Parents Navigate Polarized Charter Waters

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Tuesday's march included families from dozens of charters schools that delayed or cancelled the school day so that the event would be heavily attended. No expense was spared. Chartered buses, printed shirts and rally organizers helped create a political show of force.

I had no interest in attending. 

I remember too well that when our school was facing a real threat the larger, more mainstream charter movement wanted little to do with our small, independent school that the Bloomberg administration wanted to close.

But it's not as if charter critics were in our corner either. To them, we were a charter school, a pariah.

The current debate about charter schools has no nuance. There is no room for parents who don't want to be caught in the fight between the teachers union and the fans of privatization who think schools should be run like corporations. There is no room for parents who are concerned with both the immediate schooling of their children and long-term education policy.

Our parent-funded protest last year was humble in comparison to the Oct. 8 rally. I remember it well. I joined other parents of students attending Peninsula Preparatory Academy on a 23-mile bus ride from the Rockaways to the steps of the Department of Education. We protested plans to close our kids' school which was genuinely under attack by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Luckily, a judge issued a restraining order against the city's plans.

I was opposed to charter schools before my son enrolled at Peninsula Prep, for ideological reasons. The school won me over. My eyes were opened wider still by the response to our situation, when our improving school was threatened with closure. None of the more vociferous charter advocates defended us. In fact, some wanted us closed.

So many parents that I protested alongside with were, like myself, low-income people of color who enrolled in charters partly to avoid the district schools. Of course, charter advocates insist that district schools are hopeless. It is true that schools in low-income neighborhoods don't do as well as their counterparts in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods. I think that potential solutions must address both the income and education gaps, not simply offer an endless parade of for-profit charters. 

But that is not the kind of thing people were talking about at the Oct. 8 rally. No, that was about being under "attack." Really? Is the idea of a potential Mayor Bill De Blasio interpreted as an attack? If so, then that says more about the mentality of the rally organizers than anything else. Some charter advocates believe that continued unfettered expansion of charters is the only sensible policy option.

This is why I cannot get behind these types of political stunts. There is no nuance. Watching the rally one had to see that many parents and students marching across the bridge were black and Latino. There is no denying that a debate about charters must include a conversation on race. Let's talk about that.

In the meantime, charters are here to stay. I find myself supporting the independent ones that are up to the task. But you won't find me marching behind Eva Moskowitz.