By Cami Anderson
I recently had an opportunity to engage with state legislators on a range of topics affecting students in Newark. I sincerely appreciated a forum where decorum was upheld, questions could be answered, and tough, frank dialogue could occur. Our children’s lives depend on our ability to deliver radically better results than we have to date. That requires difficult conversations and a willingness to confront dysfunctional past practices.
Change is hard. Breaking down and rebuilding a failed bureaucracy requires tough decisions – ones about which reasonable people can disagree. I left the hearing asking myself how we can move forward together to find ways to ensure equity while building excellent public schools, and how we can deepen our connection with families in Newark and those that represent them.
Every high-performing school has a transformational school leader who is empowered to hire excellent teachers. They have 21st-century facilities, engaged families, and best-in- class tools and curricula.
Many of these high-performing schools are charters. And, in many regards, they are playing with a much more favorable hand than traditional public schools. They don’t have to choose between balancing their budget and “force placing” teachers because of seniority rules that are not driven by quality. They can retain teachers who are excellent and exit those who are not growing. They can use tax credits and bonds to efficiently renovate buildings and buy air conditioners. They can drive money into the classroom without the attacks that come when a district attempts the same objectives.
We can deny that charters have these advantages, or we can try to slow their growth, but that denies families’ access to high-quality schools now. The fact remains that many charters in Newark are outperforming traditional public schools. Instead of fighting against a charter system that is working for our kids, we must create a public policy agenda that gives traditional public schools the same pro-student advantages.