What do you call it when the arrival of charter chains forces the closure of other charters? Choice.
By Sue Altman
Be warned, starters of small charters! You may have enjoyed a red-carpet spotlight in the past, but don’t expect much loyalty from reformy fashionistas these days. It’s a school-eat-school world out there, and on the path to global competitiveness and *bigger rigor,* there is no room for last season’s trends. Such is the hard lesson learned recently by City Invincible Charter of Camden, New Jersey, which is being forcibly closed by the state in order to make way for the bigger, more disruptive charter chains.
A sadly familiar tale
City Invincible Charter got the bad news just four months shy of its second birthday—and a few months before its second year of test results arrived. The school’s supporters charge that they are the victims of political favoritism towards corporate charter chains like Uncommon, Mastery and KIPP, all of which are about to set up shop in Camden. The irony is thick, the sad story all too familiar. As City Invincible Charter board member Randy Ribay laments here, the state didn’t care that the school was reaching its *benchmarks,* or that countless changes had been made, from rewriting the curriculum to increasing security measures to bolstering the school’s capacity to serve students’ socio-emotional needs, or that parents liked the school. The. State. Didn’t. Care. You see, Ribay understands exactly what’s happening here:
[O]ur public education system is being hijacked not only in Camden, but all over our country. This decision simply exemplifies the circumvention of due process in order to benefit those who are more concerned with expanding their brand or their name or their influence or their pockets.
Oh, Mr. Ribay, I am so glad that you’ve realized that the decision to close your school and open others was *politically motivated.* (Guess what? So was the decision to open yours.) And, I’m equally glad you recognize it’s horribly unfair that some schools are *aligned with wealthy individuals and institutions* and others aren’t. But do you not note the irony? From where, may I ask, did you get your students, your funding, and your right to open?
2 bad, so sad
Why it was a mere two years ago that City Invincible Charter entered the Camden scene with the warmest embrace of the state. Created to serve some of the poorest students in the state of NJ, small charters like these, the rational went, would provide the citizens of Camden a *better education* and a *chance to choose. But amid all the chatter about achievement gaps and choices, there were precious few mentions of what the arrival of charter choice would mean for the non-choosy students in Camden’s remaining public schools. Today, the same system that once showed such love for City Invincible has come back to bite them. Someone just a little trendier—not to mention a bit more scalable—has moved into town, and City Invincible is being dropped like a hot potato.
If reformers place old school public schools on the very bottom of the taxonomy of excellence, small, boutique and local charters are only one level up. These days, only a chosen few megachains get the right to work their excellence-extracting magic. Forget about community preference. We’re on a slow and steady march towards the standardization of education, the standardization of the education market and the neutering of teachers unions. In Camden, the chosen charter chains are KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon—all bulge-bracket charter chains, all *no-excuses.* Totally scalable. Totally replicable. Totally adored by the edu-philanthropist-venture-capitalist sector.
Could we be seeing the first rift within the charter movement: the boutique single-school *mom and pop shop* charters vs the big corporate style chains? Is there finally some tension, not to mention some possible common ground? If the leaders of City Invincible are looking for some allies, they might consider joining forces with the newly laid-off district teachers and principals in community schools just down the street. Both City Invincible and Camden’s community schools will be forced to make way as the Mastery, KIPP and Uncommon chains expand, whether Camden residents like it or not.
So, City Invincible, we feel your pain. You might not be trendy anymore, but at least you’re getting it.