Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Charter school advocates are modern-day freedom fighters

Charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the annual National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta this morning, “This room is full of modern-day freedom fighters who refuse to accept what is and demand every day what we know can be.”

In fiery rhetoric suitable for a civil rights rally, Booker called for an end to an achievement gap that he described “as wide as the Grand Canyon.” He applauded an effort by charter schools “to transform pitfalls into pools of potential.”

“This is not our children’s fault. It is our fault,” Mayor Booker said. “We must stop playing the blame game where we blame the parents or the teachers or the politicians or the community. This is what the charter movement is about. Democracy is not a spectator sport where you stand on the sidelines and give colorful commentary.”

Charter school advocates “do not let their fear grow bigger than their faith. They do not let their inability to do everything stop their determination to do something,” he said to applause.

“We are part of a charter school community under attack in every single state,’ Booker told the 4,000 attendees. “We are part of a charter school community that is trying to show the nation that our children should be our focus, that we not have vilification of children in charter schools.”

But Booker cautioned the advocates, “If we become an establishment that defends charter schools just because they are a charter school, then we have failed as a movement. Our charter schools must be schools of accountability. Our charter schools must be schools of excellence.”

Booker talked about the 13-year-old shot and killed in Newark over the weekend in an argument that the mayor says was over a girl. He bemoaned the high incidence of homicides among young black men and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“We fought the greatest war on American soil for the liberation of our people yet we imprison more and more of our own in prisons of ignorance every single day.”

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

30 comments Add your comment

SoGAVet

June 21st, 2011
11:58 am

Charter schools are not the panacea for all that ails public schools. To wit, one does not improve the nation’s water supply by investing in Perrier.

Funding is a problem; parental involvement is a problem; administrators looking for a silver bullet is a problem.

Charter schools by their nature should be incubators for ideas that can then be extrapolated to the whole. But they are not. We do not approach problems within educatoin as if we were looking for a cure – else we would conduct what amounts to clinical trials – experiments whose results can be replicated – for solutions.

Treat a charter school as an experiment, with a named hypothesis and a course to determine the experiments and expected outcomes… might move the debate a bit.

Perturbed

June 21st, 2011
12:00 pm

I’m perturbed whenever someone has “THE” answer. There’s never one right answer for all situations. One reason charter schools have gotten such great press is that the ownership by the teachers, students and parents create a natural winner. Once that initial ownership and excitement dies down, so does a lot of the success. Let communities decide what works for them, let the schools themselves become competitive. People will move to where the good ones are (yes, even the less fortunate can move).

Paddy O

June 21st, 2011
12:08 pm

grandstanding hubris from a guy who is mayor of one of the crappiest cities in the nation. Why is it so crappy? Race riots in the mid – late 60’s.

Chris S

June 21st, 2011
12:20 pm

I just happen to know a woman who founded, along with 3 others, a charter school in Newark. Grades 1-6, it is clean, safe, and the teachers there are very dedicated. There is a chart on the wall that shows the reading progress of every student, and each is taught individually according to where they are.
The school is trying to get more private funding, because charters are funded at 70% of public school. They don’t have the resources for field trips, for example. But they do have a wait list.
Not all charters are inferior to publics, I think many are trying new ideas. We should reward the ones that prove to be successful.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

June 21st, 2011
12:25 pm

Chris S, is right: We should reward the ones that prove to be successful.

Of course, we should follow Chris’ advice in dealing with our traditional public schools.

Struggling Teacher

June 21st, 2011
12:47 pm

And why can’t the successes of a charter school happen in the public school? Because the public school is not allowed to do so. They are restrained by too many mandates and poor funding. Public education should always be in a state of change because the world changes, but don’t throw away everything! All that takes place in a public school is not bad. I am tired of being the whipping-boy for all of the ills of education. Give public education the same hype and sound-bytes with their successes, too. The students that I teach that come from the charter school in our county cannot keep pace with our students who never left our school. We can’t be doing too poorly!

Active in Cherokee

June 21st, 2011
12:56 pm

My biggest issue with public funds going towards charter schools is the lact of oversight. This ranges from the lotteries to get in, flexibility or totally ignoring the state standards, lack of identical testing, and does AYP even apply? Will teachers at charters go to performance based pay like teachers in traditional public schools under the RTTT legislation? I just think if some of the same flexibility was given to our current public school system then you would see improved results – just seems logical.

@SoGAVet – I like the idea of using charter schools to research a specific hypothesis so that they can help improve the schools as a whole.

