Monday, April 23, 2012

The Problem with PIACS

The charter school reform movement is under assault in the State legislator, and it is schools like the proposed Princeton International Academy that are the reason for this horrible and unnecessary backlash. Current bills in Trenton that would require public referendum on new charters and fulfillment of new, onerous application requirements are a direct consequence of these suburban, “boutique” charter schools, and if the leaders of PIACS really gave a darn about the larger charter movement they would either move their proposed school to Trenton, or withdraw their application completely.
PIACS is designed to be an English/Mandarin immersion school, which is all well and good, but the school is seeking approval to locate in the suburban Princeton area and draw students from Princeton, West Windsor-Plainsboro, and South Brunswick. Now I can’t speak for South Brunswick, but Princeton and WW-P already have two of the State’s finest Chinese language programs. The program in WW-P, which I am intimately aware of from my 21 years teaching at WW-P South, is a vigorous, challenging highly acclaimed program that enjoys large enrollment and incredible support from both the school and the community.

By proposing to start a school in an area in which there is absolutely no demand or need they have awoken a “sleeping giant,” namely members of this affluent community that will not tolerate any potential threat to the quality education that WW-P schools provide. The professionals that live in these communities are politically connected, highly astute, and willing to use the political process to stop this school. As a result, the charter community at large is now required to spend time and capital to fend off legislation that will throw a wrench into the good works that the charter movement is providing for children in the inner city, exposing innovative efforts to transform learning to the political process.

I hope that the egotistical, self-absorbed leaders at PIACS will see the bigger picture and realize the damage that their school will do to the charter movement. PIACS is not alone; there are similar plans for charter schools in East Brunswick, Ridgewood, and a few other relatively affluent communities with strong educational programs and NO NEED for a charter school. Meanwhile, students in the inner city continue to suffer from inadequate and underfunded programs that have not made a dent in dropout rates in over a decade. If these charter leaders really believe that they have truly innovative school concepts that will elevate the quality of learning, they should do the right thing and relocate to the inner cities. Now is the time to show where their true concern lies, with the students of New Jersey or with their wallets.

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