Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Regents Chancellor's Voracious Appetite

Gimme those charter schools!!!

That is the attitude on full public display by Merryl Tisch, not even one month as the new Chancellor of the state Board of Regents (formally, the Chancellor of the "University of the State of New York").

Chancellor Tisch is taking her formal, lofty title way too seriously.

Daily News reporter Meredith Kolodner reports today that Chancellor Tisch is backing legislation (A.7687/S.3875) to remove the State University of New York's ability to approve charter schools without the approval of the Regents (that is, Merryl Tisch's).

A bill has been introduced in both houses of legislature by no less than the chairwomen of the respective education committees, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan of Queens and Senator Suzi Oppenheimer of Westchester.

"SUNY is an entity not sensitive to the issues in the community here," the Chancellor told the Daily News, who apparently is referring to areas of New York City.

What "sensitivity" is she speaking? According to the story, the example she gave was the recent "uproar" of parents reacting to the City Department of Education's plan to close low-performing district schools and put charter schools in their space; charters approved by SUNY. The problem with this example is it was the City DOE, not SUNY, that provoked the fight over space. In fact, the subsequent hearing on charter schools by the City Council directed its consternation for this episode at the City. SUNY was never mentioned because it had nothing to do with this example of lack of "sensitivity."

The reality is that SUNY has approved 32 of the City's 78 charter schools currently in operation this year, with 11 on deck this fall and in 2010. Not only have these schools exceeded the average pass rates of the City's district schools on state exams, but City parents can't get enough of them.

Chancellor Tisch should have visited Harlem night last month at the Fort Washington Street Armory, where City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith addressed thousands of parents at a lottery, trying to gain admission for their children into one of the four Harlem Success Academies operated by the Success Charter Network, headed by former City Councilwoman, Eva Moskowitz. (Three of the four SCN charters were approved by -- gasp! -- SUNY!)

The only lack of sensitivity going on that night was the lack of available charter seats for students in upper Manhattan!

The reality is that for ten years, there have been two statewide entities with authority to approve charter schools: SUNY and the Board of Regents. This critical feature of New York's charter school law has worked well -- too well for those remaining anachronistic legislators and Regents who can't bring themselves to accept independent charter schools as part of the public educational mix.

The Regents have always resented the fact that SUNY has the ability to approve a charter school over their lofty heads. As public meetings go, Regents meetings are not subtle, and the frustration level of some board members can range between humorous and embarrassing when it comes to this important nuance of the state's charter law, to wit: they can't suppress a SUNY-approved charter they don't like. Regents want to control all, but can't.

Regent, now Chancellor, Merryl Tisch is neither humorous nor embarrassing. She's a dedicated, smart and savvy operator who for the most part has embraced charter schools and supported nearly every proposal coming from SUNY over the years, at least until about two years ago when the Regents and state Education Department began playing more bureaucratic hardball over charter schools (more on that later this week).

Now that Tisch heads the Board of Regents, she's making a power grab that is unsubtle and unseemly. The question is, why? What educational or child-centered objective would be served if she got her way? The reality is that if the Regents had, or gained, complete control over chartering, there would be far fewer charter schools and way less opportunity for children in those "communities" for which Chancellor Tisch feigns concern.

The new Chancellor, and long-time Regent, Merryl Tisch has much bigger concerns in public education than the fact that SUNY can approve charter schools. She should refocus her energies.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

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