This charter school was approved with four others in the summer of 1999, less than a year following enactment of the state's charter school law. Sisulu was the first to open its doors, days ahead of the others. This was an auspicious beginning for charter schools and it's a real credit to Sisulu for being the most successful of those initial schools. After early struggles, leading to a short-term, two year renewal, the school improved results to the point where for several years this charter has outperformed District 3 in the percentage of students meeting and exceeding state math and English standards and is now in the middle of a full five-year charter contract renewal.
Today's celebration included several of the co-founders, including Marshall Mitchell, the first chairman of the school's board and former chief of staff to ex-Congressman, Rev. Floyd Flake, also in attendance; and Danielle Moss-Lee, a Harlem parent and lead applicant for the school. Also presenting were the school's principal, Dawn Cejas; and current board president, Martez Moore, the Senior Vice President for Strategy & Business Development at Black Entertainment Networks.
Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, whom the school is named after, co-founded the school but was not in attendance. A video was made where he recalled the school's founding. Rev. Walker is a life-long civil rights activist who served as chief of staff to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ten years ago, Rev. Walker enabled the charter school to lease space from the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, from where he has since retired.
Sisulu-Walker Charter School has been managed by Victory Schools, Inc., founded by investor Steven B. Klinsky. Victory Schools manages several other charter schools in New York and other states, and got a jump-start on chartering after the charter law's adoption. Klinsky and his team established important community and grassroots connections, and deserves enormous credit for also putting charter schools in needy but politically difficult places in the state, including Yonkers and Roosevelt, Long Island. He's a man that has used his success to give back to Harlem and elsewhere, and used the state's Charter Schools Act to do so. Other investors and philanthropists have followed suit, but Steve Klinsky was a pioneer in New York's charter movement.
The best part of the day was the students, who sang in choir and solo, danced, and made presentations. They prepared, rehearsed and excelled.
Mayor Bloomberg Unveils Charter School Agenda
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the keynote speaker and he unveiled his charter school agenda for his third term (assuming, of course, that he wins re-election this fall). He called for doubling the number of charter schools in New York City in the next four years; enabling charters to locate at multiple sites; establishing public-private partnerships to raise capital for charter facilities; and raising the cap on the number of charters; among other proposals.
I especially appreciated the appearance of former Governor, George Pataki, who spoke at the event. He followed an outstanding speech by 5th-grader, Ishola Sonubi. Pataki, in self-deprecating fashion, said he could not speak as well when he was in fifth grade -- and still couldn't.
Gov. Pataki was the key figure who got an extremely reluctant state legislature, under heavy pressure from the state teachers union, to enact his proposed charter school law in December 1998, with some compromises. In return, the Governor agreed to sign a legislative pay hike. That's what it took after nearly two years of on-again, off-again negotiations.
It was worth it. The Charter Schools Act has done enormous good for thousands of children, beginning with Sisulu-Walker Charter School.
for The Chalkboard
Among the commentary that got my attention was from the United Federation of Teachers' blog, edwize (here), especially from our old charter pal, Jonathan Gyurko. Once camped at 52 Chambers Street directing charter policy for the Schools Chancellor, Jonathan has for several years been safely ensconced in the bowels of UFT headquarters on lower Broadway.
From there he comments on the charter study in his piece, "Hoxby's Other Stubborn Facts." Allowing for the fact that yes, charters have done better, he duly credits students and teachers for this success (no mention of leadership and governance). Then he gets to his real point by criticizing charters as not meeting "other worthy goals" such as "greater educational equity" and "diversity."
While Jonathan is the UFT's in-house charter expert, has the UFT ever concerned itself over the alleged lack of diversity and educational equity among New York City's district schools, say, between Bed-Stuy and Bronx neighborhoods and Chelsea?
Gyurko questions whether policymakers will view higher student achievement as sufficient to warrant encouraging more charters by lifting the cap, after weighing such other goals--subjective, in many ways--as equity and diversity. Is this the UFT's new excuse for opposing the next cap-lift?
Last I checked, there's nothing in Article 56 of the Education Law, i.e., the Charter Schools Act, listing "diversity" and "educational equity" as objectives of charter schools. The six goals that are listed (per sec. 2850) deal with improving student learning and achievement; providing parental choice within the public school system; changing from rules-based to performance based accountability systems; providing teachers and administrators new opportunities; and so on.
Nothing there about the other "worthy goals," nor should there be, frankly. Just how many parents choosing charter schools for their children do so to achieve these "worthy goals?" About zero, is my hypothesis. They have much greater concerns. By contrast, union, government and university bureaucrats wring their hands about such esoteric "goals," even describing charter school settings by using highly-charged words like "segregation."
The fact is that charter schools are schools of choice, and thousands more students are seeking entry than there are spaces available, particularly in New York City. The focus of Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and others is to meet this demand both by approving new charters and improving existing district schools. That also should be the goal of Jonathan and the UFT - without the handwringing about "diversity" and "equity" in a city as diverse as any in America and which has enormous resources redistributed for education from its massive tax base.
The "issues of equity and parity" do not "need more prominence in the charter debate," as Gyurko claims. What for? Are we to strive to these goals by kicking out the supposed excess of African-American students from charters and bus more whites from somewhere? Unless you mean funding parity for charters (which the UFT has opposed), reaching these goals would accomplish little to nothing meaningful, assuming there was a way to get there in the first place.
Achieving Real Equity & Diversity
Finally, as to that "narrow pursuit of higher test scores," as Jonathan diminishes for the sake of his other goals, charter school operators should dismiss this nonsense and continue to focus relentlessly on scores above all else and in place of all else. Everything a school does should be about achieving higher test scores for students, be it a safe and disciplined school, PD for teachers, responsible governance, competitive pay, longer calendar, etc.
