Voting For and Against High-Performing Charter Schools


Try and reconcile these two facts:

(1) Over 50% of Newark families tried to enroll their child in NorthStar Elementary, a high-performing charter school managed by Uncommon Schools.

(2) In 2014, Ras Baraka ran for mayor of Newark on an education platform that opposed much the superintendent’s “One Newark” plan, which included a significant increase in charter schooling. Baraka won 54% of the vote.

While I don’t know how many of the families who tried to enroll in NorthStar Elementary also voted for Mayor Baraka, I imagine there is substantial overlap.

I also guess there’s a similar patter with the de Blasio election and the 22,000 families who tried to enroll in Success Academies.

It is likely the case that families who are trying to enroll their children in high-performing charter schools are also voting for elected officials who run on anti-charter school platforms.

Why might this be?

First, many families are probably not single issue voters. They might vote for a candidate whose policies they largely support even if they disagree on education.

However, for families who are voting on policy grounds and have their children in public schools, it’s likely that education will be a key issue. So the “other policy considerations” argument probably doesn’t explain everything.

The more powerful explanation, I think, is that most people vote based on identity; they vote for people who they think are like them / share their values / belong to their tribe.

Mayor Baraka’s campaign slogan – “when I become mayor we become mayor” – perfectly captured the fact that he shared a common identity with many people in Newark.

To the extent charter advocates wish to alter these voting patterns, it seems like one of two things needs to happen:

(1) Charter advocates need to mobilize more charter families into single issue voters.

(2) Charter advocates need to align themselves with candidates who share a common identity with charter school families.

Neither will be easy to accomplish.

Mobilization is technically difficult. It is hard to get very busy people with strong identities to vote solely on the basis of one policy issue.

Building broad coalitions is emotionally difficult. It is hard to build relationships and trust with people who are very different from you.

Yet, despite their difficulty, both mobilization and coalition building seem very important to the goal of significantly increasing the number of families who can benefit from high-performing charter schools.

Addendum: Make sure to read Ryan Hill’s good comments. And Seth Andrew’s.

4 thoughts on “Voting For and Against High-Performing Charter Schools

  1. Ryan Hill

    While I agree somewhat with your two conclusions, the story in Newark is a bit more complicated than this. For one, Baraka didn’t say anything anti-charter during the race. Not even against charter growth. In fact he pledged “not to get in front of that train.” While the election was in part a referendum on One Newark, the least popular elements of OneNewark aren’t charters, they are, as is always the case, school closings.

    Lastly, you could’ve also chosen a couple other bigger factors than identity in this race between two lifelong Newarkers (remember our last, very pro-reform mayor was an outsider who people did not particularly identify with and who won in two consecutive landslides):

    1) pick a candidate with way better name recognition
    2) pick a candidate with tons of union foot soldiers on his side for Election Day efforts

    In a race that closed from a 40-point gap two months out to a dead heat in the polls on Election Day, it’s hard to draw real conclusions about what kind of candidates we should sidle up next to.

  2. Seth

    Actually, I’ll bet $5 that the bigger issue in Newark as well as most disenfranchised communities of color has more to do with voting demographics and registration than identity or charters. Building on Ryan’s points, I wouldn’t be surprised if the average age of a primary voter was 50+, and skewed heavily female (due in part to returned felons who served their time but are still unlikely or unable to vote), NOT the same demographic as the 20 something year olds who are applying in droves to good schools like Team and North Star. Unless we repair our civic and voter registration/participation infrastructure, even single issue education voters, with big coalitions/marches won’t often win.

  3. nkingsl

    Seth, thanks for the thoughts – you’re definitely more of an expert at this than myself. It would be interesting to get actual data on charter family voting registration rates / voting patterns. I imagine you’ve got a window into this via Democracy Builders…


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