Choice Marches On: Charters for the Middle Class?*

By 01/22/2011

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From the beginning, charter schools have been sold as a vehicle of choice for the poor – and they have done a remarkable job, for the most part, providing that outlet.  Now, according to this morning’s New York Times, public school choice may be coming to a more affluent neighborhood near you.

Or so Eva Moskowitz, former New York City Council member, scourge of Gotham’s teacher unions, and founder of Success Charter Network, proposes. She wants to put a charter on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, not known for its poverty, saying, “Middle-class families need options too.”

But Moskowitz has found herself, according to the Times report, running into some stiff resistance since announcing her new charter last fall*:

Ms. Moskowitz is known for an aggressive style, and perhaps no neighborhood spoils for a fight more than the Upper West Side….  Opposition to the charter school, named Upper West Success Academy, has been as structured and relentless as the school’s own marketing campaign, and it has already chased the school out of two proposed locations, on 105th and 109th Streets. The local community education council, which represents District 3 public school parents, has mobilized council members and state senators in fighting the charter school, which it contends will siphon middle- and upper-middle-class families from schools that desperately need them for stability.

Sound familiar?

While there may be some debate about the definitions of the demographic here, the Times says there is a little nationwide trend:

Charter schools have been expanding into middle-class areas around the country as states have eased restrictions on the schools and as the economy has put private schooling increasingly out of reach. In Baltimore and Cleveland, for instance, officials are using charter schools to lure white families into the city, or to keep them from leaving.

There is no doubt that this is not your father’s charter school.  And no doubt Moskowitz is pushing the choice envelope.  But is there a reason choice should not be everyone’s right? Should public schools not compete with one another?

–Peter Meyer

*In an October report I headlined my blog post on this same subject, “Charters for the Wealthy” – hey, the recession continues.

Comment on this article
  • says:

    Peter, you and the NY Times have identified an important trend. People in the 21st Century are excercising more and more choice in all domains of their lives. Ask anyone in a company or organization that provides goods or professional services. People who see how the world is becoming more individualized, and how their own organizations have had to become more nimble and responsive, are left baffled by the ways our schools are run — the monopolistic perogatives of local school districts, the disregard for changing student needs, the granular micromanagement of education delivery, and the poor people management of so many of the front-line professionals. Middle class professionals increasingly see the problem as a monopolistic school district that does not change, because it does not have to change. Students and their funding walk through the door each day, because most parents have no other choices.

    Equally troubling is that the dysfunctions that used to be associated only with the worst urban districts are now coming to characterize more districts that serve middle income areas. Where I live, houses cost $600k to over one million, and most households are headed by one or more college-educated parents, yet the caliber of instruction in the public schools is steadily declining. Every parent sees it. Yes, there’s not enough money, but the problems we are seeing are about the fundamental activities that impact student learning. Is it too much to expect teachers to have at least some expertise in their area of instruction, to show up for class on time, to make assignments, then review and grade those assignments, and then record the grades? These basic executional factors are missing from a shocking number of classrooms in this area, and most professional parents can recognize these characteristics as the signs of a district in decline.

    But really, what should we expect from the insular monopolies that our school districts have become? We have spent, oh, 20-30 years debating school “accountability”, yet most of know that when the end-user has no choice, it is very hard to force a culture of accountability on an organization that must deliver a complex service to a demanding client base. I think we are going to see a LOT more charters in middle and upper class school districts, and from my perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.

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