New Group, Montclair Residents Opposed to the Fulbright Charter School, Takes Action

Montclair Residents Opposed to the Fulbright Charter School is a newly formed grassroots community activism group dedicated to ensuring that the Montclair Public Schools’ unique all-choice magnet system is not threatened by having significant funds diverted to a French immersion charter school, the Fulbright Academy Charter School of Montclair, which recently received Phase 1 approval from the New Jersey Department of Education.

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Founders Claire Kennedy-Wilkins, Trente Miller, Sarah Blaine and Colleen Martinez met near a playground at a local park last Friday, June 24th, to hash out a strategy for turning persistent talk of discontent with the charter proposal into concrete action. In less than a week, they’ve built a Facebook group with over 500 members, begun a letter writing campaign to the local newspaper, The Montclair Times, generated a fact sheet and sample letter of opposition, publicized an online letter circulated by another community group, and secured a table from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 2nd, at a community institution, the Montclair Farmers’ Market, where they hope to reach members of the community who do not participate on social media.

“This charter application affects everyone in Montclair, whether or not that person currently has children in the public schools. If approved, it will force our community to dismantle key programs that attract students to our magnet schools, and by undermining the quality of our public schools, it will undermine the desirability of Montclair,” says founding member Claire Kennedy-Wilkins.

“Montclair is one of the few communities in New Jersey with schools that were intentionally desegregated, in our case through our unique all-choice K-8 magnet system,” says founding member Sarah Blaine. “We aren’t perfect, but we provide high-quality education to students from all walks of life, and as public school parents, we’re concerned that a charter school could destroy the demographic balance our community works hard to maintain.”

Blaine noted that one of the charter applicants’ primary advisors is Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLA). She explained that HoLA has 12% low income students, compared to 62% in the Hoboken Public Schools. Blaine concluded, “We are concerned that replicating HoLA’s approach could destroy the integration of our public schools, which have been a hallmark of this community’s values for 40 years.”

Founder Colleen Martinez noted that Governor Christie, most recently in his 2017 budget address, said that he was going to “continue working to expand charter school opportunities for families in failing school districts.” She said, “By no measure is Montclair a failing school district. We are proactive about trying to address the opportunity gap, but this is a community that is sending 23 of its 2016 high school graduates to Ivy League colleges. Why is Governor Christie violating his own principles by allowing his Education Commissioner to provide a Phase 1 approval to a charter school that threatens our community’s core values?”

Founder Trente Miller highlighted the language immersion focus of the charter school. “Our district already provides high-quality K-5 world language programs in Mandarin and Spanish in two of its schools, and is actively working to restore such programs to the other 5 elementary schools. All three of our grades 6-8 middle schools already offer daily language instruction. Why are a few community members trying to set up a high-cost special interest immersion program to serve a few hundred children at the expense of the almost 7,000 public school students in our town?”

The founders will have a booth at the July 2nd Montclair Farmers Market, and they urge members of the community to stop by to learn more about concrete actions they can take to voice their opposition to the charter school. “This group is not about debating the merits of a charter school,” Kennedy-Wilkins said, “it is about taking action to stop this charter school.”

The group has been amazed by the community’s response. One local parent designed and ordered 7 gross of custom pencils to publicize the opposition movement, and the group has already received multiple requests to help with going door-to-door to explain what a charter school would mean for the community.

Miller added, “In a community that is often divided on issues of education policy and politics, this is one issue that unites us all, and it has been heartening to see people from across the community putting aside their differences to put the brakes on this charter. We can only hope that the Fulbright charter founders have their community’s best interests at heart, and that they will promptly notify the NJDOE that they are withdrawing their application. If not, we hope that the NJDOE will recognize the widespread opposition to this charter, and deny its Phase 2 application. In the meantime, this is going to be a busy summer.”

33 COMMENTS

  1. It’s great to see another organization forming to advocate for our public schools. They certainly have been busy and I hope their efforts are successful in staving off a charter. The charter industry is ambitious and have a friend in Governor Christie, so protecting our schools certainly is a struggle that needs lots of community activism.

