Public Prep News and Press
Cheering and chanting for choice, an unprecedented crowd of roughly 25,000 parents, children and teachers swarmed Prospect Park on Wednesday to demand the doubling of city charter school seats by 2020. Pouring into Brooklyn by coach, subway and city bus from across the city, the swarm of boosters implored Mayor Bill de Blasio to raise the total charter population to 200,000 to accommodate bursting demand.
The rally’s organizers, Success Academy and Families for Excellent Schools, argued that the increase — branded Path to Possible — would help erase the chronic achievement gap between minority kids and their peers. Charter schools currently serve 10 percent of all city kids.
“For decades the system has failed tens of thousands of children who in many cases have been doomed to life sentences of disadvantage and despair,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) told the energetic crowd. “We need to turn the situation around. And what has become clear to everyone who is paying attention is that the charter school movement has been a tremendous part of the solution.”
Jeffries, a potential challenger to de Blasio next year, was one of 22 local politicians who signed a letter pushing for the expansion.
While charters contended with negative press and political setbacks this year, backers have been able to rely on one constant — strong achievement scores.
Rapper and actor Common, who addressed the crowd before performing, told The Post he was startled by Success Academy’s metrics. “These are kids who weren’t supposed to perform like this,” he said. “It’s impressive. You have to pay attention to the numbers. There’s truth in numbers.” The Chicago native said his mother, a teacher, opted to send him to private school rather than the city’s turbulent public system. “She had a choice,” he said. “She had the ability to make that choice and I still benefit from it to this day. I think that’s what parents want — a choice.”
Attendees argued that the opportunity to look for their children’s talents at a charter campus should not be reduced to lotteries. Parents cited high test scores as evidence that charter kids were shedding negative expectations and conceiving of academic progress as inevitable.
“For my entire life, New York City public schools told me, ‘You can’t.’ They set me up for failure,” said Sharita Moore-Willis, of the Bronx. “I am marching so my daughter, and 200,000 children in communities like mine, will never go through the same experience and will finally get the great schools they deserve.”
Kezia Wilson, 25, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, said pursuing a charter education for her son, Jonah Gillespie, 5, grew urgent after she learned of test score gaps. “Just give me the choice,” she said. “Give all parents this choice. If we equally and properly educate our kids, they can change the world.”
Prior to the rally, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he was willing to collaborate with charters but was still focused on traditional public schools. “I think the focus has to be on the 90 percent of our kids in the traditional public schools who deserve better, and that’s where our energies have to go, and it’s about fixing the entire school system,” he said. De Blasio, who has criticized charters for selecting promising kids to boost stats, cited higher graduation rates and his pre-K initiative as evidence of improvement.
But Jeffries challenged de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña to consider that weathered strategies with reupholstered branding aren’t likely to create needed change. “The chancellor is committed to the traditional public school system and making change from within,” Jeffries told The Post. “Many of us are of the view that you can’t continue to do the same thing and expect different results. And that’s why we are pushing the administration to embrace the reality that charter schools have made a difference.”