Dr. Stephen Brier is part of the Consortial Faculty at The Murphy Institute
The current political struggle over charter schools has often pitted poor parents and students of color against teacher unions. That division has a long and bitter history that can be traced back almost half a century to the divisive 10-week long strike in fall 1968 by the United Federation of Teachers against local community control efforts to improve the New York City public schools. That epochal struggle profoundly changed the city’s racial and ethnic politics. And over the past four decades the relationship between teachers unions and communities of color has frequently been marked by sharp disagreements and sometimes open battles about the best ways to improve the public schools.
The recent charter school movement has sought to take advantage of this breech between communities of color and the labor movement, using smart tactics and a lot of hedge fund and private capital funding to develop charter schools that use public money and public spaces for private gain, all under the guise of improving education by giving parents “school choice.” The charter school movement has been able to drive a wedge that keeps the forces fighting for vital educational transformation at odds with unionized teachers and their leaders.
But in Newark, New Jersey, students recently decided to take a forceful stand on this issue. They inserted themselves directly into the charter school struggle, staging a dramatic sit-in last week against the school superintendent, Cami Anderson, because of her uncritical support for charter schools in their city. When Anderson attempted to address a Newark school board meeting last week in support of expansion of charter schools, she was confronted by Newark Student Union President Kristin Towkaniuk, who shouted “We will not move until we have justice.” It’s important to remember that the Newark public schools received a huge $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, funds that were earmarked for expanding “school choice” in the troubled city. Newark students are telling Zuckerberg, Anderson and other charter school supporters loud and clear that charter schools are not the answer to the systemic problems with the city’s public school system.
Photo by Paul Sableman via flickr (CC-BY).