  2. I have no dog in this fight, but can’t we at least get the facts straight? Charter schools ARE public schools-they are publically funded. On average, they receive fewer state funds per student than non-charter public schools, so they don’t deprive non-charter public schools of funds; if x percent of Montclair students enrolled in Fulbright, the remaining 1-x percent would not receive less funding per student, the x percent would get less per student. Montclair education as we know it-the beloved integrated, magnet system, the planetarium– would continue to exist. For such a progressive community, the reluctance to even consider a charter experiment and the misinformation is dismaying.

  3. Since elcamino is so big on “facts” , here’s a round up of recent reporting on charters by Esquire’s Charles Pierce:

    Inspirational verse:

    “Resolved: No matter how noble the original motives, public school “reform” as pursued by private interests in general, and by plutocratic dilettantes in particular, has been an abject failure and an almost limitless vista of low-rent scams and high-tech brigandage.”

    https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a46314/charter-schools-not-working/

  4. jcunn…nice article but the author lost me at fckwads. Perhaps he was actually trying to make a case for charter schools. I certainly couldn’t take him seriously.

  5. If I was debating merits of charters (which I wasn’t), I would not turn to Esquire for facts. Here’s something from Brookings Institute last March:

    “Consistently, urban charter school students, and charter school students from low-income families, outperform their district school comparison groups on state tests. Nonurban charter school students, and higher-income students, do not.”
    https://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brown-center-chalkboard/posts/2016/03/04-charter-school-performance-valant

    Since Fulbright falls in nonurban category, I wouldn’t hold out hope for enhance performance, but then again, that is not what they are offering. As i said, I don’t care about Fulbright (except pretentious name is obnoxious), just objecting to fear mongering and misinformation campaign by opponents.

  6. Can someone help explain the $cope of the proposed charter’s connection with the existing French Institute Alliance Francaise here in Montclair ?

  7. Just to get charter funding facts straight:

    Charter schools are public in that they do indeed take piublic tax dollars. They are not public in that there is no community-based public oversight. They take money from the Board of Education but are not answerable to the Board of Education. State oversight is seriously lacking, and without local oversight most charter schools do not become paragons of excellence. Whether they are located in a city or a suburb, charter schools are undemocratic.

    Say what you will about our public schools, we do have the right to say what we will about public schools. Not so with charters.

  8. charter parents can vote with their feet. Plus charter publics tend to outperform non-charter publics in urban context (see above) so maybe community governance doesn’t always help.

    “Charters are anti-democratic” is what I mean by misinformation used against them. Charter go through rounds of government scrutiny for approval (see above) to open, so obviously they’re not “anti-democratic” Try to be fair in your opposition

  9. “If I was debating merits of charters (which I wasn’t), I would not turn to Esquire for facts. ”

    —the baseline faux-snooty weirdness of the comment aside, Pierce’s article cites—and links—to sources like The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, an academic study and more. Either you disdain these sources as well, or you just demonstrated that you do not read…a grotesque irony in a discussion about education and “misinformation”…

  10. Anyone who has read Esquire over the past few decades, would be aware of just how slanted and irrationally leftist their diatribes presented as articles have become in recent times. They’ve lost a great deal of their readership, as they are not what they once were. These days, it’s an offensively lib-facist, ultra-partisan junk rag. It’s not an intelligent source for objective, independent thought or journalistic integrity.

  11. The claim that “urban charters outperform public schools” is essentially based on one study, the CREDO study, from the Hoover Institution located at Stanford, which is what is cited in the Brookings story above. It’s cited often by people who promote charters, as it’s essentially the only study that suggests that “charters are better”. It’s been heavily criticized. If I recall correctly, they use their own controversial methodology that is used by no one else in the educational research field, the gains it showed were very small, and it has not been replicated by others. When you realize that Hoover/Stanford people are pro-charter and get lots of money from Walton and others, then you realize you should take the CREDO results with several grains of salt…
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/12/major-charter-researcher-causes-stir-with-comments-about-market-based-school-reform/

    https://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2015/09/problems-credos-research