If charter schools continue to accomplish higher student test results, particularly as they serve a higher percentage of African-American children, the results will be greater economic equity and diversity in society. Simply put, more African-American and low-income students will attain college from having achieved higher test scores, and those same students will be prepared to succeed in the future.
That will make for a more equitable, diverse and just society.
for The Chalkboard
Ravitch needs advice from Sgt. Oddball
Sgt. Oddball: "Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out there? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?"
Diane Ravitch can't help it any longer. To quote Donald Sutherland's character in "Kelly's Heroes," her "negative waves" against charters continue apace as she does her best imitation of Tank Crewman Moriarty (Gavin MacLeod, not pictured).
A very positive study by Professor Caroline Hoxby came out last week showing that charter schools in New York City are outscoring district schools. Ms. Ravitch, an "education historian," responds by reminding everyone that studies of charter schools in other states show the results are not so good. Really, now?
Diane Ravitch goes way back in education reform circles, but in recent years comes off as bitter and disillusioned. It's as if anything favored by NYC Schools Chancellor Klien, Ravitch opposes, even if it contradicts her previous views. Her opinion piece in Sunday's Daily News concedes that the results of the Hoxby study on NYC charters were "impressive", but "not typical of other charter schools across the nation." She cites a study by Professor Margaret Raymond for the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University as her authority, yet mentions none of the criticisms of that study.
The CREDO study counted half the students as being in their first year in a charter school, which is a misleading sample of true performance. Furthermore, Ravitch mistakenly relies on the national data which lumps all charter schools together, without considering the individual state results in the study reflective of the wide variation of state policies affecting the quality of charter schools. Prof. Hoxby also criticized this study by writing: "the study contains a serious statistical mistake that causes a negative bias in its estimate of how charter schools affect achievement."
Even Prof. Raymond herself, a respected researcher, acknowledged limitations of the data she used, but Diane Ravitch must not have gotten that memo.
Instead, Ms. Ravitich continues to cite a national study with severe limitations to discredit charter schools, this time to throw cold water on the superb results of NYC charters. But Ravitch wasn't finished. She also trashed charter schools in Philadelphia and Boston as well.
So, since charters elsewhere supposedly aren't doing so well, according to Diane Ravitch using questionable sources, the state legislature in New York "should proceed with caution," she writes. Come again? Charter schools have been documented to be succeeding in New York but New York should be careful because they are allegedly not as good elsewhere? This is absurd, twisted advice, layered with acrimony. Such negative waves should be ignored.
for The Chalkboard
We always knew these were canards.
Professor Caroline Hoxby of Stanford, and her co-authors Jenny Kang from the National Bureau of Economic Research and Sonali Murarka from the Wharton School at U-Penn, demonstrate conclusively what charter school operators have always known: charter schools tend to get a higher percentage of minority students and from lower-income households than the respective district average.
More significantly, this study, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," went the extra mile in comparing charter student test scores with those of district students that previously applied for admission to a charter school but were not selected through the lottery process, thus "lotteried out." The results are that charter students scored higher on the state exams compared to those students who were "lotteried out".
So, all together now: There no "creaming" going on, after all. Furthermore, the parents of those higher-scoring students were no more motivated in getting their child enrolled than the parents whose children got a higher lottery number and had to remain in the district. This comparison is the most scientific and reliable a researcher can make.
Again, charter school operators and proponents have always known this to be true and have said so. But that never stopped opponents of charter schools from dusting off their 1990's talking points to continuously try and discredit higher test scores in charter schools.
Today's Wall Street Journal includes an editorial highlighting this important finding (here) that should once and for all destroy the "creaming" and "motivated parents" arguments from charter school opponents.
Narrowing the Achievement Gap
As a result of charter school success, the study shows them significantly narrowing the achievement gap between urban and suburban districts in English and math -- a gap that also is largely racial. We already have seen this trend where charter schools each year were narrowing this gap to the point of now having similar percentages of students meeting state standards as suburban school districts, more so in mathematics. This study, therefore, represents more definitive evidence of that favorable and encouraging trend.
for The Chalkboard
One comment by the estimable Randi Weingarten got my notice; she being the president of the American Federation of Teachers and former long-time head of its largest chapter, the New York City United Federation of Teachers (many simply call her "Randi").
Ms. Weingarten's comments to the Wall Street Journal capture her schizophrenic stance on charter schools. On the one hand, she duly credits New York State for its rigorous approval criteria for charter schools, contributing to their higher performance: "agencies vet [charter school applications] thoroughly before authorizing them, assuring they are of higher quality than elsewhere."
Ms. Weingarten has had personal experience with this vetting, as she was the lead applicant for the UFT Charter School in 2004, which was approved by the State University of New York Board of Trustees -- the charter authorizer she chose to apply, rather than directly to the Board of Regents. The Regents, by law, also thoroughly vetted the proposed UFT Charter School and put their stamp of approval as well.
On the other hand, Ms. Weingarten's dark side invariably shows when the subject of charters is at hand. With the release of this favorable study, she can't resist bringing up another charter study that reviewed outcomes in 16 other states, the conclusions of which were not as positive (e.g., half the charters did no better than district schools).
Charter School Cap
More bizarrely, Ms. Weingarten's gives an added twist to the teacher union talking points for retaining the statutory cap on the number of charter schools by claiming that it also contributes to the higher student outcomes -- a non-sequitur if there ever was one. State teacher union (NYSUT) head, Richard Iannuzzi, in similar fashion, claimed to Newsday earlier this month that the cap "is the only real way to hold charters accountable" -- which is a reach, to be polite.Accountability is replete in charter schools for a number of reasons, including the vetting process by charter authorizers (echoing Weingarten's point); the rigorous monitoring and oversight; the need to attract parents to enroll their children and teachers to work; the academic goals in the charter agreement; and requiring the charter to be renewed at least every five years, to name a few.
