When it comes to education, should choice be everyone’s right?
That is one of the many debates stirred up by the approval of Upper West Success Academy, a charter school set to open on the well-off Upper West Side of New York City. For the first time, Eva Moskowitz will expand her elite network of charter schools, Harlem Success Academy, into a neighborhood that is not predominantly “low income.”
Although Upper West Academy was unanimously approved by the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees in October, a fierce debate has emerged. People are asking whether the Upper West Side (District 3), a district that contains some of the highest-performing schools and most affluent zip codes in the city, needs a charter school.
Based on sheer numbers, District 3 does need Upper West Success Academy. According to the New York Times, 357 families applied to the Academy since October. Two-thirds of these applicants live in District 3, the relatively wealthy district stretching from 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side of Manhattan. Fourteen percent of applicants live in Harlem, home to the first three Success Network schools, and another 10 percent live in the Bronx, where the network just opened a school this year.
Noah E. Gotbaum, president of the District 3 community education council, claims that despite these numbers, the Academy is not necessary. “In Harlem, there was some need and desire and interest in charter schools,” he said. “We don’t need more options here. We have options. We have great schools.”
However, every great public school on the Upper West Side is overcrowded, and the terrific private schools in the area cost upwards of $30,000 a year. This leaves only one more option, the remaining, failing local public schools. Thus, as Moskowitz said, “It’s hardly surprising that Upper West Side parents are lining up for a high performing charter school.”
Why should parents on the Upper West Side be forced to spend college tuition for their kindergarten-aged children, just to alleviate the over-crowding in their district? Further, forcing parents whose children cannot fit into the “good” public schools to turn to private schools only continues the indirect segregation of the city’s children.
In addition to providing an alternative for some parents who may not have good choices, new charter schools in any neighborhood also provide needed competitive pressure within the public school system. Charter schools are smaller in size and scope, allowing them to innovate in ways that large public schools are unable to do. Rather than discourage charter school growth, public education leadership should view them as partners and collaborate with them to improve district practices and education for all students.
The local community education council, which represents District 3 public school parents, continues to mobilize council members and state senators in fighting this charter school. Concerns that Upper West Success Academy will siphon middle and upper class families from schools that need them for stability is preventing the community from realizing that school choice for all is a good thing. The Academy, and its future students, deserve a chance at success.