Tisch, along with former City Council Education Chair, Eva Moskowitz; UFT President Michael Mulgrew; and Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, Joe Williams were the panelists at a forum on education issues sponsored by the Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century earlier this week. New York Times education reporter, Jenny Medina, moderated the session. Maura Walz of Gotham Schools writes about the event (here).
The session began with a discussion of what should be the educational agenda for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fresh from his re-election to a third term. (NOTE: Anyone who believed the Mayor was headed for a blow-out re-election overlooked three factors: gobs of campaign money, though an advantage, brings marginally diminishing benefits; his Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, still had an enormous enrollment advantage; and voters generally tire of two-term executives, even if considered successful -- but I digress)
Eva Moskowitz spoke first by saying the "jury is still out" and that there was a "tremendous amount to do" for the Mayor. For starters, she said schools are "not organized around teaching and learning" and neither were the teacher contracts which dictate so much of what goes on in the schools. Later on, Moskowitz described examples of how the charter schools she operates as head of the Success Charter Network hire and work with teachers.
Chancellor Tisch and Charter Schools
Merryl Tisch expressed a vision for charter schools as she discussed the Race-to-the-Top application, saying there needs to be a "thoughtful expansion" of charter schools and that the state can "significantly improve" the charter school law. For example, charter schools should be authorized to serve pre-kindergarten students, and "a new charter shouldn't have another board of trustees," nor should there be a "hard cap" on the number of charter schools. What she meant by "hard cap" was not clear; but I suspect it would be akin to allowing existing, high-performing schools to replicate without their added schools counting under the cap. There was no mention of her interest in the Regents taking over all chartering.
On the issue of charter boards of trustees, I believe the Chancellor is getting at the idea that a single board of trustees either should be allowed to govern more than one charter school, say multiple KIPP schools doing the same thing; or, alternatively, a charter school itself should be able to locate at more than one site. State Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) is proposing legislation to achieve the latter approach. Importantly, one of the intents of authorizing this approach is to encourage more charters to expand to high school grades.
Chancellor Tisch also wants to see charter schools operate more high schools, and to step up and be involved in her upcoming plan to "turnaround" chronically low-performing high schools. As The Chalkboard has noted previously, details matter. I can envision charter school operators taking over failing high schools when the systems and structures that contributed to the problem are changed to allow for a successful turnaround. We will soon see what rules (e.g., contracts, personnel, resources) Tisch and the state Education Department are willing to confront to make turnarounds real and lasting. Presumably, they will be "aggressively bold" as she described the state's Race-to-the-Top application.
Charter Schools are "Darlings" -- Really?
Finally, the Gotham story reminded me of the Chancellor's description of charters as being the "political darlings" of the city and state, that are "blessed with the most qualified teachers and some of the highest achieving students" as described by the story.
Eva Moskowitz took issue with the "darlings" descriptor by noting that charters get far less money on a per student basis and that everything charters have gotten they've had to fight for "tooth and nail." I would add that if charters have quality teachers and students (and they do), it is a credit to the charter schools; not a gift from elsewhere.
Perhaps Chancellor Tisch was being tongue-in-cheek, but it's worth describing further the irony of this characterization: charter schools got their funding whacked by the state legislature this year, so the funding gap with districts was exacerbated. While the Mayor and Chancellor have been supportive by approving charters and providing most of them space, it's a much tougher situation in the state Capitol where the teacher unions loom very large and have no love for their charter competition. We continue to beat back harmful bills and must move heaven and earth to get positive legislation enacted.
Even in 2007 when the charter cap was doubled, we had several brushes with death from the state Assembly that tried to load up the charter law with poison pills that would have made it impossible to operate, let alone educate students successfully. Things have since improved in some ways, but we are not there yet.
"Political Darlings?" Not hardly. All we want is for the political system to let charter schools do their job and do it even better by students.
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.