Last year the school had 88 percent of its students meeting state English standards and all of its students--100 percent--meeting mathematics standards. This is consistent with its high academic performance over time.
It is fiscally sound.
It has documented community support in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, community school district 16. No one showed up at the mandatory public hearing to oppose the school's renewal.
It has a longer school year and longer school day.
All of its students are African-American; nearly 70 percent of whom qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.
In sum, this is a highly-successful charter school by any standard.
The state Board of Regents today rejected its renewal application.
Thankfully, this is not the final step for the school to renew its charter and remain open. The reason? The State University of New York (SUNY) is its charter authorizer, not the Regents.
The Regents action came at the recommendation of the state Education Department (here). Technically, the Regents voted to "return" the renewal application to the SUNY Board of Trustees. SUNY can ignore the Regents action, resubmit the renewal application and, by operation of law, the Regents must issue the renewal incorporation for the school.
The state Charter Schools Act empowers SUNY to approve charter schools while also requiring the Regents to review all SUNY approvals. It can decide to approve them as well, or "return" them to SUNY with comments and recommendations for changes. Fortunately for Excellence Charter School, they ultimately didn't need the Regents' okay.
Why Did Regents Refuse Excellence Charter School?
State Ed and the Regents rejected this school because its renewal application was not fully "aligned" to state learning standards, meaning it did not address every jot and title of state curriculum strands. Then again, not all state curriculum standards are given an exam, so how important are they? This act by the Regents is getting tiresome, that is, demanding charter schools or school districts to require specific standards that are not important enough to warrant an exam.
Charter schools are about improving student outcomes; they are not suppose to be regulated on every curriculum strand, that is, the "inputs" of a school. Yet the Regents and State Ed have never been comfortable with this reality, and have a hard time historically thinking outside the "inputs" box to focus more on student outcomes.
What the Regents did today to Excellence Charter is the latest in a long line of bureaucratic ping-pong with SUNY-approved charter schools: to wit, the Regents "return" perfectly sound charter applications and renewals submitted by SUNY, only to have SUNY resubmit them to the Regents to be deemed approved by law.
State Law Requires Outcomes, not Inputs
The Charter Schools Act in Education law includes an objective for charter schools to provide "a change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding schools ... accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results." In fact, nowhere does the Charter Schools Act mention "curriculum" or "learning standards," contrary to the decade-long imposition by the Regents. Rather, the law requires that a charter school's "education program shall meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the board of regents for other public schools" (emphasis mine).
Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant met these performance standards--student test scores outcomes--with flying colors. And it didn't matter that the school didn't use every single learning standard and curriculum benchmark drawn up and demanded by State Ed staff and the Regents.
Enough Bureaucratic Ping-Pong?
At the end of today's Regents meeting, when the school was voted down, there was hopeful discussion among the Regents and State Ed staff that they may finally be reconsidering their understanding (actually, misunderstanding) of what is required of charter schools, and what is sensible. In fact, there was definite discomfort at the Regents table that they were voting to send such an obviously successful school back to SUNY for specious reasons. I hope the Department's lawyers were paying attention.
Will the Regents finally ditch this meaningless charter approval criteria?
This school's academic success, and that of many other schools, demands that Regents break with this "embedded practice," as Regent Saul Cohen stated when he and his colleagues voted to hire Commissioner Steiner last summer. Here's hoping the Commissioner adds this one to his long to-do list.
for The Chalkboard
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.