The Value of Charter Schools
I’m writing in support of Princeton Charter School’s expansion. Our experience of the school has been overwhelmingly positive, and the education provided our daughter over the past 5 years, extraordinary. She will go on to high school equipped to do work at the highest level of challenge and achievement, and we feel deeply fortunate that she had the chance to thrive in an atmosphere of vigorous learning, aided by small school size, a highly motivated teaching staff and sense of
community that its leaders have cultivated meticulously over its 20 years in existence.
That said, our personal experience is not in itself an argument for expansion, or even for charter schools. Count me among the cynical when discussions of charter schools came up in the 80s and 90s and my fellow liberals and I found that they likely distracted resources and attention from local public schools. Why not double down on the schools at hand rather than fracture efforts by diverting those resources to new and untried projects?
The turning point came when I accepted a job as publisher of The New Republic, whose liberal credentials I’d long admired, but whose iconoclastic stances — particularly on ‘identity politics’ issues, which were anathema to them – I found particularly refreshing. In addressing complex issues head-on, and with an eye towards what benefits the community, it provided illumination on the trade-offs, not
a cheerleading section for the party. And the magazine taught me of the value of charter schools, beginning with: why not? Particularly for under-served communities, who were failing their children at catastrophic rates, why not try out new models of success that could help those children, their futures, and eventually, those communities? I agreed.
And of course, charter schools — as opposed to, in my opinion, privatized education and the range of issues introduced by, for example, current Education Secretary nominee Betsy DaVos — are at base progressive notions, which is why President Bill Clinton signed the first Charter School Program into law in l994 and kicked off a
continuous line of support from leading Democrats. Barack Obama expanded on Clinton’s leadership around charter schools, doubling funding for high-quality, public charter schools and launching “National Charter School Week.” Hillary Clinton was and is a charter school supporter, and while she was booed at the National Education Association convention last July for saying so, it’s a philosophy she’s carried since her earliest days working at the Children’s Defense Fund. Finally, Cory Booker — a progressive from the get-go — is a strong supporter of Charter Schools, in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Why? Because they all believe in bringing both the spirit of innovation that charter schools foster, and have seen how innovation drives new ideas and, in President Clinton’s words, “rapidly replicating excellence.” We’re blessed to live in a community that provides a range of excellent public schools and committed teachers, and which continues to attract new families at a record rate. Knowing that
the current expansion proposal for PCS would help alleviate crowding at the middle school; educate existing and new students with greater efficiency, from a revenue perspective; double down on attracting kids from our under-served households; and provide the current PCS students more elbow room, I’m hopeful that you’ll grant the
school’s expansion request.
Council Should Oppose Charter School Expansion
To the Editor:
I am a Princeton resident and the mother of two public school children (and a two-year-old). Six years ago, we moved to Princeton in large measure because of the high quality of the public schools. I myself am a product of New Jersey’s public education system (in Montclair, NJ), and I believe deeply in the promise of public schools to lift all members of our society through education and communal endeavor. I am writing today to urge my elected representatives to publicly oppose the Princeton Charter School’s expansion request.
While I have no doubt that PCS is a wonderful, beloved school, I am gravely concerned about the effects its expansion would have on our town’s equally wonderful and beloved public schools. The expansion would take $1.16 million away from the Princeton Public Schools’ budget, without lowering PPS’s expenses in any meaningful way. The Charter School argues that its expansion will reduce overcrowding in the public schools, but this, too, is a canard, as PCS seeks to expand precisely in the grades (K through 3) in which the Princeton Public Schools do not experience overcrowding, leaving those grades in which crowding is a problem (6 through 12) untouched.
As I see it, the budgetary shortfall PCS’s expansion would create will have two significant, harmful effects on the education my children receive. First, obviously, it will reduce the funds available to support the schools we love. Teachers will be fired, programs will be cut, and class sizes – especially at the high school, which most PCS students eventually attend – will increase.
Second, and perhaps even more perniciously, it will erode our sense of community. When the funding decisions are being made, the lack of money will pit program against program, teacher against teacher, and families against families: music will lose out to graphic art, foreign language will lose out to iPads, after-school sports will lose out to standardized test prep software. The choices forced by a reduced pot of funding won’t result in efficiency; they’ll result in fights over critical resources, and anguished decisions that divide our population and weaken the sense of togetherness that is so crucial to our schools’ success. I witnessed the painful divisions created by the negotiation of the teachers’ contract two years ago; imagine how divisive such negotiations will be when all money raised by a tax increase goes straight to the Charter School, leaving nothing to cover cost increases for the rest of us?
Finally, a point of fairness: it is deeply troubling that an issue of such vital importance to all Princeton taxpayers is made not by Princeton voters, but by an appointed state official. When I went to the polls, I did not get to vote for the acting commissioner of education; I voted for my local council members and my state senator and assemblymen. Because I have no say in this decision, I hope that my elected representatives will speak out on my behalf, arguing loudly and forcefully against both an expansion that would severely harm our prized public schools and a funding system that takes away such a critical democratic right from their constituents.
