In 2010, the powerful documentary “Waiting for Superman” exposed public schools for the failure factories they are, and forged lasting awareness that for black families, the only hope for a decent education is winning the charter school lottery.
That was the early days of charter schools. But the dynamic of racial partisan politics back then cuts even now: Michelle Rhee, daughter of Korean immigrants, appointed by reformist black mayor Adrian Fenty to save poor, black families in the District of Columbia, is obstructed at every turn and ultimately defeated by Randi Weingarten, white boss of a union powerful with Democrats. Although Rhee achieved dramatic student gains, the union denied Fenty reelection, and Rhee resigned. For black families, Rhee and Fenty would not be their Superman. Their rescue lay with charter schools: Success Academy in New York City, KIPP in Los Angeles, Summit Prep in Redwood City, and SEED in DC.
Today, 12 years later, it’s no longer newsworthy that charter schools are educational lifelines for black families. What is newsworthy is that Asians are beginning to view charter schools as educational lifelines, too.
Why? Let’s humor critics who say charter schools get amazing academic outcomes only because the parents of their children “care a lot about education.” Then Asian parents are ideal for charter schools! Even ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio finally conceded that Asian parents “care a lot about education” — after he attacked Asians relentlessly all throughout his second term for, basically, caring a lot about education.
Bottom line: charter schools deliver results, and that’s what Asian parents want. This example is typical: in South Brooklyn, where many Chinese live, Success Academy Bensonhurst trounces PS 97 nearby in proficiency rates in both math (100% vs 61%) and language arts (93% vs 65%).
Yes, the Brooklyn School of Inquiry (BSI), a city school near Success Academy Bensonhurst, also outperforms PS 97. But BSI boasts a highly sought-after citywide Gifted and Talented (G&T) program, and it still can’t stand up to Success Academy (88% and 82% in math and language arts, respectively, vs. Success Academy’s 100% and 93%). Worse, with an arrogance now typical, the city suddenly killed all G&T programs last year, for “equity.” That spells the end of the once-desirable BSI.
While city schools give up educating, they have launched increasingly grandiose diversions. They take on “trauma-informed” pedagogy, socio-psychiatric therapy, “gender choice” advocacy, race-centric indoctrination, and parental displacement, but can’t even keep gangs and weapons out of schools. Asian families know about the political brainwashing, alienation of parental affection and racial quotas. Now, with decent education disappearing, they see city schools as impossible.
Asian parents embrace cultural values practiced in the best charter networks but denounced by city schools. They prefer hard work over entitlement, agency over victimhood, achievement over narcissism, empowerment over fragility.
As a result, there’s rising Asian interest in charter schools. From 2018 to 2021, Asian enrollment in Success Academy Bensonhurst went up by 46%, from 15% to 22%, and at Success Academy Union Square by 52%, from 19% to 29%.
But there is an obstacle.
“Waiting for Superman” climaxes with the heart-wrenching scene of families in packed auditoriums watching their charter school lotteries. As numbers are drawn one by one and one lucky student explodes with joy, other kids look in agony at the digital display counting the remaining seats. Three . . . two . . . one . . . zero. Tears flow, heads droop. Of the five families followed in the documentary, only one draws a seat. Superman fails to come for four. There aren’t enough charter schools.
Today, 12 years later, there are still not enough charter schools. Networks like Success Academy admit only for K through fourth grade. Children so young need to be taken to school, and many Asian families with both parents working can’t consider schools further than walking distance or short subway trips.
Yet in New York City, the state has capped new charter schools. This charter cap needs to be lifted by Democratic Gov. Hochul and the Democratic majority in the state Legislature. In a reprise of “Waiting for Superman,” teachers unions powerful with the Democratic Party put their full might behind stifling charter schools. Meanwhile, 50,000 New York City kids, plus the newly interested Asians, wait for seats in charter schools.
Almost every Republican in or running for office supports lifting the charter cap, while only a few courageous Democrats do. This turns charter schools into a glaring partisan election issue. It shouldn’t be: it’s for our children.
This, then, is the question Asian and other parents must ponder at voting booths in November: is their Superman a Republican?
Wai Wah Chin is the founding president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York.