Author Discusses Ramifications of School Choice in Hoboken

A three-year moratorium on charter schools has been introduced in the state Senate after years of generating controversy — criticized in Newark for siphoning off state funding, co-mingled with public schools to raise test scorers in Camden and in Hoboken, seemingly exacerbating the divide between those who live in newly gentrified neighborhoods and those in public housing. Molly Makris takes a look at the relationship between gentrification and de facto school segregation in her book, Public Housing and School Choice in a Gentrified City. She sat down with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams to discuss her findings.

According to Makris, Hoboken’s charter school system is very different than other cities’ models. “Hoboken’s charter schools are not the no excuses charter schools,” she said. “They’re homegrown, locally grown by parents in the community largely, and they attract advantaged children, white advantaged children and they don’t have extended school days. They don’t have extended school years. I write in the book that these are charter schools where the children in after school take chocolate making classes, they have trips to Puerto Rico, classes on genocide.”

While Makris said in some ways the charter system reflects the broader demographics of Hoboken because it is a very gentrified community, about 11 percent of residents live below the poverty level. Makris’ book examines young people in public housing specifically. She said she found there are largely three reasons why public housing residents aren’t applying to the charter schools.

“One is a desire for their neighborhood schools. So there’s a community school where they have a neighborhood feel. Many of the public housing residents went to that school themselves. They feel that their children are safe and protected in that school. It’s convenient,” Makris said. “There’s also a level of what I call charter confusion, which is that parents in public housing are unaware that these charter schools are an option. They think they cost money, that they are private school. I see this actually with advantaged parents too but when their children hit school age, their social networks inform them about the option and that’s not happening within this community. And lastly, there’s a desire to fit in. So public housing residents, like all parents, want their children to fit in in their school. And there’s a feeling they won’t in the charter schools.”

School choice in Hoboken isn’t just happening with charter schools, Makris said. There is also intradistrict school choose, so parents can send their children to three different elementary schools. “Advantaged parents often opt for the school that doesn’t serve the majority of public housing students. So it’s not just about the charter schools. It’s about school choice in general. And my book really looks at how school choice in general gives parents these options and parents are making very different choices, sometimes informed and sometimes not,” Makris said.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe ruled one of the charter schools could expand because it didn’t effectively segregate. That ruling came after Makris finished conducting research for her book, but she said she’s been following the issues. “It’s a very contentious topic in the community with supporters of the charter schools and supporters of the district schools both claiming that it’s not true. I argue that really both sides could do a better job of representing the community as a whole and creating these racially and socioeconomically integrated options,” she said.