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Op-Ed: Let’s Talk About Quality Instead of Charter vs. Public Schools

Regardless of the school type, the focus should always be on the quality of the teachers, education, and student experience

danielle west
Danielle West

Last week Gov. Chris Christie announced that the Newark Public Schools district would be regaining local control after being under state supervision for 20 years. During his remarks, the governor touched on quality traditional public and charter schools that make up the fabric of education in the state of New Jersey. So often the conversation is focused on the debate between charter schools versus public schools, instead of focusing on the quality of the schools our children are attending and whether or not those schools are producing quality results for both the academic and social-emotional needs of each individual child.  

This issue of quality education is not new, as it has been a conversation in the homes of many communities (primarily urban) throughout the state for as long as I can remember.  So much so that more than 20 years ago, my parents were not able to send me to our local public school in Newark. During that time, however, charter school options weren’t available, and parents had to either send children to the local public school or they opted for private/parochial schools. The difference then was that the children with families not having the financial wherewithal were left sending their children to educational options that may not have been their choice and most certainly may not have been quality options.  

Fast forward

Fast forward almost 20 years later and we have been given the opportunity to witness the vast majority of choice options providing the quality needed for our scholars to meet the demands of a changing world. By refocusing the conversation to one highlighting quality, an educational landscape that is conducive to preparing our scholars for the demands of a changing world can truly exist.

Examples of quality can be noted in the academic performance and social-emotional development offerings at a school. For example, in the 2016 ELA PARCC assessment, New Jersey charters performed at 50.3 percent proficiency in grades 3-8 and the state average was 53.0 percent. Some may look at this and say that charters did not meet the state average, which is true. However, by and large many of the urban districts in which our charter schools are located are not performing at the same level of meeting the state average. In Plainfield, only 25.7 percent of the scholars in grades 3-8 were proficient on the PARCC ELA.  That is 27.3 percent lower than the state average. Whereas charters on a whole only performed 3 percent below the state average. In the case of some charters such as the Queen City Academy Charter School, the state average is exceeded.  At QCACS, scholars in grades 3-8 performed at 58.6 percent proficient for the PARCC ELA assessment, which is 5.6 percentage points higher than the state average.   

Delivering quality

When we see our choices beginning to meet the same benchmarks as state counterparts in more affluent districts where quality has never been questioned, it’s hard to not to acknowledge that our choice options are now delivering the same quality to historically underserved communities. In cases where the quality of choice option is not meeting your expectations, it is more than likely to be close, as Christie stated. In Plainfield, two charter schools closed over the past 10 years for that very reason.  

“Education is the greatest equalizer of conditions of men,” and this Horace Mann quote embodies why I have worked in education for almost two decades. During that time my focus has consistently been concentrated on whether or not the scholars in my class or attending the school where I worked were receiving a quality education. When quality becomes how we judge the school, instead of the type, then we move from the politics that can surround this subject to actually educating. It’s like buying a car that’s a lemon, no matter the model if it's not a quality vehicle that does the job of transporting you around then it's essentially not serving its purpose. Quality is the most important variable for educating today's scholars and that’s why at Queen City Academy Charter School we have always kept the focus on providing our scholars with a nurturing and cooperative learning community so that each of our students can achieve his/her maximum academic, creative, and physical potential.  

Regardless of the school type, the focus should always remain on the quality of the teachers, the education, and experience that the students receive. By focusing on that we can change the life trajectory of our students and create opportunities for the next generation.

Danielle West is the chief academic officer of Queen City Academy Charter School.

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