  12. More misinformation on Charters. The Brookings post actually discussed two other academic papers with similar finding as Credos-better charter performance in urban setting, but not otherwise:

    “A group of MIT researchers studied Massachusetts schools, finding test score gains for urban charter schools, particularly among minority, low-income, and previously low-scoring students. However, nonurban charter schools generated no such gains and in some cases reduced student achievement. Researchers from Mathematica Policy Research and the U.S. Department of Education saw similar results in a lottery-based study of 33 charter middle schools across 13 states. They observed generally positive effects for urban charter schools and low-income students, and generally negative effects for nonurban charter schools and higher-income students.”

    Guess you overlooked those studies.

    On Credo, it’s odd your are impugning a study with such mixed findings on charters because of the funding. Usually when someone “buys” a study, the result are more emphatically in funders’ favor. I bet the Waltons are pissed. Interesting also that Brookings, left cited it so prominently despite the widespread criticism you allege.

    Here is Credos authors’ reply to critique you linked to:
    https://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/CREDOResponsetoMaulandGabor3_000.pdf
    They were way to nice to Maul-he had nothing but nitpicks, almost embarrassingly trivial or unfair. It turns out that Maul is at National Education Policy whose funders in include National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. You think he might have a bias?

  13. Elpinto is doing a lot of typing just to say there is no compelling evidence that charters work…

  14. Regardless of the merits of charter vs non charter, I would hope we can all agree that a french immersion school for 250 kids is elitist and totally unnecessary! Those that want their kids to learn french should either sign them up for french lessons or pay for private school taught in french! Why would we use public tax dollars, paid for by all of us, for a select group of kids to study in french??!!

  15. It’s not at all surprising that “two other academic papers with similar finding as Credos” came to the same conclusion, since they get their funding from the same charter promoting philanthropists. Indeed, let’s look at the two other groups that released reports (calling them “academic” or “studies” is a stretch) on charter effectiveness, so we can see who funded those reports…

    “A group of MIT researchers studied Massachusetts schools…” should really say “a group at MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative and funded by The Boston Foundation and New Schools Venture Fund.” The Boston Foundation promotes and funds charter schools in Massachusetts, and New Schools Venture Fund promotes and funds charters nationwide, and both get their funding from, you guessed it, Gates, Walton and Broad, among others.

    The PR about the second group’s material, Mathmatica, tells you straight away…
    “In innovative new research funded by the Walton Family Foundation…” and then “NewSchools Venture Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced the launch of an ambitious new longitudinal research study to measure the impact of nonprofit charter school management organizations (CMOs). Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington (CRPE) will serve as lead research partners….”. And, as if you didn’t see it coming, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, is also funded by the same charter funding billionaires.

    Again, if you want to find us some actual peer reviewed work, not funded by these usual suspects, I’m all ears.

  16. I’m wondering why we haven’t heard a single word yet from any of the Montclair residents who submitted the application for this charter school? You’d think if this was such a great idea, they’d be out and about talking it up and getting the word out. Instead, none of them, as far as I can tell, have uttered as much as a peep since their application was made public. Something seems really fishy. Would love to hear from Darryle Bogan, Janelle Anderson, Leslie Wade or Marie-Catherine Glaser. It is the least you can do.

  17. SSP: “Indeed, let’s look at the two other groups that released reports (calling them “academic” or “studies” is a stretch) on charter effectiveness,..”

    Here is the first “study” in question (ungated)
    https://economics.mit.edu/faculty/ppathak.
    It was published in a very respectable, PEER-REVIEWED economics journal. All three authors are tenured professors in the MIT economics department. It doesn’t get more “academic” than that.

    In my experience as a “peer” reviewer (in economics), one doesn’t just dismiss out-of-hand a funded study as long as the authors disclose funding (including if funders had editorial control) and they have some reputation to lose by fudging results. I personally have do doubt at all that these MIT economists (or the Mathematica economists) would fudge for a few hundred thousand. In general, since so much of charter research is funded by either charter advocates or teachers unions, at some point one just has to evaluate them on merit.