One of President Barack Obama's education policies is for states to "lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools." The president's position appears to have caused the teacher unions to be more subtle about opposing cap-lifts by making specious connections to issues that sound appealing. NYSUT used to be blatant in its opposition to lifting New York's cap earlier this decade.
With the president's cap-lift policy, hundreds of million of Race-to-the-Top dollars at stake, and now an unimpeachable study confirming higher charter school test results, here's hoping the teacher unions are rethinking their position of overt opposition to raising New York's charter cap.
While NYSUT represents many teachers in charter schools, I'm not optimistic they will be pro-charter on the cap or funding issues as long as the unions view charters as competition to their larger district membership.
for The Chalkboard
The study by the New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project, entitled "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," released today and reported by several major news outlets, is strong and demonstrable evidence that charter schools have produced better academic results for students.
A copy of this definitive, careful study is here, and was authored by: Caroline Hoxby, National Bureau of Economic Research and Stanford University; Sonali Murarka, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and Jenny Kang, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Policy Implications for New York for Race to the Top
Charter schools are working for children in New York, as this latest study confirms. Charter schools have succeeded in spite of receiving one-third less funding than district schools, primarily from being ineligible for facilities aid and from a "freeze" in the state operating funding formula imposed by the state Legislature for the current school year. In addition, New York State has only 37 charters remaining under the statutory cap of 200, of which only up to 18 remain for NYC Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, to approve.
This number of 18 charters more than likely will be reached next year, as nearly two dozen charter applications are presently under consideration by the New York City Department of Education.
The cap on charter schools and the inequitable funding of charter schools should be fixed for all the positive reasons found in this latest study. The charter cap and lack of facilities funding also puts New York State at a competitive disadvantage for federal Race-to-the-Top funds, totaling $4.35 billion for states. Technically, New York may "qualify" for submitting an application for this money, but other states have enacted measures to improve their chances for a Race to the Top grant, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Governor David Paterson and the New York State Legislature should not risk other states out-competing New York for Race to the Top funding. They should heed President Obama's call to lift the cap on the number of charters allowed; and provide equitable funding to charter schools, which is one of the key criteria for this funding. In addition, the state should enact a number of other measures to enable charter schools to reach more students (another Race to the Top criteria) including:
-- authorizing boards of cooperative education services (BOCES) to contract directly with charters to serve more students with disabilities;
-- allow charter schools to locate at more than a single site;
--allow for regional charter schools using a wider enrollment preference beyond the district of location;
-- operate pre-kindergarten programs; and other legislative changes.
Charter Design is Key to Higher Academic Outcomes
Interestingly, the study also ascribes the following policies characteristic of charter schools which have produced higher achievement:
a) a mission emphasizing academic performance as opposed to other goals;
b) a long school year;
c) greater number of minutes daily devoted to English;
d) a small rewards/small penalties discipline policy; and
e) performance-based teacher pay as opposed to a traditional pay scale based on seniority and credentials.
Background Summary of the NYC Charter Study
Student academic performance was measured through the 2007-08 school year using aggregate data from charter schools administering state exams, which are given in grades 3-12. Test score data from last year, school year 2008-09, was not included though charter schools continued their impressive academic gains.
Importantly, this study's comparisons were between students attending charter schools and students who were "lotteried out," that is, applied for charter school admission but did not get in. To quote the study: "This is a true apples-to-apples comparison. Lottery-based studies are scientific and reliable."
In sum, the study documents several positive charter school outcomes, and debunks several criticisms by opponents of charter school. For example:
1) Charter schools in New York City did a more effective job in narrowing the "Harlem-Scarsdale" achievement gap than district schools; that is, New York City students attending charter schools improved their test results closer to the suburban results than students in district schools.
2) Charter school students outperformed district students on the State’s ELA exam; in cases of students attending a charter school for at least three years, scores averaged 9 points higher.
3) Ninety-four percent of students attending charter schools in New York City were admitted on a lottery basis.
4) Charter school student applicants are much more likely to be black and much less likely to be Asian or white than the average student in the City's district schools.
5) Charter school applicants are more likely to be poorer than the average student in the City’s district schools.
The study's authors, Prof. Hoxby, Prof. Murarka and Jenny Kang have done a great service by substantively confirming what charter advocates have long held. Only now, charter opponents will have a much harder time peddling the old canards.
for The Chalkboard
King assumes his new, high level position at the State Education Department officially on October 1st, but he very much as been on the job already, and participated at the monthly meeting of the Board of Regents last week in Albany. He succeeds the former Senior Deputy, Johanna Duncan-Poitier, who is departing for a high-level position at the SUNY central administration (not charter-related). King was chosen for the position by David Steiner, the incoming Commissioner of Education, who was appointed by the Regents last July and also formally assumes office on the 1st. (The Department's announcement of King's appointment is linked here.)
"Brooklyn's John King tapped to lead school reform efforts, says school saved his life" the Daily News headline says. King hasn't just studied or supported reform. He's walked the walk. That's good news for charter schools and good news for New York public education generally.
Just 34 years old, Dr. John B. King, Jr. has a fascinating biography: a graduate of Harvard (magna cum laude) Columbia (M.A., Ed.D) and Yale Law (can anyone be more educated than this?); Brooklyn-born son of public school teachers; orphaned by the age of 12 and having to live with relatives; attended PS 276 in Canarsie and Mark Twain Junior High in Coney Island; became a teacher at a Boston charter school and later co-founded and co-directed Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, just outside of Boston -- one of the best charter schools in the country.