Charter School Expansion Will Harm Public Schools
To the Editor,
The high quality of our public schools, including the Princeton Charter School, is something that all Princeton residents can rightfully take great pride in. However, rising fixed costs (especially healthcare) and expanding enrollment will pose serious challenges to our ability to maintain this level of excellence. Only by coming together around creative ways to contain costs that we can all embrace will we be able to secure the strength and well-being of our schools. The recent decision by the Trustees of the Charter School to apply to the State of New Jersey to expand is the wrong move, at the wrong time and conducted in the wrong way (without any forewarning or input from the broader community and to be decided not by Princeton residents at all, but rather by the NJ Commissioner of Education). The assertions of the Charter School leadership that this move will save the public schools money are dubious and, by all the information I have seen, simply inaccurate and self-serving. By taking $1.2 million out of the public school coffers and allocating it solely to the Charter School for the 76 additional slots sought there, the existing fiscal challenges to the school system are only compounded. I urge the Board of Trustees of the Charter School to retract their application. If they truly believe (as they claim) that their move is in the broader interests of the community, they should have the courage of their convictions and delay this move until there is a consensus in the Princeton community as to its wisdom. Both the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools are funded out of the same limited pool of resources – working together they have the best chance of ensuring the continued success of both. A house divided, however, cannot stand. If this application moves forward and is approved by the Commissioner of Education, it will only backfire on the Charter School to the extent that it both galvanizes vocal and sustained opposition from those, such as myself, who have not previously considered themselves opponents of the Charter School and undermines the quality of the very high school that the Charter School itself feeds into. So I repeat my fervent request that the Charter School leadership drop their application to expand… And I urge all residents of Princeton to voice strenuous opposition before it is too late and a chasm opens up between the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools, to the detriment of both.
Princeton Charter Does Not Need to Expand
Letter to the Editor:
I must confess that we were one of those families that were seeking a “high quality alternative” in public education at Princeton. For three years, we tried PCS under the promise of a better education and teachers committed to improve the academics of our kids. The experience was not exactly as promised, not all kids received the promised great education (especially in the upper school). At the end, PCS made us feel that we were not the right demographics for the school, we ended moving back to PPS.
The argument that PCS offers a better and cost effective alternative to PPS is not quite accurate. Most of what PPS provides at no cost PCS charges to parents, which imposes an additional financial burden to low income families. The greatest impact of this, in a small school like PCS, is that it creates social disadvantages and stigmas to those families and, most importantly, to their children. Furthermore, to fully function PCS relies on family contributions which adds another layer of inequality. Parents that contribute the most enjoy better all-around treatment, especially in the upper school. After all, let’s be reminded that PCS is privately run, but publicly funded. There is no accountability when those who run the school are a small group of influential teachers and parents in the Board of Trustees.
The above has had its toll on the impact of PCS in the community. Using data from DOE/NJ, in 1998 (a year after PCS started), the demographic composition of PPS and PCS were roughly similar and closely mirroring Princeton’s. The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics students were 18% in PPS and 12% in PCS, Census of 2000 shows 12% for the town. Seventeen years later, in 2015, these two groups represented 19% of the student body in PPS and just 6% of PCS, Census of 2010 shows that African Americans and Hispanics represented 14% of Princeton. The percentages of students in free/reduced lunch show even bigger differences, in 1998 10% of students were in the program at PPS while PCS did not have any; by 2015 those percentages increased to 13% for PPS and only to 2% for PCS. These numbers show that in almost twenty years of its existence, PCS has been unable to provide access to “high level education” to minority groups that have been traditionally marginalized and to low income families in general.
In my opinion and own experience, I strongly believe that the Princeton Charter School does not need an expansion, it needs a serious makeover or a definite shutdown.
Veronica Olivares Weber
Closing of the Princeton Mind?
I’m writing to express my support for Princeton Charter School ( PCS ) and its planned expansion. As a parent of a charter school student, I’m baffled by the degree of corrosive and antagonistic pushback coming from the Princeton school district over a modest and perfectly logical expansion plan of PCS. I feel like I’m witnessing the closing of the collective Mind of Princeton.
I ask the dear reader to at least temporarily suspend your pre-conceived notion of Charter School, and mull over a few facts. Perhaps you will also like to ponder some of my questions. More on those later. With that, let’s start with two undisputed facts.
Fact One, despite what you might hear, PCS cost the town of Princeton, at least one third less per student. In fact, PCS is reimbursed $ 13,217 dollars for each student. The district of Princeton on the other hand, clocks in with expenses at $ 21,341 per student. For interested readers, this makes Princeton number ONE in cost for its peer group across the entire state of New Jersey. I ask the dear reader does making the argument that the District can’t afford Charter make any sense?
