commissioner's office.  But that changed to a small, unidentified group creating the plan.  The plan they brought included the closing of some local schools and opening the freed up buildings for charter schools to run.

Now what's wrong with charter schools, especially in urban centers where the public system is not performing well?  Quite simply, charter schools "cream" or skim off engaged parents and their better performing students.  This means they preferentially take better performing students out of the public system.  This creates a better performing charter school (but not always) but leaves a higher percentage of lower performing students in the public school system.  It also raises the relative cost of educating those remaining students.  This is why suburban school districts are fighting new charters trying to open in their communities.

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The state's position is that students in struggling school districts deserve the opportunity to attend better performing schools.  The NJ DOE also says it is moving away from evaluating school districts and starting to evaluate individual schools.  It further reserves the right to, instead of taking control of challenged districts, begin taking failing schools.  They believe that charter schools and private-for-profit entities running public schools (just as private-for-profit companies run prisons), need to be part of the mix.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the charters will cream the district's stronger students.  The district's test scores will fall, necessitating the state coming in to close more schools and open more charters.  Soon, the weaker performing public school system will collapse.  Like any good ponzi scheme, the suckers that get in the game late (seek charter schools later rather than sooner) will be among the biggest losers.  Of course, the charter school owners and private companies will get their payday, at the expense of the district's children and Paterson's public school system.



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