Rethinking Schools–My Wonderful Discovery for Today
In 1986, as their website says, a group of Milwaukee area teacher had a vision. Today, that vision of public education reform, of and for public schools, is embodied online through the Rethinking Schools website and publications. Their Mission: Rethinking Schools is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education through social justice teaching and education activism. Our magazine, books, and other resources promote equity and racial justice in the classroom. We encourage grassroots efforts in our schools and communities to enhance the learning and well being of our children, and to build broad democratic movements for social and environmental justice.
I have occasionally run across this nonprofit organization through web links in the past, but I’m increasingly drawn to their work and their mission. And I’m particularly impressed by this recent analysis of two charter school movements in New Jersey, written by Stan Karp, who is currently the Director of the Secondary Reform Project for the New Jersey Education Law Center. Entitled “A Tale of Two Districts: The Long Reach and Deep Pockets of Corporate Education Reform,” it reviews the political and corporate power that has pushed charter schools in Newark and Montclair, N.J. over the objections of local community members, parents, and teachers.
N.J. Politics Are More Typical of Urban School Reform Than Not
Karp shows that the power politics and intentionally distorted justifications of pushing charters onto Newark and Montclair, one poor and failing, the other more mixed but not a failing district, are more alike than different. Newark was taken over by the state many years ago, and efforts by local citizens to push back on the closing of schools by politically appointed school leadership demonstrates the arrogance of state officials and Governor Christie. These state appointees were drawn from the ranks of charter proponents, and their political clout rises up through the Governor’s office all the way to Arne Duncan (who is in bed with the same pro-charter corporate forces). Karp shows the powerlessness of the local community to control their educational futures.
And Montclair, Karp writes, suffers the same tone-deaf to community member interests problems as Newark. Interestingly, several significant noational pro-charter leaders live in Montclair. I suspect their own children are likely to be enrolled in schools other than Montclair, despite the district’s historical good reputation.
Funding Issues Remain Significant
Karp also mentions the issues of funding for N.J. schools, including the chronic underfunding of Newark and the declining support from the state for Montclair. (For more details on underfunding in N.J., see the work of ed finance professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers, at his educational blog School Finance 101. He writes frequently on issues of inequitable school finance in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and has wonderfully details fiscal and test data analyses to demonstrate his arguments. His work is mentioned by Karp in this analysis.)
Growing Solidarity Among Anti-Charter Advocates?
At the end of his article, Karp suggest “The seeds of solidarity are starting to sprout.” As we see again and again that underfunded public schools are being held up to scrutiny in order to promote or foster anti-public education reforms, perhaps more public opposition will be a gathering storm that can slow down this arrogant privatization movement. This article is a good read–full of historical analysis and clearly linking the underlying themes and some of the people involved. Thank you to Stan Karp and Rethinking Schools!