For those of you who follow N.J.’s charter school wars within the circumscribed twitter universe, the last few days have been pretty hot. The backstory here is that Mark Weber (a popular anti-reform blogger known as Jersey Jazzman who studies with Bruce Baker at Rutgers) and Julia Sass Rubin (professor at Rutgers and founder of the anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ) published a report on charter school demographics, paid for by an anti-charter foundation, also based at Rutgers. The study aimed to prove that charter schools “cream off” cohorts of kids who are less impoverished, less disabled, and more fluent in English than those enrolled in traditional district schools.
The conclusions imbedded in the report have been disputed by charter school leaders. Carlos Perez, head of the N.J. Charter School Association, for example, dismissed the report as “anti-charter propaganda.” But the primary igniter of this week’s heat wave was not the report itself but Ms. Rubin’s remark, printed in the Star-Ledger, that charter schools draw a less poor and more informed group of parents because “poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children.” Here’s her quote:
“People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,” she said. “It’s just not going to be high on their list.”
Now, anyone who’s regularly interviewed by reporters can remember a time when something he or she said was mis-transcribed or misinterpreted. Unfortunately, Ms. Rubin didn’t apologize for what could have been an offhand remark but instead lashed out and doubled down. Through a series of tweets (see bottom of post for examples) she accused pro-charter advocates, particularly Barbara Martinez of Uncommon Schools in Newark, of ghost-writing the editorials for the parents, or at least supplying them with talking points. People in abject poverty, she implied, not only lack the bandwidth to properly evaluate school choices but also to express themselves independently.
It’s time to move on.
Let’s all take a deep breath and remember that we share common ground. All of us– parents, teachers, charter school and traditional school administrators, reform advocates, union leaders – are in this for the kids. We want to ensure that all kids, regardless of zip code or parental wealth, have access to great public schools. Some of us care about whether those schools are labeled as traditional schools. Some of us don’t. But our expanse of consensus is broader than the small territory of political and semantic dispute.
Let’s try this.
We agree that:
- Impoverished parents face more challenges than wealthy parents because their options are limited by zip code-based enrollment policies, the money to enroll their children in private or parochial schools, resources to supplement traditional district options, and, often, access to some of the state’s best magnet schools. The restrictions on “bandwidth” are external, not internal, and poor parents are as capable as wealthier parents of evaluating school options. (Perhaps this is what Ms. Rubin meant to say.)
- New Jersey’s public school fabric interweaves traditional and district schools, and that pattern is here to stay. We need to work collaboratively, not adversarially. This is a partnership, not a zero sum game.
- Charter school demographics should reflect district demographics. The due diligence involved in this assurance, however, is more complex than culling numbers from the state data base on the percentage of kids who are classified as eligible for special education services or a school’s attrition rates. (Example: some children are over-classified by traditional schools and some parents of kids with disabilities prefer out-of-district private or county placements.) Data is malleable.
People who care about public education expand their bandwidth by combining forces. Can we find a way to work together?
Examples from Twitter:
Julia Sass Rubin @[email protected] Are you PR professional behind attack letter campaign? Sounds like you, including swipes at Princeton @jerseyjazzman
Julia Sass Rubin @BCTEAM Did same person write all 4 letters or just gave talking points to use? Do you know which PR firm they used? @RHTEAM @jerseyjazzman
@BMartinez42@JuliaSassRubin @UncommonSchools Impossible, never met most ppl u claim I wrote for. Possible: they are telling u that u offended them.
Julia Sass Rubin @[email protected] Why won’t you answer question? DID YOU WRITE THE TALKING POINTS FOR THE 4 ATTACK LETTERS TO THE EDITOR? Yes or no?
Barbara Martinez @[email protected] @UncommonSchools Wow. You really do have a hard time believing Camden/Newark parents can speak for themselves huh?