Roxbury Prep has been nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a high-performing, model school whose design has been replicated by charter schools in New York. Knowing this success, after King had departed, I visited this school in 2005 with a group preparing an application for a charter school in New York.
After Roxbury, King returned to his native Brooklyn, and worked for Uncommon Schools, where he was a managing director until his appointment to the Education Department. Uncommon is a non-profit charter management organization operating sixteen high-performing charter schools, including twelve in New York of which nearly all were first approved by SUNY, not the Regents.
King has a big job ahead of him, as he will oversee for the Regents all state education policy dealing with pre-k through high school. Relatively speaking, the charter sector is a small part of his responsibilities, but all charter actions and recommendations going to the Regents must pass through him. In addition, the Education Department offices conducting oversight and monitoring of charter schools are accountable to him.
New York State has a true reformer in an important policy position at the Education Department; not merely someone who studied or embraces reform policies, but who has implemented them successfully in his career.
The piece was authored by Peter Meyer, a freelance writer and contributing editor, who resides in nearby Hudson, New York, about a 45-minute drive south of the state capital. Meyer has been a long time observer of the charter school movement in the state, and the significance of the expansion of charters in Albany in particular. Thus, the article traces the roots of chartering in New York, including enactment of the state's charter law; and the genesis and academic success of charter schools in the Albany City School District. The article also discusses some setbacks and lessons learned from chartering.
Meyer's article profiles several individuals who played varied but key roles in Albany's charter growth, including their previous careers outside of education that led to their involvement in New York's charter school movement. They are: Tom Carroll, the chairman of the Brighter Choice Foundation; Chris Bender, the Foundation's executive director; Brian Backstrom, the Vice President of the New York Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability and founder of one of Albany's charter middle schools; Jason Brooks, the Research Director for NYFERA; and myself, who co-founded one of Albany's elementary charter schools.
New York's capital city has fewer than 100,000 residents, and a public school population of approximately 10,100 students. In the current 2009-10 school year, nearly 2,600 students attend charter schools. This proliferation of charters in a relatively small city--educating more than 25 percent of its students and growing--occurred in the face of vexatious establishment opposition by district officials, politicians and the teachers union, both the local and statewide organizations.
The first Brighter Choice charter schools were single-gender schools approved by the state Board of Regents in December 2000, just two years following enactment of the state's charter law, and one year following the disastrous advent of Albany's first school, the New Covenant Charter School. This early charter fiasco in the capital city, in full view of the state legislature, was potentially crippling to the whole statewide charter movement.
In September 2002, the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls and Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys, both small K-4 elementary schools, opened after taking a lengthy 20-month planning period to conduct a national principal search and, more significantly, raise funding to construct a new state-of-the-art facility to house both schools by rehabilitating and expanding a mothballed 19th-century school building in the middle of Albany. (The Boys' school since relocated one block away to its own reconstructed facility.) Around this time, the Brighter Choice Foundation was established, and chaired by the schools' founder, Tom Carroll, to fundraise for the two flagship schools and later support creation of additional ones with similar features: extended school day and longer school year, small enrollment, mandatory student uniforms and other non-negotiables.
The auspicious start and positive academic track record of these two single-gender elementary schools did much to counter negative image of charters stemming from the ongoing struggles of nearby New Covenant Charter School. But Brighter Choice did not stop there. By 2005, three more charter schools opened to serve grade five, growing yearly to 5-8. In contrast to the charter management organization replication model, these Foundation-supported schools were designed instead after other high-scoring charter school models: KIPP Tech Valley Charter School; Achievement Academy Charter School, modeled after the Amistad Academy in New Haven; and Albany Preparatory Charter School, based on the International Baccalaureate program.
Subsequently, the elementary charter schools were created with the support of the Foundation: Henry Johnson Charter School, modeled after Milwaukee College Prep; and Albany Community Charter School, designed similarly to the Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. More recently, the Foundation assisted with the establishment of Green Tech High Charter School, an all-male 9-12 school now in its second year and modeled on several successful charter high schools around the country; and the comparable Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls, which opens in 2010.
Two More Charter Approvals This Week
The latest Albany charter expansion came this week, when the SUNY Board of Trustees approved two more charter middle schools, the Brighter Choice Charter Middle School for Girls and the Brighter Choice Charter Middle School for Boys, opening in 2010 and growing to serve grades 5-8. These schools bring the total to twelve charters in Albany, eleven of which are supported by the Brighter Choice Foundation. Most interestingly, these schools are the last piece for providing a continuum of single-sex, public school options from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The key role played by Brighter Choice Foundation has been to prepare a facility, usually new construction (thereby removing an enormous burden from the school operators); assist and finance a principal search; and provide start-up funding. Otherwise, it does not manage any of the schools. Some of the Foundation's officers, including Carroll and Bender, serve on several of the charter school governing boards.
A National Model for Reforming Public Ed.
Education Next captures the significance of the charter school experience in Albany, including the key ingredients for providing an abundance of high-quality public school options to realistically and rapidly transform a troubled, low-performing urban education system.
The success of Albany's district-wide chartering effort, supported by the Brighter Choice Foundation, now educates one of every four resident students, and counting. Their academic success demonstrates there is no reason for anyone--including parents, educators, community organizations, churches, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, unions or politicians--to settle in peaceful co-existence with failing, excuse-driven urban educational systems that relegate successive generations of young people to a sub par future.
There is a better, feasible way for children.
for The Chalkboard
In the current 2009-10 school year, there are 140 charter schools in operation educating 44,000 students, a number exceeding the second largest school district in the state. Next year, in 2010-11 there will be another 18 schools.