Fact Two Princeton Charter School outperforms 99% of all the public schools in the State of New Jersey in Math and 89% in Language Arts. (As measured by the student growth percentiles (PCS) the Official means the state uses to determine progress)
I’ll be the first to admit that PCS is not for every child …but if your child could flourish in a more challenging environment. Isn’t it nice that you and your child have a choice here in Princeton? You won’t be alone. The word is out and, at present nearly 100 families are on the waiting list for PCS. What better way to serve the community then a modest expansion of 3 classrooms to offer more desks for better outcomes at a significantly lower cost to taxpayers?
To be clear, Princeton has a very good education system filled with many many wonderful and caring teachers. We are blessed. However, no school is perfect for every child, offering parents a choice of education makes Princeton a better and stronger school system. In a word, having competition and choice makes us stronger as a community. For instances , Lowes, the home improvement center is better because of Home Depot, the US Post Office is radically improved because of Federal Express. Competition brings out creativity and new ways of doing things and ideally, the sharing of best practices.
It’s called progress. Apparently choice and progress are not welcome by all. Some are attempting to paint charter as an elite private school that is undermining the school district. This is completely untrue. Princeton Charter (PCS) is a public (K-8th) school open to any and all that apply. The only qualification is that you live in Princeton and that you want to go! As I mentioned, because of its popularity, demand exceeds supply which explains why the school up to this point, employs a random lottery system to select who can occupy the current 348 available desks. The proposal is to increase a total of 76 more decks for Kindergarten through 2nd grade. FYI Parents…Charter is now accepting applicants for the Fall Semester. I recommend you stop by the next open house.
Shockingly, since PCS has announced the perfectly logical and modest expansion plans to better serve the community, the Princeton School District has instituted a series of distortions, lies and outright deceptions. Rather than address the facts, the school district is hoping that a barrage of negative headlines will sway busy parents into ignoring some troubling signs within the district itself. An open mind might wonder why such an overreaction to stifle success? What ever happened to watering the flowers?
Parents and taxpayers might be appalled and quite disappointed to see how the district leadership has responded. Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Steven Cochrane without even a conversation or a look at the plan, was quoted as saying“I stand in firm opposition to this proposed expansion of the PCS, not out of any ill will for the Charter School, but because the expansion would significantly undermine the quality of education we are able to provide to our students in this district,”
What did he just say? This sounds like classic doublespeak and a bit of a head scratcher for anyone with a grasp of the facts, which seem to escape even a cursory consideration from Mr. Cochrane.
Another comment is even more telling, having been quoted in Planet Princeton in December “called for the charter school to consolidate with the district “ This vailed sanctimonious threat of wanting to fold in Charter school, I suspect belies Mr. Cochrane’s dream to reestablish an education monopoly. To me, this makes as much sense as turning over Federal Express to the Post Office to improve efficiency, service and outcomes.
With that mind still open, I ask you to ponder the questions below that I have listed for our School Superintendent, Mr. Steven C. Cochrane and you decide if the school district is working for you as a parent and/ or taxpayer
· What on earth is going at John Witherspoon School? I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but it’s true, according to NJ state official numbers, JW ranks 26% in peer percentile score in Math and a ground hugging 17% in Language Arts. The state wide numbers are slightly better but is this is what you call a quality education?
Please tell the parents of Princeton what exactly you are doing to fix this. I wonder, might your time be better served by focusing on your current responsibilities?
· Why have you adopted such an adversarial position by spreading misleading and distorted facts about PCS and why sir are you spending tax payer money to sue Charter, while talking about “working together “
· Why has the school district seen fit over the last 10 years to hire 2 additional full time employees for every 3 additional students? (130 additional full time employee’s added vs 198 more students) And still deliver middle of the pack scores?
· Please explain why parents/taxpayers are not entitled to a choice that is best for their child? Why are you not pro-choice? Why do you want Charter “folded in “
· Why are almost 100 families in Princeton on the waiting list for Charter School? And why are they not entitled to more seats to meet the overwhelming demand?
· Why are you claiming that the expansion of Charter would take away the salary of 15 teachers in the district while simultaneously claiming that Charter would have to hire 3 or 4 teachers? Might this explain why your cost are out of control? Might it be a reason why Princeton is ranked number 1 in cost across the entire state? If more teachers were the answer, why are scores so low?
Finally, dear sir, who are you working for? The teacher’s union or the children and taxpayers of Princeton? If you had a real desire for an exceptional education system you should be embracing competition by learning and implementing best practices throughout the district. Your actions suggest a threatened bureaucrat that would strongly prefer a monopoly where the administration can go about its freewheeling hiring and delivering middle of the pack results while chanting “special education” as an excuse blanket at every turn.
It would be a refreshing sign of leadership and perhaps a “mind opening “experience for yourself if you would stop resorting to throwing threats, lies and lawsuits. That sir, would require you to put the children and taxpayers of Princeton first. Are you able? As a first step, instead of more double speak, I would suggest you meet with the board of PCS and work together for the best interest of students and taxpayers, with of course, the facts and an open mind … Together I would hope we can keep the mind of Princeton open while making Princeton the best school system it can be.