Is it time for New York City Charter Schools to be absorbed into a redesigned New York City School System?
In December 1998 Governor Pataki bundled a salary increase for state legislators with the creation of the charter school law in a lame-duck session of the state legislature. Needless to say, both passed.
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Now, twenty-five years later; has the law achieved its purposes? (See Charter School law here).
The law established two authorizers, the State Education Department and the SUNY Charter School Institute. The State Education Department created Charter School Frameworks. (See Charter School Frameworks) and are woefully understaffed and can’t monitor the well-intentioned Frameworks.
The charter school law requires charters schools to:
* Improve student learning and achievement;
*Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure;
*Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
* Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools established under this article accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results.
Again, have charter schools achieved the goals established in the law?
The law sets a cap on the number of charter schools in the state which includes a cap for New York City; the cap has been reached in New York City and Governor Hochul is supporting abolishing geographic caps, allowing about 85 new charters to be sited in New York City. (See numbers of charter schools here)
The local school boards, called Community Education Councils have no role in the Charter School creation or siting process. Charter schools are either co-located in existing schools or placed in private sites; the rent paid by the city, the Charter Law was amended by Cuomo to add this section.
In his recent Albany testimony Mayor Adams, who has been a supporter of charter schools, opposed the lifting of the cap explaining the city could not afford the estimated billion dollars in rent for new charter schools. In the June, 2021 mayoral primary candidate Adams received $6.9 million in “independent expenditures” from charter supporters.. Under Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision political contribution is speech and limitations on contributions would violate First Amendment rights.
There are two categories of charter schools: network schools, organizations that manage groups of charter schools, functioning, in effect, as school districts. for example, Success Academy, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools,, Harlem Children’s Zone; the network charter schools are richly funded through philanthropy and the officers are well-compensated (See Success Academy here, Achievement First here. Eva Moskowitz is paid far more than Chancellor Banks)
Community charter schools, sometimes referred to as “Mom and Pop” schools; schools operated by local not-for-profits, schools that clearly have struggled, frequently not meeting the goals in their charter.
A few years ago I was at a forum; a public school parent and a charter school parent were involved in a discussion. The public school parent was arguing,
”Charter schools throw out kids who are discipline problems, don’t take kids with disabilities and English language learners, and substitute test prep for meaningful instruction.”
The charter school parent responded, “That’s exactly why I send my children to charter schools.”
We need one school system, not competing systems,
Again, have charter schools achieved the goals set out in the law?
Do charter schools, “Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure?”
Have charter schools “Encourage(d) the use of different and innovative teaching methods”?
Have charter schools “Provide(d) schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools established under this article accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results?
The answer, clearly, is “no.”
If we define “students who are at risk of academic failure” as students with disabilities and English language learners the answer of a resounding “no.” Charter schools enroll smaller numbers of at-risk students and try to accept students with easier to remediate handicaps. (See detailed analysis here)
There is no evidence of “innovative teaching methods,” au contraire, instruction is heavily test preparation dominated.
And, I fail to understand what change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools established under this article accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results means: all schools must meet “measurable student achievement results.”
What should happen to charter schools?
Inside the Department of Education there are 150 schools “managed” by charter management-like organization (CMO), a remnant of the last years of the Bloomberg administration, called the Affinity District. Six not-for-profits provide the same level of services as the charter school management organizations supra, or more. New Visions for Public Schools, the Urban Assembly, CUNY Affinity Schools, Outward Bound, Internationals Network and NY Performance Consortium.
Norm Fruchter at the MY Metro Center wrote in detail about the origins and function of the Affinity District (Read here).
The UFT contract supports school-based options, changes in Department of Education regulations, and teacher union contractual requirements approved by the staff and the principal and Board, and Union hierarchy. Additionally, the Board and the Union created an initiative called PROSE (Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence.
PROSE is about school-level innovations. It offers schools the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which they function including the way teachers are hired, evaluated, and supported; the way students and teachers are programmed; the handling of grievances; and certain city and state regulations. Schools in the program explore and implement a variety of innovations at their schools.
I propose that Charter School Networks be combined with the Affinity District within the Department of Education umbrella.
The Community Charter schools can either join an Affinity Network or come under the jurisdiction of their local school district.
Charter school networks in New York City would become part of the Department of Education, albeit, if they choose, the ability to function in the Affinity District and/or under the PROSE initiative or simply as a school in a school district.
I realize a heavy lift, the mayoral control model has fruitlessly nibbled around the edges, the 1800 schools in New York City have been adrift for too long.
We need smaller, “thinner,” more manageable districts, with an emphasis on school and district-based decision-making.
Merging Charter networks and the Affinity networks would be a model for other school districts across the nation,
How can we accomplish this giant step?
It is likely that the legislature will explore alternatives to mayoral control after the passage of the budget. Last year that legislature resoundingly rejected Governor Hochul’s plan to grant a four-year extension to mayoral control within the budgeting process. Post budget the legislature expanded the size of the PEP (Board of Education), adding parent members; however, the mayoral appointees are still a majority. The legislature should create a task force, with a sunset provision, to redesign school governance: empowering the local Community Education Councils, reconfiguring the PEP (Board), perhaps moving back to appointees by the Mayor (2), Borough Presidents (5), City Council (1) and Comptroller (1) and, begin the phase-out of charter schools.
We have a weakened governor and a progressive legislature with overwhelming democratic majorities, a moment in time to correct the error of 1998.
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