It took seven years for the first 100 charter schools to get approved and another year to lift the cap. New York is now on pace to reach its second 100 charters in less than half that time. There are several reasons for this stepped up pace, foremost among them is their academic success. For several years running, charter schools have outperformed their respective school districts and community school districts in the overall percentage of students meeting or exceeding state math and reading standards for elementary and middle school. These positive academic results in charter schools are foundational to the factors outlined below that are contributing to their accelerating number in New York State.
-- Success breeds more success. As charter schools prove themselves by improving student achievement, demand increases from parents and communities. In addition, best practices are shared among other charter founders to create schools, including from educational entrepreneurs from other states who were drawn to New York to create successful networks of charter schools. Operators from high performing charter school models have come to this state from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan and California, to name a few; and many founders from New York established charter schools using proven school designs from other states.
-- Success brings greater acceptance. Charter schools were not always welcome in New York, to say the least. Then-Gov. George Pataki tried for nearly two years to get a charter law on the books -- one that would work effectively. By the end of 1998, he succeeded by agreeing to a legislative pay raise, which is what it took in those days. By 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer doubled the cap, but no longer needed a legislative pay raise to do it. He was convinced the academic achievement results from charter schools warranted more of them. Also, more legislators willingly supported him, though significant opposition remained. Even NYSUT's largest local, the NYC United Federation of Teachers, softened their early opposition and went beyond unionizing some charters to operating its own in Brooklyn.
-- Success brings more political support and leadership. In 1998, very few state legislators supported charter schools openly. This number has grown but remains tepid, particularly in the state Assembly, as legislators tip-toe around the omnipresent NYSUT, which remains against charters even though they represent faculty in about 20 schools. The key political support for charters has always begun with executive leadership, starting with Gov. Pataki, then Gov. Spitzer, and now Gov. David Paterson who personifies this positive evolution. Gov. Paterson acknowledged last June, for example, that he was not a charter supporter initially, and voted against the 1998 law when he was a state senator. He changed his view of charter schools after seeing their success and their importance to many communities.
Executive leadership includes local leaders, particularly NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, who has not only approved nearly 50 charter schools, but made district space available to dozens throughout the city. Also, key state senate leaders have supported charters, including Senate President, Malcolm Smith, who co-founded two schools in Queens; and former Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. Both senators were instrumental in working with Gov. Spitzer to double the cap in 2007.
Leadership at SUNY and the Board of Regents cannot be overlooked regarding the growth in charter schools. On the SUNY side, Edward Cox and Randy Daniels co-chaired the SUNY Trustees committee on charter schools from the beginning, until Daniels stepped down two years ago (Trustee Cox remains chairman of that committee.) On the Regents side, former Chancellor Robert Bennett and current Chancellor Merryl Tisch, have been key supporters. These board members of both statewide charter authorizers have served to educate and reassure their colleagues to approve schools, as many of whom were unfamiliar or less enthusiastic about charters.
Caution is in Order
There are many encouraging developments for charter schools, with the 11 new approvals being the most recent example. Caution is nevertheless warranted. Charter schools must continue doing well by their students academically, and must operate in a fiscally sound, legally compliant manner while being careful not to abuse the freedoms they have under the Charter Schools Act. Charter schools also remain politically vulnerable, especially in a struggling state fiscal environment, as we found this year when the funding formula was frozen.
Charter schools also must look to the future, recognizing that supportive leaders and elected officials come and go. That means continually cultivating elected officials and policymakers at all levels to make positive changes to help charters, including allowing for more such opportunities for children. You can count on charter opponents to do the opposite.
for The Chalkboard
The state Board of Regents approved three new charter schools, two of which were previously approved and transmitted by NYC Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein. They are the Metropolitan Lighthouse Academy in the Bronx and the New York French American Charter School. The third, Health Sciences Charter School, will locate just outside of Buffalo in the town of Tonawanda.
The State University Board of Trustees yesterday approved eight new charter schools, including six in New York City and two more in Albany. Among the six are two operated by the Success Charter Network run by Eva Moskowitz, to locate in Harlem; Icahn Charter School 5 in the Bronx; New Hope Academy; Brooklyn Dreams Charter School; and the New World Preparatory Charter School, which is only the second charter school for the City's last frontier, Staten Island.
Rounding out SUNY's approvals are the Brighter Choice Charter Middle School for Girls and the Brighter Choice Charter Middle School for Boys, both in Albany.
Of the eleven new charter schools, at least six are part of a charter network of schools, all of which have shown impressive academic success leading to more approvals. They are the aforementioned Success Charter Network, a fifth Icahn charter, another operated by Lighthouse Academies, another New Hope Academy, and two more supported by the Brighter Choice Foundation.
Interestingly, the Brighter Choice middle schools in Albany provide a continuum of the two elementary single-sex schools that were approved by the Regents and which opened in 2002. Rather than expand grades in those schools, the founders instead created separate schools that will locate nearby under a separate authorizer. The Regents, under pressure from the school district and the state teachers union, NYSUT, have had little appetite for adding charters in Albany in recent years, with one salient exception. In July the Regents unanimously approved the Albany Leadership Charter High School, the state's first female-only charter school serving upper grades, which had been previously approved by SUNY and also is supported by the Brighter Choice Foundation.
Dwindling Number of Charters Remain
With these charter school approvals this week, only 37 charters remain available to issue under the existing statutory cap of 200. Of the 37 remaining charters, SUNY has 19 left, while the Regents and school districts have 18 remaining between them.
That means since April 2007, when the state legislature doubled the charter cap to 200, 63 charter schools have since been added, 18 of which will open next year.
Right now, in the current school year, 140 charter charter schools are operating in New York serving 44,000 students, including the six charters converted from district schools that do not count against the cap. With 18 more opening next year (so far), 158 charters will be operating, assuming none of the current ones are closed. (NOTE: the 11 charters that closed or never opened still count toward the cap.)
