The chatter on charter schools in New Jersey got off to a quick start last week.
Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee for Education Commissioner, Bret Schundler, who helped found a charter school in Jersey City, attended his first state Board of Education meeting Wednesday at which the board approved regulations to fast-track the approval process for new charter school applications.
Christie’s education transition team on Friday recommended the state let existing successful charter schools expand by opening new sites as early as September. Their report also said the state should close charter schools that are low-performing, though it did not define what would determine high and low performance.
And according to a new poll, the general public is still pretty cautious about buying into the charter mania.
The Quinnipiac University poll, also released last week, found 40 percent of New Jersey residents surveyed support charter schools, up from 38 percent last October. That’s okay, but not overwhelming.
Not surprisingly, support was strongest among blacks (52 percent) and in urban areas (53 percent), where parents are most anxious to get their children out of struggling schools.
Support was weakest among union households (29 percent) possibly due to the fact that most charter schools are not unionized.
It’s too early to say if the new regulations will lead to an increase of charter applicants this year.
But it’s worth noting that former education Commissioner Lucille Davy originally recommended a longer timeline after several charter schools failed to open or quickly closed, and the Department of Education decided the schools needed more planning time to open successfully.
In its comments to the state board, the Education Law Center noted that the original fast-track proposal, initiated by Gov Jon S. Corzine, was intended to apply to applicants that already had a track record of success. The regulations approved Wednesday have no such provision.
Christie has touted charter schools as an alternative for students in failing public schools.
But a third of the state’s charter schools have also failed, and overall, charter school test results are no better than those in the public school districts in which they are located.
Simply moving to another school does not guarantee a student academic success. Touting the success of charter schools such as the Robert Treat Academy in Newark without offering parents some assurance that all charter schools will measure up to that standard is just political bait and switch. Closing failing schools sounds good, but where does that leave the children who have been in them except even more behind?
Christie and Schundler have an obligation to parents and taxpayers to make sure any alternative they propose is based on more than political rhetoric.
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