If you can, make sure to stop by the Harlem Armory tonight for an evening that charter school advocates are billing as the largest gathering of New York City parents ever in one space. The point is to show support for charter schools, which are proliferating in Harlem — to the delight of some parents, but not to the liking of a coterie of teachers and elected officials who have protested the schools’ growth.

Hosting tonight’s event are  Harlem Children’s Zone C.E.O. Geoffrey Canada and KIPP co-founder David Levin. Similar events have been held recently by Harlem Success Academy, the network of four charter schools founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that has been at the center of the political fight. A Harlem Success official says she expects 6,000 7,000 charter school parents to attend tonight, plus some parochial school and traditional public school parents.

Also scheduled to attend are the rapper Lil Mama, whose adoptive mom is a board member of Harlem Success, Mayor Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and school choice advocate Howard Fuller.

Among the political currents swirling tonight will be Canada’s outspoken support for mayoral control of the public schools, which some Harlem elected officials have indicated they’d like to see curtailed; Levin’s ongoing saga with a group of his teachers who are trying to unionize; and Harlem Success’s struggle to get space inside a traditional public school.

Critics of charter schools argue that the schools are perpetuating inequality by offering spots to only the most eager children in Harlem. They also complain that many charter school teachers lack union representation. Charter school leaders say their schools are open to everyone and that they even take paints to target the least advantaged students. Some tout their freedom from teachers unions as giving them the freedom to offer better educations.

Another debate is over the kind of school system charter schools create: The schools are public, but operate outside the regular district, and they take children through a random lottery. While supporters say the lottery expands choices for all students, others mourn the loss of neighborhood schools that took in anyone who lived nearby.

Here’s the press release, and obviously we’ll have coverage tomorrow:

Largest Meeting of NYC Parents Ever: Rally to Support Parent Choice

March 18, 2009, Harlem, USA – 6000 public charter school parents rally to demand better schools and more parent choice.  Harlem, a community that has historically led the way culturally is leading the way to save public education.  Harlem now has 23 public charter schools, 14 parochial schools, 70 zone schools and 16 independent schools.  Parents actually have real choices.  They are no longer forced to attend their assigned zone school, which in Harlem have historically been failing, and can opt for a school of their choosing.

Harlem too is leading the way in competition among schools.  Schools must perform to get students.  At a parent choice rally, parents, teachers, school leaders and founders will demand political support for parent choice.  Local politicians will be asked to follow President Barack Obama’s lead in supporting public charter schools and parent choice.  All 23 public charter schools in Harlem are participating.

Date & Time:
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Student Program begins – 5:30 p.m.
Speaking Program begins 6:00 p.m.

Where:
PAL 369th Harlem Armory, 143rd Street betw. Lenox and 5th Avenues

Who:
6000 Harlem parents
Geoffrey Canada – Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone
Dave Levin – Co-Founder of KIPP schools
Mayor Michael Bloomberg – Mayor of New York City
Chancellor Joel Klein – New York Schools Chancellor
Lil Mama – Harlem native, hip-hop artist, and star of the MTV program “America’s Best Dance Crew”
Ed Lewis, CEO Essence Magazine
Howard Fuller, Civil Rights Activist, Founder of Black Alliance for Educational Options

Program:
5:30 p.m. Student performances begin
6:00 p.m. Speaking program begins
6:50 p.m. Lil Mama performs

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CORRECTION: The post originally misidentified the hosts of tonight’s event. In addition, I updated the number of parents expected to attend when I got a revised estimate from Harlem Success.