It took seven years for the first 100 charter schools to get approved. New York is now on pace to reach its second 100 charters in less than half that time. There are several reasons for this stepped up pace, which The Chalkboard will explore shortly.
Lift the Cap Sooner for Race to the Top $
In the meantime, the cap on charter schools should be lifted again--or removed altogether--sooner rather than later. With potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in the state competition for federal "Race to the Top" funding, New York should act now to improve its competitive position for this money.
This state should not presume it will get funds by doing nothing, and being the "Empire State" with political muscle in Washington, or because someone "spoke privately with Arne" (as in U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan). Instead, we should do what other states are doing by making policy changes to earn this federal grant.
for The Chalkboard
The Regents committee on Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education met yesterday in Albany, the first day of the typical two-day monthly gathering of the Regents. Most of the Regents participate at such committee meetings even if they are not a voting member.
As the Regents committee was routinely adopting the staff recommendation for each charter application, Chancellor Merryl Tisch spoke up. We must "develop a process that makes sense," she said, her voice raising the volume in the room. The Regents and Education Department "can't have a schitzo relationship" with the charter community.
What triggered these comments from the Chancellor was the recommendation by the Education Department to vote to "return" the Oracle Charter School renewal application to SUNY for reconsideration due to a supposedly incomplete curriculum.
A former co-chair of this committee, Tisch is familiar with chartering and is now publicly acknowledging what has long been a tortuous process for reviewing charter applications, which have grown to be many hundreds of pages. The state curriculum itself comprises most of this volume, as the Department requires charter applications to contain every benchmark, indicator, key idea, strand and standard for each subject in each grade -- including subjects for which there is no state test. [NOTE: I have long held, since my early days at SUNY, that this SED mandate arises from its misinterpretation of the state Charter Schools Act, but that's for another Chalkboard.]
Tisch called for the Education Department to "internally fix our own structure" for reviewing applications and dealing with charter schools overall, and to "come back to have a conversation" with the committee. This is an encouraging and welcome signal from the Chancellor. Clearly, Tisch is concerned about the message being sent to the charter community about the reasonableness of the Department -- and therefore, the Regents -- treatment of charter schools.
Regent James Tallon, a former Majority Leader of the state Assembly, responded that he did not want to see a relaxing of "meaningful standards" for dealing with charter school applications, but also stated that he "welcome[d] the conversation."
The timing of all of this coincides with new Education Commissioner, David Steiner, and the announcement at the same meeting of the new Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 education, John King (himself formerly from the Boston and NYC charter world). Both men were present at this meeting, and formally assume their new positions October 1st. In addition, the charter bureaus in Albany and New York City recently have undergone leadership transitions, which bring an opportunity to rethink the efficacy and practicality of past practices.
Reviewing, approving and overseeing charter schools is serious business, as it should be. But all of this has become increasingly burdensome and highly bureaucratic, with charter schools being treated too much like district schools, rather than the autonomous entities free from most laws and regulations and accountable for higher student academic outcomes.
Last summer, Regent Saul Cohen stated that he hopes the appointment of Commissioner Steiner would lead the Department to "break with embedded practices." Chancellor Tisch's animated concerns yesterday makes clear that rethinking charter school processes is one place for him to start.
for The Chalkboard
School district boss, Phil Williams ...oops -- I mean James Rumore, opposed more charter schools last week. Wait, sorry. I think I'm getting the names mixed up, but does it matter anymore?
The Buffalo school district superintendent requested that the Regents not approve any more charter schools in Buffalo by imposing a moratorium unless the district supports the approvals. This brings the district full circle by adopting the long-held position of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
Among the reasons cited by the superintendent for copy-catting the BTF stance is the supposed "significant fiscal drain" of $71.7 million this year.
It's a real source of frustration to see this number mentioned in the Buffalo News, which reported this story in Saturday's edition, without proper context. In fact, this charter expense is a bargain for the district in two significant ways:
1) This spending amounts to less than 10 percent of the Buffalo district's budget, totaling about $11,000 per student, even as charters are educating 15 percent of the students. That's a great deal considering the district is spending $18,000-plus on students in district schools.
2) Buffalo gets state foundation aid in the amount of $433 million, or more than $11,000 per student, which more than covers the amount the district pays for its charter school enrollment, as every charter school student remains in the district's enrollment data to generate foundation aid. In effect, the state -- not Buffalo -- already is paying for the city's charter schools.
Rather than this no mas approach, a school district leader in such an enviable financial position from charter schools should be making the opposite request of the Regents by demanding MORE charters, which would save the district money and enhance his leverage at the bargaining table with the district's unions.
Another reason the superintendent requests a charter moratorium is that the district's scores on state tests are supposely "improving." Someone needs to remind him that last year everyone's state test scores improved, including charter schools and those of the other 680 school districts in the state. More to the point, every charter school serving Buffalo students outperformed the district on both English and math results last year -- not just a majority of charters -- but every one of them.
The Buffalo superintendent has been supportive of charter schools in the generic sense. Yet every time a new one comes along, he falls back on the familiar pattern of every other school district leader and union boss by opposing them. As soon as the superintendent arrived on the job, he opposed Elmwood Village Charter School in December 2005, and has been predictable every since. It's a good thing for those students at Elmwood that the Regents ignored him, and they should continue to do so for any new charter application that meets the rigorous standard of quality.
The problem ultimately is that nothing has changed in the Buffalo district to warrant a freeze on new charters. Buffalo remains an academic basket case and parents still want other options. I suspect the Regents understand this all too well, which is why they've ignored similar calls for a charter school moratorium in the past.
While the Regents will hopefully continue to do what's right in terms of Buffalo charters, one charter application at a time, the superintendent should focus on righting the district and bringing about genuine improvements. That's a better use of his time.