@Chris & Dr. Spinks – I think originally part of the NCLB legislation was meant to reward good schools, however it seems to only be punishing the ‘bad’ schools and causing more of a gap

JHTaylor

June 21st, 2011
12:57 pm

Let’s get this right, folks. Our kids will be our leaders sooner than later. Are we doing right for them? The charter organization I work for advocates good schools for ALL children? Public school is failing? Close it. Charter school is failing? Close it!

JHTaylor

June 21st, 2011
12:59 pm

By the way, charter schools are public schools. Tradtional public schools are referred to as public schools in most of the comments above.

Active in Cherokee

June 21st, 2011
1:05 pm

@Struggling Teacher – Couldn’t agree more! I used to volunteer at a HS in Fulton County and saw numerous students return to that HS from Fulton Science Academy (usually ‘honor roll type students at FSA). I was shocked to learn how behind they were – and it happened numerous times! Charter schools aren’t always better and public schools need to be given props and shown the same hype for the things they do right!

[...] After the soaring rhetoric of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the 4,000 attendees of the National Charter Schools Conference received a dose of practical advice from former President Bill Clinton, winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the group this morning. [...]

Active in Cherokee

June 21st, 2011
1:13 pm

JHTaylor – not all Charter Schools are public and many of the them that are now were not created that way. Many of the original ideas for ‘charter’ schools were based heavily on private funding, something that has seemed to go away as more pulic money is perceived to be available. ‘Traditional’ public schools are more and more handicapped as more money is given to ‘public’ charter schools. This prohibits them from doing some of the experimental education methods that the charter schools are able to do.

Despite what it may sound like – in theory I’m not against charter schools. In practice however I think we need a level playing field since the ‘traditional’ public school students are suffering while this debate/fight goes on.

oldtimer

June 21st, 2011
1:14 pm

One charter high in Nashville just made Newsweeks top 100 list.

Dr NO

June 21st, 2011
1:22 pm

The “acheivement gap,” as they so loosely named it goes hand in hand with the “lack of parental responsibilty gap.” What about that? When is someone, some govt, some political smoke blower, some coward, some leader going to address The “Lack of parental responsibility gap.”

Oh thats right we just need to spend a couple more billion…silly me.

HStchr

June 21st, 2011
1:28 pm

“Democracy is not a spectator sport where you stand on the sidelines and give colorful commentary.”

I wonder how much they paid him to come and do just that…

Charter schools can be good, and should be considered where funding is available. Ironically, what makes them good is what could also make the traditional public schools good- community involvement and school level decision making without the politics. I’d love to see more charters for specific needs/skill areas, and would support them if they produce the results. Colorful rhetoric aside, Booker should know full well that the social ills we grapple with are not the full responsibility of schools to fix. His message needs to be to the communities he speaks of, and his efforts need to go deeper than just establishing charter schools.

SoGAVet

June 21st, 2011
1:30 pm

@Dr. NO. When you figure out how to legislate parental involvement, let us all know. The most recent attempt to legislate public involvement in health care has resulted in a cacophony of boos.

JimLuvsNewark

June 21st, 2011
2:01 pm

First of all while Cory Booker is down in Atlanta trying to have his input on Charter Schools crime in Newark continues to become high in CRIME. What behooves me is why did Cory mention that the 14 year old that was murdered on Monday June 20,2011 was due to an argument over a girl. How would Cory mentioned that before the TRAINED POLICE DEPARMENT PERSONNEL could find out why this incident occured. First of all the child was 13years of age. Secondly earlier that day he was just leaving the GREAT PROGRAM. (Anti-gang program) . Now Booker is down in Atlanta speaking on behalf of Charter Schools; what’s the since of Charter Schools in Newark if the children are not SAFE to attend school? HIRING THOSE COPS BACK TO PUT SAFETY BACK ON THE CITY OF NEWARK; should be his first priorities, then think of providing help to our PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Until then all our children will need to wear BULLET PROOF VEST to go to school. If ANY one should take a survey on WHO LIKE CORY BOOKER in Newark you will find out that 92% STRONGLY DISLIKE HIM. We don’t want charter schools, nor do we need them. We want safety and PUBLIC SCHOOL help. The many names that Cory Booker is called in Newark is: The Missing Mayor, The Milk Carton Mayor, the Illusionist. And the most recent name which will begin on July 1st 2011 is RECALL THE MAYOR. We will begin this process the first week July, 2011. So far we have well over 400 people waiting to start and help with the petitions.