    I find it odd that you would be so suspicious of fudged “pro-charter” results when the results from these studies are so mixed; charters only seem to help in urban context but do no better or even worse elsewhere. That hardly sounds like a fudged result. But I guess if one is committed to the “all charters are evil in all contexts and all charter advocates are just in it for the money, like Gates and Zuckerberg and Obama” hypothesis, any positive result on charters must be dismissed and authors impugned. Of course, that’s not science, its ideology.

  18. The actual lack of home-rule when it comes to charters is, simply put, anti-democratic. It seems to me that the advocates for this particular charter, knowing full-well that the townsfolk and parents would be largely against it (due to it’s diversion of funds away from the district’s funds…estimates in the $2+million range, for an already stretched thin district), have chosen to remain silent. This silence is because they hope/know that the state under Christie and Hespe will continue it’s all-out, stated goal of increasing charters and that it is the state, not Montclair in this instance, that has the final say.

    https://www.nj.com/education/2016/05/chris_christie_charter_schools_new_jersey.html

  19. Does anyone really believe Gates and Zuckerberg are in it for the money??? Come on, they are multi-billionaires. The profits from charters schools, if there are any, wouldn’t pay their bar bills at the club.

  20. flipside, there’s plenty of money in charters. The big money is in the real estate related to charters, and the tax write-offs for the big donations to charters. But I’d agree that the really big money guys each have their own motivations. Gates wants to build a better mousetrap, but he’s just now coming to realize that he’s dealing with humans and not machines. Zuckerberg’s seems to be about creating a positive legacy, but has no idea how to do it. Walton is about installing the profit model to create competition in education, and like Friedman and Broad, think that public schools should not have a monopoly on education, and teacher’s unions perpetuate that monopoly.

  21. Paul Krugman likes to talk about “Zombie ideas”-false notions that just won’t die. The claim that charters public schools divert funds from non-charter public schools is an example. If Fulbright takes 250 students for other public schools, the others schools lose that funding, but they ALSO lost the students so funding PER STUDENT doesn’t decline. It’s like saying if a student transferred from Watchung Elementary to another school, the transfer diverted funds from Watchung.

    Flip, I was being facetious about Gates and Zuckerberg motives.

    Seems SSP has given up on arguing the facts and evidence on charters, and is back to casting aspersions against charter advocates. Ok fine, so how big is the real estate money SSP? And the grift is, Gates or Walton funds a bunch of researchers at Stanford and MIT to generate fake research showing benefits from charters in urban settings. Next they take on the teachers union and their ilk (like you) and manage to convince states to approve charters based on the fake research, then buy some buildings where charters are going to locate, then sell building back to the city at a huge profit. Is that the angle? I can totally see how Gates and Walton and Zuckerber would want in on such a safe play. I mean who would notice when they gouged the city for the building needed for school. And the rewards sound huge. I think you are definitely on to something here.
    Oh, and about those tax write-offs for donation to charters–are those bigger deductions than for any other donation? Is there an actual charter donation deduction? Otherwise, why not just donate to United way or something,

    But even granting your hypothesis that all charter donors are venal and want to line their fancy pants pockets or leave a legacy, what do make of actual for profit enterprises that made someone rich, but actually improve human welfare at the same time. You know, like Gates, or Zuckerberg, or Walton, or Henry Ford. What about doing well by doing good?

  22. SSP…agreed. Education is a tricky thing. A little competition is a good if it leads to innovation that students benefit from. Many of the problems with MPS are related to the belief that all kids have the same ability to achieve academically. The road to a successful happy life is not always through higher education. We seem to measure what makes a good school system by the colleges HS graduates attend. Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs were all drop outs so did college really matter much to them? Why not direct kids to where their abilities will be best utilized?

  23. I have met a bunch of charter school teachers and administrators around town. They all have seemed like really nice, sincere and hard-working people. They seem much more motivated and inspired by the work they do than most of the public school teachers I see. The way they speak about their students, they seem like they are way more willing to go the extra mile. Going above and beyond what MPS teachers do is part of their job. They have a different level of commitment. The problem the MEA has it that “they” will take jobs away from members of the MEA. “They” will decrease the MEA’s membership and power. Although that may be a very bad thing for the MEA, I don’t think that will necessarily be a bad thing for students in Montclair.

