We are approaching a turning point in the history of the United States and have an opportunity to shift the paradigm and make America a global leader in education.
In the midst of public debates from both Democratic and Republican leadership we have heard very little about plans to improve the quality of public education in the K-12 space. The quality of public education within urban and low-income communities has been below standards for decades, yet the voices of leaders have been silent and often non-existent when it comes to changing the status quo.
In the same breath, the great debate about charter schools and the expansion of public school options tends to ignite a fire and causes unfamiliar voices to ring loud in the public education space when it serves their interests.
I’ve served as a member of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board for almost three years and have seen the impact that parental choice has had on our community. And as the father of a preschooler, I strongly believe that parental choice is the most powerful tool that we can provide for students and families. We should not be forced to enroll our children in failing schools, and leaders should not accept failing schools as educational options in their communities.
We live in a democratic society, which means that parents should have a say in the decision-making process to educate their children. When parents choose to exercise their democratic authority they should be commended and supported, not ostracized or isolated.
Over the past few years we’ve experienced education reforms and are starting to see transformation throughout our city. We’ve seen collaboration and partnerships that have grown organically in an environment where the thoughts and feelings of parents have been neglected and ignored.
Charter schools have become a saving grace for many families in Newark and are now embedded in the DNA of this city. Before Newark’s Universal Enrollment System it was charter schools and a handful of magnet schools that allowed families to seek educational opportunities outside of failing neighborhood schools.
The harsh reality is that living in some parts of Newark lowers a child’s chances of receiving a quality education.
Because Newark, just like many other urban cities, had the majority of troubled or low-performing schools located in sections of the city that had the highest crime and unemployment rates. These were also the sections of the city that lacked economic stability and saw an unfair distribution of resources.
While some argue that charter schools take away from traditional public schools, I say charter schools will help make our public school system more competitive. A 2015 survey from Education Post shows that 72 percent of African-American parents and 69 percent of Hispanic parents surveyed nationwide believe that charter schools offer options to low-income communities rather than take resources from traditional public schools.
The expansion of charter schools and public school options in Newark has forced the Newark Public Schools to focus more on driving quality in schools and improving inefficiencies that exist within the system.
Contrary to popular belief, the education reform movement and expansion of public school options is not being led by white hedge-funders.
Parents and advocates from low-income communities throughout the nation are the driving force behind the expansion of educational options, not leaders of hedge funds.
I recently attended the seventh Annual Seminar on Educational Policy and Parent Advocacy hosted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and learned the courageous story of the members of the Alabama Black Caucus who fought tooth and nail to get a charter school law passed in their state.
A recent BAEO survey of 2,400 black voters in four states, including New Jersey, revealed the following about New Jersey respondents:
- 77 percent support providing parents with more educational choices in their local school districts.
- 65 percent support charter schools.
- 94 percent say a candidate’s views on education is important to them before they vote.
- 65 percent say testing is necessary to hold schools accountable.
The voices and faces of the ed reform movement are families like mine who are demanding greater school choice and high-quality options in their communities.
We are changing the narrative, and this transformation is a direct result of the additional education options available to students and families.
Competition within the public education space is a contributing factor to the growth of all children in Newark.
While there are advocates who believe that more money is needed to educate children, that argument is unproven. However, we can clearly state that additional funding does not guarantee higher quality in our schools.
More than $1 billion is spent on public education in Newark every year but students are still failing. We are still many steps away from having a city that’s filled with high-quality public school options.
An estimated 30 percent of Newark students are enrolled in our charter schools and more families are on waiting lists or exploring other educational options. Parents are not waiting for miracles, rather they are acting with a sense of urgency.
We must embrace the good and allow our children to reap the benefits of charter schools and other public education options.
Charter schools may not be the right choice for every child but they work for many students and families.
Charter schools are a viable option for students and families. We must be unapologetic in our approach to expand high-quality public school options in Newark and beyond.