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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Following up on my district's stealth charter school

In my last post, I talked about my experience learning about Morris School District schools; how I used the district website, informational meetings, and discussions with neighbors to learn about my options; and how the one option that no one ever mentioned to me was the Unity Charter School. I wondered how parents who have fewer resources available to them, especially those whose English might be limited, could possibly learn about Unity, let alone enter the lottery.

Since then, I've done a little more digging. Here's what I learned.

On the bilingual Spanish/English Morris School District kindergarten registration form (available here), there is a section called "Program Preference," which asks the parent or guardian to check off "multiage" or "traditional" as their first choice. Checking "multiage" enters the child into the lottery for the Normandy Park School, a magnet school with multiage classrooms. Nowhere on the form is there any mention of Unity Charter or a program that teaches sustainability, environmentalism, ecology, etc. It's not an option.

In fact, the only ways to learn about Unity that I've been able to discover (and again, please enlighten me if I've missed something) are through local newspapers (English language, of course) and fliers, and, of course, word of mouth.

So perhaps this other interesting bit of data is really not surprising at all. According to the state school report card on Unity, in 2009-2010 the proportion of Unity students who lived in homes where English was the first language was 100%. The proportion whose English proficiency was limited was, of course, 0%. No other Morris School District school can say that. Among the elementary schools, limited English proficiency rates range from around 5% up to around 18%. The rate at Normandy Park, the multiage magnet school included on the district's registration form, is 17.1%.

Proponents of charter schools say they're just another kind of public school, managed independently but entitled to public dollars. They're supposed to give parents a choice. But looking at those numbers, you have to wonder - which parents?

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Unity is open to students from around Morris County, not just the Morris School District. While there may be towns around here that have a near-0% rate of English language learners, there aren't many, and they're probably not sending too many students to Unity. No, I haven't done that research. Maybe if I get really bored next week....

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