By AIESHA BETTY
The dream of parents is to give their children the opportunity for a life that is better than the one they had. Life opportunities start with getting a good education that increases a child’s knowledge and skills. In a troubled city like Paterson, however, getting that “good” education is problematic and well documented.
As a practical matter for many parents like me, I can’t move away from the educational problems in Paterson. I cannot transport my family to a tree lined suburb and enroll my daughter in a top school district that will give her the attention required to develop the skills that lead to better job choices and financial comfort. I am cut off geographically and economically from the better performing suburban schools, but thanks to changes in education policy over the past two decades, I can, exercise the choice to have my daughter enter a charter school.
I have embraced that choice because I want to give my child every advantage I can. I want her to have the teacher attention and safety that her charter school offers. Yet, I find that because I exercised my right to choose, I have been drafted into a political battle not of my choosing. On one side are charter school operators. On the other side are educators and school administrators whose careers are tied to the existing, failing urban public school systems.
While the two sides are firing shots over the skirmish line, parents like me are caught in an educational no man’s land. We are the collateral damage of the urban education wars and I’m tired of it.
The most frustrating part of this war is the false narrative that the charter school opponents have established. Their story line is that charter schools are depriving school districts of badly needed money; that not all children will be served equally if charter schools thrive and they excuse their failures because the socio-economic conditions of Paterson and other cities make education improvement nearly impossible.
I reject all of these arguments.
Districts like Paterson, Newark and Camden are awash in money; receiving billions of dollars in state education aid and spending more than $20,000 per pupil. Most of that money seems to be eaten up by a well paid bureaucracy that year
after year fails to meet its primary objective — improving educational outcomes for students who are being swallowed up by a system of socialized mediocrity.
Socio-economic conditions do play a factor in student outcomes, but I am not going to sit by and wait for Paterson to miraculously transform itself into Hoboken. I will not write off my child’s life and thousands like her waiting for a Paterson economic renaissance that I know is not coming any time soon. Those who suggest I do so to preserve the good paying jobs in the city’s public school system are nauseatingly selfish. Children from economically disadvantaged homes can and do learn at a high level; I see it every day in the charter school my daughter attends.
Charter opponents who operate on the socialist premise that we should adopt policies and institution that help either everyone or no one are being cavalier and cruel. They are willing to sink the lives of thousands of children each year to ensure that their failing monopoly on education endures.
What disturbs me the most about the critics of charter schools is that most of them don’t live in cities like Paterson. They have the opportunity to send their children to safe, high performing schools in the suburbs. I guarantee if these critics lived in Paterson, they would not subject their children to the violence and mediocrity of our city schools. Like me they would seek educational alternatives for the very same reason that thousands of parents like me are doing — because we want to give our sons and daughters a chance at succeeding at life.
I learned long ago that life is not fair. But the fundamental unfairness of life is what fuels my primary objective — giving my daughter a path out of Paterson. I cannot throw my hands up and give in to life’s unfairness; I can fight it, and I am by embracing the school choice option offered to me.
We teach our children about life choices. Bad choices yield bad results, good choice yield better results. I choose not to succumb to the outdated urban education bureaucracy because I want my children to have the opportunities I didn’t have. I wish that political leaders and union heads would respect my choice to do what is best for my children.
Aisha Betty has been a Paterson resident for 37 years and works as a Verizon Fios consultant. She is a volunteer Board of Trustee Member of the John P Holland Charter School in Paterson.