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OP-ED: Charter Schools Provide Needed Specialization

Former BOE member argues that denying charters amounts to saying, 'I will pay for a general practitioner but not a specialist.'

The following letter to the editor was sent by Gerald Wachs, MD, a former resident of Millburn/Short Hills.

As a former Vice-President of the Millburn Board of Education (for seven years) I think I have some insight into the question of charter schools.

The public schools, the teachers and the the Board sincerely try their best to educate the vast majority of the students in their district. But we no longer live in a one-size-fits-all society. We live in an era of specialization.

As a physician, I read some of the proposed charter school complaints with incongruity. It is the equivalent of saying I will pay for a general practitioner but not a specialist. Some students thrive in a traditional setting. Others require a totally different educational experience. They need a specialist. We readily provide that added educational experience for those who need it because of deficiencies.

It is not an economic problem — the payout to a charter school is actually less than the income from the state per pupil. Think of what is being requested. In the 21st Century, the world is rapidly changing all around us. The country has new international relationships. One of our largest trading partners speak a language 99% of Americans do not understand. What is being requested is for some students to be taught to be able to communicate with China in their own language.

It is an accepted educational philosophy that a foreign language is best learned when very young. Let us offer that opportunity to the very small number of exceptional students who are willing to put in the time and effort to learn and in the future help our country.

Dr. James Crisfield August 10, 2011 at 12:51 PM
Actually, nowadays, here in Millburn we get very little "income from the state per pupil" anymore (a lamentable change from years past) so the writer's argument no longer holds. Now, payments we would be forced to provide to one or more charters would far EXCEED any per pupil amounts we get from there state, thereby requiring local tax dollars to fill the gap and making our local, public school budget that much more difficult to balance and manage.
CD August 10, 2011 at 12:55 PM
"It is not an economic problem — the payout to a charter school is actually less than the income from the state per pupil." Are you saying that the town's costs go down at least as much as the amount paid to the charter school per pupil? That's the economic issue.
KLF August 10, 2011 at 04:45 PM
This author is misinformed. The district gets close to zero income from the state. Indeed, I would gladly support the charter schools if this gentleman's contention were correct, that the payout to the charter schools were less than the "income from the state per pupil."
The Bus stops Here August 10, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Ignorant comments and opinions such as those expressed in this op ed letter should never be published in the first place. With uninformed opinions like those expressed by Gerald Wachs, is it any wonder The BOE closed the Short Hills School around the time Dr. Wachs was elected. His OpEd letter should be put into the circular file where I place "Most" opinions! LOL
LDSF August 10, 2011 at 08:05 PM
The district shall first consider to afford specialized educational classes and programs under Special Education Services before considering another specialized school.
KLF August 11, 2011 at 02:45 PM
this op-ed first appeared as a comment on the New York Times website in response to the Times's article about suburban charter schools a few weeks ago. Many people responded to his comment there, informing Gerald Wachs that the district receives close to zero "income" from the state. What would move him, after being provided with the facts, to then republish his comments here as an op-ed?
Susan1 August 11, 2011 at 03:39 PM
And what would move the editors of the Patch to give him the platform?
Matt Stewart August 11, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Mr. Wachs argument again, like all Pro-Charter advocates, ignores the fiscal realities at play and the simple trade-offs involved. Think of it like a Pizza with only 8 slices to feed the kids in town. Mr. Wachs isn't satisfied with the 8 slice pizza, so wants to make his own (probably Veggie I would guess:)...except, there isn't enough money to make both pizzas...only the one... so...what you get is an 8 slice cheese pizza without all of the exotics...no olives, no tomatoes, no broccoli...but a plain, cheese pizza...enough to feed everyone, keep them from going hungry, and an efficient and collective decision... is it the best pizza in the world? of course not...but the essence of a social contract is that we all sacrifice together for the benefit of the society at large....this is how it works when there isn't an infinite supply of $$$ to finance individual pizzas for everyone... it isn't about specialization or generalism or the wisdom of mandarin education or spanish or wood shop or physics... its about maximizing the utility of most of the citizenry with the limited funds that are available... and, I might add, as children get older, advance to high school, etc...specialization is permitted, electives are taught, students can bias to science or liberal arts or music or otherwise...
Matt Stewart August 11, 2011 at 07:20 PM
but, as long as the core, constitutional mandate for NJ state educators is to deliver a "thorough and efficient" education in a world where fiscal resources are scarce... then, Mandarin education structured outside of the social contract...funded by those who remain part of it should be a no-go... democracy doesn't mean you get what you want...public education doesn't mean "custom-tailored" ...for that...you have to go to a private school, after-school program...or...move to Shanghai (as one parent so wittily put it at the BOE meeting)... Mr. Wachs argument focuses on content exclusively...without discussing finance...and that is why his argument is incomplete, romantic at best...and a little bit simplistic in its breadth...
Shari August 11, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Matt, as a vegetarian, I am a little hurt that you would say Mr. Wachs would pick a veggie pizza, but other than that I totally agree with your analogy, and would continue it by adding that because Mr. Wachs prefers additional toppings on his pizza, he proposes that everyone else should go without cheese too, so that he does not have to pay anything extra to have the additional toppings on his slice!
Matt Stewart August 11, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Boutique Pizza likely Vegeterian...doesn't make it good or bad...just not what most would eat...Vive Le Broccoli!
LDSF August 12, 2011 at 03:40 PM
specialization;socialization;identity;globalization;interdependence;human development;interaction - Book 02/03/11 Abstract From a systems perspective, man is an open system whose life is defined in the space of interaction with other systems - individuals, families, groups, communities, nations, international organizations, and nature. The space of that interaction, the space in which “specialization” and “socialization” take place, has dramatically expanded in the last couple of centuries with the evolution of industrial and information societies. The space of specialization and socialization is also the space in which human development takes place. The purpose of the present discussion is to examine the meaning of “identity” for the individual who now finds himself confronted with the difficult task of human development, willingly or unwillingly, in the world of global interdependence in his life as a biological, a psychological, and a social being.

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