  24. I hope “they” get their school. I also hope “they” get another charter here to better serve the community and give us the quality education our students deserve. Please join us in Montclair Northstar Academy.

  25. I am not into a French immersion school, but a321 nails it – the lack of unionized teachers is the issue with the anti-charter crowd (just as the “job performance” part of the PARCC is for the opt-out movement). To say it’s non-democratic since there isn’t BOE control – we don’t elect our board anyway. The mayor appoints BOE members and the average person really doesn’t have much say in how things work.

    On a FB post, one of the public opponents of the charter cited this as a main argument against a charter, “this is not an issue of how good or bad a job Fulbright might do at providing services; rather, it is a question of public policy for Montclair concerning whether a significant portion of Montclair’s property tax dollars should be diverted to a school serving a few hundred students at the expense of the thousands of students served by our public schools.”

    Really? that’s a poor argument to me because…

    1- if a charter can deliver these services at the same level or better than the regular MPS schools can at less cost per pupil, then we as taxpayers should be demanding all the schools become charters.

    2- we already have two schools that aren’t for the masses and serve only a few hundred and nobody says much about it – Renaissance Middle School and Edgemont Montasorri. I don’t have 2016 numbers, but I see online that they have 250 – 300 kids and I’m sure many who want to get in, are shut out in much the same manner they would be at a charter if there was too much demand.

    So it’s all about how charters are threatening to break teachers unions. Again, though I wouldn’t put my kid into a French-immersion school and don’t know whether this will be better or worse for Montclair, I do know that the inner city public schools in Newark, Camden, Patterson are awful and it isn’t for a lack of funding since they get Abbott District funds from the state. There are definite socio-economic issues, but if some charters can show improvement for kids that otherwise would have to be in the awful publics and get these kids out of the cycle of poverty through education, then by all means it should be encouraged. You can’t save everyone, so save a decent sized group, repeat each year and slowly get these kids out of poverty.

  26. Without getting into the weeds on the efficacy of charters in a suburban, or urban setting, or education quality and cost-savings as some here want to go — here is a simple political suggestion made previously on a Facebook thread over this issue.

    The philosophical premise of the charter school movement is user “choice”.

    Rather than present self-interested petitions filed by opponents or just the BOE vote from appointed officials, Montclair should hold a more official town-wide referendum or some legitimate BOE run on-line vote asap to fully count user “choice”.

    Ask parents to vote (keep the results blind other than to know whether someone voted or not) and record positions on this charter application.

    Afterwards, the town can officially present those results to the State Education Department. And what ever the vote (and it likely will be massively against as expected)…that would be a clear demonstration of town-wide “choice”.

    The BOE would of course promote the results in the press everywhere as the “choice” of Montclair parents. And that should help take more political wind out of this specific charter application’s support sails.

  27. Why should residents who have no intention of sending their kids to charter have a vote? They can vote with their feet. And to anticipate, charters do not reduce per student funding to non-charter publics.

  28. Umm, because we believe in and support our public schools, and because a charter will suck monies away from those schools ?

  29. johnqp, I think sometimes we agree here, but your comment above demonstrates a common misunderstanding of funding of public charters schools and public non-charter schools. In short, the former do NOT “drain” money from the latter on a PER STUDENT BASIS (the only relevant basis).
    Here is how the funding works, in essence: if x percent of District students transferred to Fulbright, approximately X percent of funds(a little less because states underfund charter public school) of District Funds would follow. The remaining 1- x students at other District schools would get the remaining (1 – x) percent of funds. Thus, funding per student does not decline in other public schools. BTW, I am agnostic on Fullbright.

  30. “public charters schools” is what the reformers are calling them now. It’s marketing.

  31. It’s what they are, as you seem to agree. It’s no more marketing than unions re-branding teachers as “educators.” it’s true, but pretentious.

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