It is very disheartening that the discussion about the success of Jersey City’s Public Schools, whether District or Charter is always couched in an “us versus them” theme and too often just about money. Wouldn’t it be great if the leaders of District schools and Charter schools could share what they’ve learned from their successes and failures to help each other make all the schools better?
William Frasca, who I often agree with, presented a meandering and confusing assessment of the state of Charter schools in general (Jan. 23rd, Charter School Systems) and Jersey City’s in particular. The letter contained many inaccuracies. Most of Jersey City’s Charter schools serve kindergarten - eighth grade. The “test, transcripts, and interviews” Frasca suggests Charter Schools should incorporate for admission are totally inappropriate for Charter or District schools that enroll kindergarten – fifth grade students. The lottery system (emotionally stressful as it is) is the only fair way to determine who is accepted into a K – 8 Charter school if there are more applications than openings. He provides no evidence of “loopholes within the selection process”, only the example of a one time very unfortunate mistake that was immediately corrected because the school had the legal and ethical responsibility to do so.
I agree with Mr. Frasca that the “malfunctions” like “political patronage….top heavy non essential positions and administrators” “must be eliminated, revised and corrected”. He effectively makes the point that entrenched political interests are the enemy of District schools. Charter schools are not. Many Charter schools are started precisely because of the entrenched bureaucracy that hampers any individual District school’s ability to be innovative. That makes it almost impossible for the District school to respond to the specific needs of its student population. When faced with a failing District school that may want to change but can’t, parents and educators feel they have no choice but to start from scratch, as incredibly difficult as that is, to create schools that can better serve the children in this city. Many parents in cities around the country that face intractable Boards of Education and city governments are also turning to the possible solution of Charter schools.
How great it would be if successful Charter schools, like some of the ones in this city, could share their experiences with their District counterparts to help all the students get a good or even excellent education. But until the powers that be are willing to make substantial changes in how the public school system that now exists is run, that is unlikely to happen.