Bill de Blasio is the best thing to ever happen to the School Choice Movement.
The New York City mayor is crippling the growth of charter schools by throwing them out of rent-free space in buildings previously used by standard public schools. His strategic goal is to stop school reform even as the nation’s public school system fails so completely that a quarter of students drop out – and that is the lowest drop-out in decades.
If the mayor took notice he’d find that even the people graduating from public schools often lack basic reading and math skills. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 30 percent of U.S. public school graduates have to take a remedial class before they can do basic college work.
Years ago I called for parents to get in the streets and start marching and screaming against this abuse of America’s children.
Now de Blasio’s crackdown on charter schools has done the trick.
Earlier this month 11,000 parents, teachers and students took to the barricades to protest de Blasio’s scheme to crush charter schools in front of the New York State Capitol in Albany.
De Blasio has also succeeded in getting fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), hardly a right-winger, to stand up for charter schools.
Cuomo, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, hit the nail on the head when he told an interviewer:
“The problem with the public education system is that it is failing too many students. And failing schools have now failed generations of students. And we need to be focusing on that issue. You want to talk about civil rights issues of our day? A failing public education system, I think, is the civil rights issue of our day.”
The only way to understand De Blasio trashing charters school is that he does not appreciate the damage being done to students. His sole concern is paying back the powerful New York City public school teachers’ unions for their political support.
The unions hate charter schools because they provide parents with an option to remove their children from the bad public schools that are staffed by their members.
What about De Blasio’s argument that charter schools take money and building space from standard public schools? Let’s go to the governor one more time.
“Charter schools are public schools, right?” said Gov. Cuomo. “I do not consider charter schools a threat; I actually think charter schools can be an enhancement.”
De Blasio’s effort to stop the spread of charters in New York has also led to a lawsuit from charter school supporters on civil rights ground. The Success Academy, a Central Harlem charter school run by Eva Moskowitz has proven results working with poor and minority students.
De Blasio is apparently not bothered by huge racial gaps in academic achievement, including the near 50 percent drop-out rate for black students; 32 percent for Hispanics; 20 percent whites; and 19 percent of Asians. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls this an all-out American “education crisis.”
Tragically, the New York mayor chooses not see the “crisis.” And he is blind to instances of success among charter schools with children of all colors.
Marcus Winters, a Manahattan Institute scholar, recently wrote in The New York Daily News that several scholarly studies confirm the good of charter schools:
“Three studies — one by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby and two by Harvard economist Roland Fryer and Princeton economist Will Dobbie — compared the achievement of kids attending one of New York City's charters to those of kids who applied to a charter but were denied a seat through a random lottery…” he wrote.
“Each of those papers found that students benefitted substantially from attending a New York City charter school. The city's charter school opponents willfully ignore these papers, two of which have been published in a prestigious academic journal.”
Back in 2012, I worked with School Activist and Filmmaker Kyle Olson to make the documentary a “Tale of Two Missions” about the success of charter schools in Chicago.
The thesis of the documentary was that the charter schools and the public schools have different agendas.
The charters primary mission is giving young people the skills to advantage of all this country has to offer.
The Chicago teachers’ union’s primary mission is to get generous teacher contracts and lifetime tenure for their members– with limited accountability for student failure. Go on-line to watch the video.
I recently appeared with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) on a panel at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. to talk about the importance of school choice.
Sen. Scott, who once dropped out of school himself, is pushing bills to get more money for charters.
But Sen. Scott’s work is not generating the groundswell of public response now coming forward thanks to Mayor de Blasio.
The School Choice movement has fire in the belly, the likes of which I have never seen.
People are finally marching in the streets, filing lawsuits. The fight is happening right now in New York. Let’s hope it arrives soon in every town, city and suburb.
To the barricades!
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.