While the Regents deal with the superintendent's tiresome letter -- hopefully with a stamp of "return to sender" -- he can take dubious comfort that the Buffalo Teachers Federation is in "strong agreement" with his moratorium request. Hence, it's getting difficult not to conflate the two leaders, Phil Williams and James Rumore (Ah, switch those first names).
Superintendent, sir: the last thing Buffalo students in charters and district schools need is a BTF echo chamber in City Hall.
Come home, Dr. Williams.
for The Chalkboard
Yesterday, The Chalkboard documented that this disparity doesn't change the fact that charters in Albany still outperform the district on state test scores, even when you remove test scores of special ed students from the district's data.
Charter school opponents--which consist mostly of teacher unions and school district officials--view the special education issue as the best argument (or excuse) they have to attack charter schools and discredit their impressive academic performance. As we've shown in the case of Albany, this line of attack doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
To explain the disparity in the percentages of special education students, the Times Union story included perspective from Tom Carroll, the chairman of the Brighter Choice Foundation, that supports all but one of Albany's charter schools. Carroll stated that charter schools are not quick to label students and that districts like Albany over-subscribe students for special education services.
This claim has backing from the state Education Department, which documented repeatedly that minority students, of which Albany has a high percentage, are "disproportionately placed in special education" across the state. This practice can certainly provide some explanation as to why 21 percent of Albany's students in district schools are classified this way.
Special Education Middle School Spike
Another explanation for Albany's high percentage of special education students compared to charter schools is that the district does a perpetually poor job of educating and disciplining students, resulting in low test scores for many students who subsequently get designated as having a disability. For example, slightly more than half of the Albany district's 1,900 special education students are classified either as having "emotional disturbance" or "learning disability." In both categories, the number of students labeled such increases sharply in middle school, reaching their peak numbers in 10th grade.
This begs the question: are these students all of sudden, by middle school, "emotionally disturbed" or "learning disabled?" Or, is this a convenient excuse to cover for inadequate elementary school preparation for more challenging middle and upper grades?
This data should prompt the examination of the Albany district's special education classification practices. Scores on state tests drop dramatically between 3rd and 8th grade; a common statewide trend, but to an alarmingly degree in Albany. At the same time, the special ed numbers show that for many of these students, the answer appears to be that they must be learning disabled by middle school, which went previously undetected. For example, students labeled as learning disabled doubles from 25 district wide in 4th grade to 50 in 5th grade; by 9th grade, the figure doubles again, to 102 students.
For other students, improper behavior leading to poor academic performance prompts for many a designation of emotional disturbance -- again, not recognized for most of them in lower grades. For example, Albany had 16 and 17 students classified this way in 3rd and 4th grades, respectively; by 9th and 10th grades, these figures increase to 39 and 49, respectively -- a jump of two and one-half times.
Blame-the-Student Classification Strategy
This disturbing spike of special education students in middle and high school grades should be examined. Are this many students really special education, or just inadequately taught and disciplined? The evidence sadly suggests the latter problem.
Rather than point fingers at charter schools for supposedly having too few students in special education, the Albany School District needs to get beyond what looks to be a blame-the-student approach and rethink its penchant for having such a high percentage of students labeled as special education.
for The Chalkboard
Waldman's piece is balanced in terms of quotes from both sides, though the article appears to be a put-up job by the Albany district. The teachers union also weighed in as NYSUT president, Richard Iannuzzi, (who represents New Covenant Charter School teachers) offers one of his typically vacuous, anti-charter school quotes. The district and union arguments on special education have become familiar soup, and increasingly discredited: that is, charter school test results are supposedly not what they seem since they have lower percentages of students with disabilities.
The article was focused mostly on head-counts of special education students, but fails to examine if the differences in the percentages of special education students affects the test score comparisons between charter and district schools.
Charters Still Outperform District 'General Ed' Students
In fact, the exclusion of test scores from students with disabilities by including only scores of "general education" students does not materially alter the Albany school district's results on state tests. District scores are still generally lousy and, in most cases, remain below the results of charter schools in Albany. For example, the percentage of the district's general education students meeting or exceeding state standards ranges between two and nine percentage points above the overall district results. Charter schools still have higher outcomes for most grades, especially in mathematics.
For example, for 2007-08, Albany's 3rd and 4th grade math results--excluding special education students--respectively had 79 and 75 percent of students passing; while both the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls and the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys had a higher percentage of students passing this exam in each grade. The Boys' school, in fact, exceeded the district's general ed results by 18 and 20 percentage points, respectively.
The KIPP Tech Valley Charter School exceeded the district's general education student test results in both English and mathematics for 7th grade; Albany Preparatory Charter School had higher math results for both 6th and 7th grade; and so on.
The upshot is that when comparing charter school test scores with district general education students doesn't change the fact the charters still mostly outperform the district.
Albany Needs To Do Better by Special Ed Students
The real concern regarding special education, unmentioned in the Times Union, is the poor job Albany has done for students with disabilities as it is one of only 17 school districts statewide identified by the state Education Department as a "District in Need of Assistance." This designation, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, is the most severe classification due to Albany's low academic performance of students with disabilities. Even worse, Albany has been given this dubious distinction for the third straight year.
The district's Director of Special Education, Debbie Sharpe-DeFries, assures us in the article that it takes its responsibilities "extremely seriously." Swell. With this federal designation shared by only 2.5 percent of the state's school districts, these are just words.
Rather than obsessing about charter schools, districts like Albany should improve its education of special education students getting out from under the "District in Need" designation, and reexamine the suspect percentage of students its labeling as special education.
