Charter Schools: Melting Pot or Crucible?

Photo: hawthornestreet.com

Charter schools have become a crucible for New York’s gentrification battles. The latest episode in this war is described in an excellent neighborhood blog called Hawthorne Street. Earlier this week, at P.S. 92 on Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a couple of dozen predominantly white supporters of the Lefferts Gardens Charter School squared off verbally against mostly-Black P.S. 92 loyalists who were outraged at the Department of Education’s plan to give some of their school’s space to the new charter school. (Full disclosure: P.S. 92 is our editor’s alma mater.)

One prospective charter parent who attended the meeting, Vernalisa Joseph, called the scene “extremely emotional.” She said the conflict between the two groups of adults was witnessed by their impressionable children, who had been brought along for lack of child care.  “It was very sad. They weren’t always just thinking about the kids.”

The comments attached to the Hawthorne Street story are a microcosm of the national charter school controversy: The comment writers are civil and their views sincere. Some, like charter parents everywhere, simply view the new schools as a way for them to take an extra step for their children. Others bemoan Tweed’s top-down management style:  “The one substantial criticism I’ve heard of the local schools is that parents have no voice, and I wouldn’t want my kid to go to a place like that,” one commenter writes.

But none of the comments, even by people loyal to P.S. 92 and the parents who have committed their time and energy to improving it, articulates the gut issue beneath the surface:  the charter advocates are implicitly criticizing P.S. 92 parents by rejecting the educational choice those parents made for their children.

It is an object lesson for education policy makers. They, like charter school parents, need to realize that when they argue that charters are superior to traditional schools, they aren’t just criticizing the traditional schools. They’re also questioning the wisdom, the judgment and the commitment of the traditional public school parents. No matter how unintended, it’s an insult. If those parents react passionately when the Department of Education forces them to accommodate a new charter school, no one should be surprised.

Updated 11:35 am: Hawthorne Street reports that the Department of Education has approved the siting of the Lefferts Gardens Charter School in the P.S. 92 building. We will follow this story as it develops.


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6 responses to “Charter Schools: Melting Pot or Crucible?

  1. Well written and well said. In the end we all really just want what is best for our children and their future in this ever changing world. Choice gives us that, but hopefully the policy makers, the Mayor and all the other powers that be make these decisions with an eye towards a positive future for the city, the community and the children without crushing the people who count on them.

    Thank you!

  2. I have to disagree with your statement “the charter advocates are implicitly criticizing P.S. 92 parents by rejecting the educational choice those parents made for their children.”

    No one is implicitly or explicitly criticizing anyone, much less the parents of PS92. The school would not be what it is today were it not for their work and drive.

    I hope that we can all agree that the education system in NY is deeply flawed. That parents have organized the charter school isn’t a rejection of individuals as much as it is a desire to change/improve what is broken (the education system.)

    I don’t know when possibility, innovation and choice became a bad idea. I thought it was the American way…

  3. Hey, Sam,
    If you believe “the education system in NY is deeply flawed … and broken,” are you excluding P.S. 92? Unless you are, you’re saying to P.S. 92 parents, “you’ve been sending your child to a deeply flawed and broken school.” If that’s not an insult to a committed parent, we don’t know what is. Try to imagine yourself on the receiving end of such a message. What would you conclude?

    Unfortunately, the charter school movement has been framed nationally as a better way to educate than traditional public schools. That pretty much defines the message that’s being sent to TPS parents: “Your schools are inferior.” The leap from there to “your parental judgment is inferior” is not a long one.

  4. This is a ludicrous argument, essentially saying that any choice I make that differs from someone else is an insult to that other person. If I choose to eat at McDonalds am I insulting every person who chooses to eat at Burger King. Can’t we have personal preferences without insulting each other. Why can’t a parent say one school will work better for MY child than another school. This says nothing about the choice of other parents who believe that school is good for their child.

    Also, many parents have no choice in the public school they have to send their child to. Either they don’t earn enough to send their child to a private school or there’s only one zoned school in their community.

  5. I think that one must look at this charter school within the context of its community. For many years, many of the parents of Lefferts Manor have chosen to send their children to schools, private and public, outside of their community. The charter school movement has given them an opportunity to establish a public charter school within their community, a school that they may consider an option for their children. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
    Although I understand Gideon’s point, I think that it is important to understand the history here. I am certain that the PS 92 community has been sensitive to the fact that Lefferts Manor parents, for many years, have sent their children to schools outside the community. I think that it is understandable that the PS 92 parents look upon the establishment of this school as just another way for LM parents to segregate their children from the greater community–this time, though, it is at the added cost of space within their school and potentially, the loss of public funding for their school. The message is clear–the people behind this charter school do not feel that the local school is good enough for their children and that it is not worth their efforts to stand with the PS 92 community to strengthen the local school.
    My fear is that it is precisely this wedge that charter schools are exploiting throughout the city to gain a foothold. Charter schools must attract families to get public funding. Depending on the targeted audience, the message might be that their charter school is better, stricter, artsier, more progressive, more traditional, more whatever–but the message is always the same–the charter school choice is better. Those left in the “regular” neighborhood public school are left to feel that they have somehow failed their children.
    I believe that we are headed in the wrong direction.

  6. Wrong direction – okay so who’s asking for help? How are they asking for help?

    Seriously – this school does not have a great track record and I live in the community, not once did I hear anyone banging on doors, putting up flyers, inviting the media to say Help we have a problem.

    I did not check out the schools until I needed one and I didn’t like what I saw. Of course, I could have gone out and raised awareness in the community for all the schools that have a bad rating. Would that be a slap in the face of those who work there, who as mentioned at the public hearing, has been fighting the bureaucracy for a long time. Would anyone be able to change anything by the new school year.

    The ratings of this school on most sites were poor. Someone gave me an additionally option near my house. I don’t believe that is a bad thing.

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