Maureen Downey

June 21st, 2011
2:19 pm

@jim, I did find the Star Ledger story on the Sunday night shooting and linked to it.
Thanks for clarifying some of the facts.
Maureen

Dr NO

June 21st, 2011
2:22 pm

SoGAVet

June 21st, 2011
1:30 pm

Unfortunately thats impossible as the guilty parties refuse (the Wont nots and refusiks) to take responsblity and its usually the ones who scream the loudest and proudest about how wonderful they and their kiddies are.

A Conservative Voice

June 21st, 2011
2:40 pm

You know, if school systems would act responsibly and do what they are “chartered” to do, “charter schools” wouldn’t be necessary……..think about it, folks :)

What's best for kids?

June 21st, 2011
3:29 pm

The more important thing would be to allow for community choice within the schools and school systems. I agree with HStchr: give public schools the same amount of freedom and demand the same amount of accountability, and we don’t need charter schools, except for the fact that the parents who put their children in charters are more engaged in their children’s education.

Mommawantschange

June 21st, 2011
4:24 pm

If the traditional public schools were given the freedoms of charters schools, we wouldn’t have this issue. I have been actively involved in my kids’ Cherokee Co elementary school for 4 years now. There is so many regulations and red tape, you can’t sneeze without the approval of the board and a mountain of paperwork! Teacher’s hands are tied as to how and what they teach because of the HUGE emphasis of the GCRCT tests. No one teaches how to learn any more, but they teach how to regurgitate info to pass a standardized test.Then when you start talking about tax money and funding, the un-politically correct thing no one wants to address is that our schools are buckling
under the pressure to serve families who do not pay taxes! I have done a lot of research on education alternatives to best serve my kids. For my oldest, the way Cherokee Charter approaches learning is perfect for her and I know she will thrive and succeed. For right now, she is flying under the radar with no individual attention at all. Do the research yourselves. Charter schools as a whole are producing better numbers and serving their students better than their surrounding schools. Charter schools do not close “public” schools and do not steal state funding from the surrounding schools. Teachers will not lose jobs or be forced to take furlough days if a charter school opens. As parents we just want to know we have the freedom to choose something better for our kids if what we have isn’t cutting the mustard!

FBT

June 21st, 2011
9:03 pm

I am concerned that some of the forefront of the charter school movement are attempting to make it a civil rights issue.

old school doc

June 21st, 2011
9:29 pm

If charter schools are so great why don’t we turn all public schools into charters?
Charter schools do not steal funding from regular public schools, but they do steal great students/families from local neighborhood schools. And still my property value declines…

Retired SE GA Teacher

June 21st, 2011
10:13 pm

I think what is tough is being the only elementary school in a county system that is NOT Title I, but it is the most successful. This isn’t just because of the neighborhood, as students from housing projects and inner-city areas are also bussed to the school, but everyone there gives 100% or more. When the school board said that they could not provide subs for the specials’ teachers (art, music, computer, and PE), parents came in and volunteered their day as a sub. (They had those background checks, also.) The principal taught a small-group remedial class, and she even administered the CRCT to a small group. Cafeteria duty is part of her daily schedule. I loved teaching in that school where everyone wanted the kids to succeed, and they did!!

Active in Cherokee

June 21st, 2011
10:48 pm

@ mommawantsachange – The information presented at the June 16th Board Meeting by Dr. P contradicts your last paragraph. The specifics for how much the Cherokee Co Charter would cost CCSD are itemized in the minutes for the last board meeting and can be found on the district’s website. I’ve grown to respect Dr. P living in this district and his numbers can be supported by data. If you have have legitimate data that disputes his figures I would love to see them.

@ Maureen – I’d love to see a article/blog on the happenings in Cherokee Co. with the previous June board meeting and the large one that has been rescheduled for next week. A lot seems to be happening quickly here concerning the Charter school without a whole lot of accurate coverage.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

June 22nd, 2011
4:02 am

Do teachers in charter schools face the same onerous clerical burdens faced by their colleagues in traditional public schools?

Active in Cherokee

June 22nd, 2011
11:54 am

@ Dr. Spinks – It would be interesting to find out. ‘Traditional’ public school teachers have their hands bound between the strict adherence to shallow but wide standards, departmental lesson plans, and way too much paperwork. Perhaps removing some of those constraints would allow more free, positive, and genuine teaching – every school could be a ‘charter’ school in that regard!

Peter Smagorinsky

June 22nd, 2011
1:49 pm

[...] conference has had an impressive slate of speakers, beginning with President Bill Clinton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Tuesday. (These speeches are now online so you can watch them [...]