A couple different news stories about public education in Brooklyn go a long, long way to illustrate that, for many parents, getting a quality education for their kids is more about chance than choice.
In case you missed it, Achievement First’s network of Charter Schools held a lottery to determine next year’s Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 5th Grade student rosters throughout the network’s 10 neighborhood schools. 3,000 applicants lined up for AF’s PowerBall Extravaganza, with only 750 kids winning the coveted spots. Why do parents go through such an ordeal to get their kids into one of these schools? In a word: Results. The schools tend to score highly on the NYC DoE’s grade report, the kids tend to do better on the state’s standardized tests, and hey who doesn’t want the absolute best for their kid?
Charter schools are a touchy subject. Many feel charter schools are a panacea for all that ails our public education system, others are concerned about the quasi-privatizing of something so core to our society as the education of our kids, and still others are so results-oriented they really could not care less who runs the school so long as the kids get their learning done right.
Here’s another story from the Charter vs District tug o’war. The NY Times has the story about PS 9, Teunis G. Bergen School, which by all accounts does a great job preparing kids for middle school. The school has a true mix of NY’ers, while 75% of the kids have their lunches subsidized, they share their tables with the kids of yuppies who’ve recently escaped Manhattan. Aside from some PCB worries, PS 9 is all a public school should be: An equalizer where all get a quality education regardless of economic circumstance or chance.
PS 9’s success may have proved to be it’s undoing, however. The proud parents of PS 9 were so happy with their school, and so unhappy with the underperforming middle school their kids would attend after PS 9, they thought: Let’s have the same PS 9 management team extend their school’s mandate to go from K to 8th grade? The middle school’s closing, so why not?
The Department of Education had other plans. They wanted to replace the underperforming middle school with a charter school managed by the Uncommon Schools chain of charter schools, and never bothered to consult with the parents or management of PS 9. the NYC DoE even engineered a bureaucratic Catch-22, making PS 9’s taking over MS 571’s space all but impossible. And what’s worse:
The parents had spent the previous two years rebuilding [the school] library, which had been closed for years and was in bad shape. They had won $450,000 in grants to be used for the library, thanks to Councilwoman Letitia James and the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz.
A few months later, the department unveiled its building usage plan: The new P.S. 9 library would be available to the charter school for 6 hours 45 minutes a week; P.S. 9 would get its library for 4 hours 30 minutes.
And here’s what we’re left with: Even when a school (like PS 9) consistently delivers a quality education and is broadly supported by the community, The NYC Department of Education only has eyes for charter schools. Parents sense this, that charter schools are getting the bulk of the department’s attention and resources, so they understandably want their kids in these favored schools. Charter schools get impacted, and parents are forced to gamble with their kid’s future at lotteries like what Achievement First held last week; thus reducing public education in NYC from a choice to a chance.
The NYC DoE probably looks at the popularity of Achievement First and Uncommon Schools and sees a validation of their charter school initiative, and brags about the 750 kids who got into Achievement First. We’re left wondering, what about the 2,250 who didn’t? Don’t they deserve a quality education, too?