Reisenbach was closed by the state in 2004 because it failed to show high enough levels of academic achievement. It was extremely controversial at the time because it appeared that test scores for the school were on the rise, and because parents at the school had done their homework and determined that, despite the school’s shortcomings, it was still better than any of the traditional public schools in the area.
The Chalkboard only mentions this because of the curious op-ed piece that appeared in yesterday’s NY Times by professor Amy Stuart Wells. This line in particular made me want to get out the cyber measuring tape to remind myself what Stuart seemed to miss from right under her own nose: “…there is little evidence that charter schools are being held more accountable for student achievement than are regular public schools.”
Come again? If one were to draw a circle around the TC building, with a radius equal to the distance to the old Reisenbach building, how many public schools (that performed more poorly than Reisenbach) have failed the kids of Harlem for decades but have been allowed to remain open for business as usual? Hello, District 5! The entire district would have had its charter revoked back when Bucky Dent was making mincemeat out of the Bo-Sox.
Even charter skeptics like NYSUT (see below) hailed the “accountability” measures that kicked into gear when it came time to reauthorize Reisenbach’s charter after five years. (Headline on this NYSUT article: “State Holds First Three Charters Accountable.”) Does anyone really believe that charter school operators like Randi Weingarten and Eva Moskowitz aren’t going to be held more accountable for their charter schools than the average public school?
A couple of quick points on this piece:
-- Charter laws (and the culture of charter schooling) differ sharply from state to state. Decisions about what to do with New York’s charter school law should be based on New York’s experience, not the experience of other states with other laws and other styles of authorizing and accountability. Wells is using national data and anecdotes while making the case against more charter schools in New York. Here, even if you disagree with some of their decisions, you have to acknowledge that SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute has earned a national reputation for rigorous oversight, both at the application stage and for its charter renewals (and at all times in between.)
-- Regarding the AFT report on charter school performance, isn’t the official union-line supposed to be that the AFT had nothing - I mean nothing - to do with that report? That it was merely passing along information as a disinterested party for the public good? Even so, the AFT-funded EPI noted that both the AFT and the NY Times had “overinterpreted” one-year NAEP data.
-- If you follow Wells’ logic in the piece, New York State legislators should probably also ban high-quality suburban public schools from operating because they tend to attract fewer students who don’t know English (making the job that much harder for urban public schools) and because migration to the suburbs serves as “new kinds of sorting machines, leading to more racial or class segregation within local communities.” Why do charter schools get the blame from Wells on this front when suburban public schools (and the elite private schools that TC professors send their kids to) create this sort of effect all the time?
-- Why does Wells think New York State has become a playground for for-profit education management companies? Compared to states like Ohio, where the public financing of charter schools practically requires that chartering be done by for-profit operators, New York has been shockingly quiet in this regard. Again, she is advocating against lifting a charter cap in New York State based on a charter climate elsewhere. (Even so, for-profit operators are a drop in the overall charter school bucket nationwide.)
-- Wells does offer an important lesson that public school leaders should keep in mind: rather than focusing on the quantity of traditional public schools that will exist in the new world order, perhaps New York’s kids deserve more of a focus on quality public schools. To quote Wells, pay “more attention to the data than the rhetoric.” If you want to see how that’s done, watch closely the next time a charter school tries to get its charter renewed in the Empire State.
UPDATE: Our friends at the California Charter Schools Association note that the West Coast example (used as an argument for a charter cap in Albany, N.Y.) of the closing of the California Charter Academy doesn’t fit either. The chain of schools, which ended up staying open way too long because local authorizing school districts were making money off of them, were closed AFTER accountability measures were put in place at the request of the association and charter school leaders statewide. The CCSA also helped find seats for about 80% of the displaced charter students in higher-performing charter schools nearby. See L.A. Times story reprinted here.
Also in the weekend papers:
The Buffalo News says that parental choice should be the cap on charter schools.
The NY Times notes that Gov. Pataki’s proposal to give parents a $500 tax credit that could be used for tutoring or private school tuition is more popular in the Democratic-controlled Assembly than many observers expected. The story notes that these pols are responding to the frustrations of parents with the current state of education. Among the highlights of the Times’ story:
“We need to give parents options.” – Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn.
“Too often the money goes to the system. Seldom does it go to the parents and the children.” – Assemblyman Vito Lopez, (BDPB) Brooklyn Democratic Party Boss.
In Albany, the Catholic Diocese announced its plans over the weekend to close the St. James school at the end of this school year. They are hoping to steer students toward St. Casimir. This marks the ninth school closed by the diocese since 2002. See Albany Times-Union story here.
In New York, the Daily News finds once again that it is cheaper to buy books on Amazon.com than it is through the Department of Education’s purchasing system. Note to NYC charter schools: May want to check and re-check the math on any “back office” services the city provides. Caveat emptor, baby.
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.