Better yet, evidence suggests if Albany did a better job of educating all students, it would have far fewer special education students, as we'll examine next.
for The Chalkboard
Academy Charter School, proposed by leaders of a local church, the Calvary Tabernacle, was approved by the SUNY Trustees in September. Three months later, the Regents approved the Evergreen Charter School, proposed by lead applicant, Sarah Brewster, with the backing of Circulo de la Hispanidad, a Hispanic social services agency.
Both schools are opening their doors this month, and will initially serve a combined enrollment of more than 260 students.
Since charter schools were first authorized in New York State a decade ago, this is the first time two schools opened simultaneously in the same school district outside of one of the six largest urban districts. The Hempstead district has approximately 5,500 students. The two school openings this month got the attention of veteran education reporter John Hildebrand of Newsday, the Long Island daily, which profiled the schools in its Thursday edition (which quoteth yours truly).
The fiscal impact of the charter schools on the Hempstead School district amounts to nearly 5 percent of its budget, when you include what it already is paying to the nearby Roosevelt Academy Charter School for serving its resident students.
Don't cry for Hempstead. It should have at least two charter schools.
First, as to the fiscal issue, thanks to a 2007 change to the state's school aid formula, Hempstead will be reimbursed by the state nearly twice for every added charter school student each year right up to when the schools are fully enrolled, then phased out over a 3-year period. This is because every resident charter school student of Hempstead is counted in the state aid formula and, on top of that, the state reimburses 80 percent of the district's payment for each new charter student (phased down over three years) when charter enrollment exceeds 2 percent of the district's student population.
More importantly, Hempstead's results on the state exams are alarmingly low, as they significantly drop as its students get older. For example, about 70 percent of Hempstead students meet state elementary English standards, while more than 80 percent meet math standards in lower grades - respectable results. By eighth grade, however, the bottom falls out as only 32 percent meet state middle school English standards and 37 percent meet math standards. Middle school outcomes are a crisis in Hempstead and way too many of its students are not prepared to enter high school.
Hildebrand, in his Newsday piece, captures parental sentiment for the charter schools, writing that parents "often voice regret that their children must be placed on waiting lists because space on the Island's charter schools is so limited."
To the credit of the SUNY and the Regents, they responded to the academic concerns and parental demand by respectively approving both schools without cowering to the predictable district opposition based on typically porous analysis of fiscal impact; and without letting one entity's approval preclude its own approval of another charter school in the same district.
Encouraging Signs: Quality, not Politics
The two Hempstead charters getting approved simultaneously in a relatively small school district is a hopeful sign for chartering on several levels. First, the charter authorizers appear less concerned about reflexive district and union political opposition, which are always based on vapid fiscal impact arguments. Second, the quality of the charter applications, Evergreen and Academy, and their founders, took precedent over other ancillary issues. That's common sense, but still encouraging. This is because several other quality applications in the past were not similarly treated, resulting in denial due to politically-based opposition.
Educators, business people and community members in small city or suburban districts should take note of the two new Hempstead charters and take seriously the opportunity it presents for improving public education in your own communities.
for The Chalkboard
To most of the state legislature, the education lexicon begins and ends with annual debates on dividing the school aid pie in the state budget; first, by how much more school aid there will be, then how it gets distributed among the state's geographic regions. This annual dance often crowds out discussion of much else.
Assemblyman Hoyt, who represents the 144th district comprising part of Buffalo and neighboring Grand Island, wants to get New York beyond the annual school aid debate to enact real education reforms.
He may have just the vehicle in which to accomplish this important objective.
Reforming education policy, including strengthening charter schools, is now inexorably tied to President Barack Obama's education reform agenda as never before, with the $5 billion Stimulus Bill program, Race to the Top. The two previous presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, favored charter schools and provided crucial planning and implementation funds to enable them to open successfully under the Charter School Program, Title X of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, this program provides little incentive for a state to have a charter school law (10 states still do not) and, more importantly, it does not encourage states that do have laws to be effective ones.
The Obama Administration is now changing that by using new federal funding to reward states on a competitive basis for reforming education, including having effective charter school laws, while also encouraging states to make positive reforms in the coming months.
These incentives already are having a positive effect in other states, as Tennessee and Illinois have raised their caps on charter schools, while in California, Gov. Schwarzenegger is calling its legislature into special session to position the state to compete for Race to the Top funds.
Assemblyman Hoyt has written a letter to Gov. David Paterson to do the same by proposing education reforms for the legislature to adopt. Specifically, Hoyt raised the two prohibitive laws: the existing cap on the number of charter schools, and the prohibition on using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance for awarding tenure.
More broadly, Hoyt writes that additional federal Race to the Top funds will be vital to make up for the burgeoning state budget deficit, which likely will prompt funding reductions in education, and to combat the state's abysmal high school graduation rates particularly in urban areas.
Hoyt has a tall order. Gov. Paterson and Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, both have argued that New York already is well-positioned to compete for and secure Race to the Top funds.
What if they are wrong?
"New York should be out front on this issue," Hoyt said in a statement last week. "We should not be struggling to even become competitive for these needed funds, and yet we are."
Charter schools in New York do not receive equitable funding and get no funding for buildings. These are key criteria that will be used by the U.S. Department of Education as it determines awards for Race to the Top funds. Furthermore, the charter cap will be reached in a year, or sooner for NYC Chancellor-approved schools. And, the funding inequity for charters was exacerbated this year when the state froze the charter funding formula for the first time since the law was enacted ten years ago.
None of this will impress the Feds, as they decide which states are most deserving of hundreds of millions to individual states.
State policymakers, beginning with the Governor, should not risk the loss of potential Race to the Top funds for New York. They should heed Assemblyman Hoyt's admonishment to take important stops now to show that New York is a leader in education reform, rather than a bystander. Otherwise, watch for other states to show us up in the months ahead.
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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.