Yesterday's New York Times (here) mentioned this issue by quoting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who made clear it that charter placement in district buildings has become a contentious problem to the point where, as he put it, "[legislators] who were supporters of charters previously have become anti-charter." No one should assume the Speaker is spinning. That's not his style.
More Anti-charter Bills Proposed
The response of several legislators to the co-location issue is to try and stop new chartering altogether. State Senator Bill Perkins and Assemblyman Keith Wright, for example, recently introduced similar bills that would place localized charter caps in areas where more than 5 percent of of the community's students are enrolled in charter schools, among other malevolent provisions.
Similarly, Assemblyman Ron Canestrari of Albany and Senator Antoine Thompson of Buffalo proposed a bill that would require the local school board to approve new charters and renewals of existing charter schools. What is particularly obnoxious about this bill is that there is no space-sharing problem outside of New York City, so Messrs. Canestrari and Thompson are simply showing their true colors in protecting failed districts that will not fix themselves, thereby relegating thousands of young people to inferior opportunities. This is hardly a progressive act by these two.
All these efforts are designed to deny charter school opportunities to families and communities, and to protect the system--and the adults connected to that system--that is cheating those same families out of a quality public education, which is the very reason so many such families have sought charter school opportunities.
The Real Answer - Facilities Aid for Charters
What can be done, particularly about the co-location issue in New York City? This is clearly the major hurdle in the current charter school stalemate.
First and foremost, charter schools should be provided funding for facilities. Charter schools do not get facilities aid. This inequity in New York has rendered charter school students as second-class citizens and should not be tolerated any longer. For all the acrimony in the legislature toward the Bloomberg administration for placing charter schools in district buildings, the Mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are merely trying to overcome the absence of facilities funding for charters that the legislature has refused to appropriate after 11 years.
And what of the teacher unions and their letterhead organizations they finance like Alliance for Quality Education? For years they've demanded fiscal equity for New York City schools and urban areas with acute educational needs, yet they are perfectly at ease to see charter students in those same cities get far less funding from the neglect of facilities aid.
If the legislature can provide some funding stream for charter facilities, charter schools would be less dependent on the City for district space. It's as simple as that. Rather than trying to deny new charter school opportunities to students, policymakers should be focused on enabling those schools to put their own roof over their heads. It's a win-win solution: charters would have equitable funding to be less dependent for space; and the facility quarrels in Harlem and elsewhere would dissipate.
Can NYS "Afford" Charter Facilities Aid?
The natural question arises, can the state afford to fund charter facilities in these challenging fiscal times? The answer is, in fact, yes - beginning with competing for Race to the Top funding from the federal government and putting some of it toward charter facilities. Over time, the state can assume a greater responsibility for this as the economy improves and the state's finances recover.
Finally, I am not at all dismissive or disrespectful of the local pressure on legislators resulting from contentious disputes over district facilities. But charter students and others that want charter schools are constituents, too, and they deserve equality of resources. Rather than denying a better public education that charter schools can bring more urban families (many of whom are on charter waiting lists), we should lower the volume and work together to find facilities funding that would benefit charter and district students alike.
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Saturday's New York Post provides an op-ed by state Education Commissioner, David Steiner, which discusses the state's application for federal Race to the Top funding. Steiner describes the application's plan to improve teacher training, strengthen curriculum standards and assessments, data collection and other important initiatives designed to improve student outcomes. He also acknowledges the Race to the Top as a "fierce competition among the states that will award funds only to those that are willing to make bold changes."
Commissioner Steiner and the Regents were as bold as they could be in the weeks leading up to the January 19th application deadline. Unfortunately, the legislature was not in a "bold" mood and refused to enact any of the statutory reform proposals Steiner and Regents advocated - the charter cap lift being one of them. Today's New York Times discusses several factors behind the legislature's unwillingness to raise the charter cap, including the opposition to charters sharing space with district schools.
The Commissioner remains committed to working toward raising the cap, which will be critical if New York fails to obtain a Race to the Top grant in this first application round.
Mr. Steiner also mentioned wanting to "render [charter school] operations transparent and accountable." Sure, codifying current administrative requirements for charter schools makes sense, which the Governor proposed in his bill to raise the cap. But, charter schools do not exactly operate akin to the CIA.
RttT Application Describes Existing Charter Accountability & Transparency
In fact, New York's RttT application already claims: "There are numerous provisions in [the Charter School law] relating to accountability." The application goes on to discuss the required charter school Annual Report, School Report Card, and annual programmatic and fiscal audits, among other existing transparency and accountability mandates.
The state's RttT application also describes New York having a "rigorous approval, monitoring and reauthorization process." It also quotes the Charter School Monitoring Report by WestEd on New York's charter practices and found: "Oversight of charter schools for both program compliance and performance is exceptionally comprehensive, rigorous, and persistent;" and which "helps drive the creation of high-quality charter schools in the State."
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long to reach that conversion charter "cap"
The New York State Education Department released its federal Race to the Top application today. In the charter school discussion, this factoid read surreal to me:
"[t]he total number of charter schools that currently may form in New York are 4,540 conversion schools plus 200 non-conversion charter schools, or 4,740. This represents approximately 104 percent of the total schools in the state that are allowed to be charter schools."
Whew! Feel better now? Who needs a cap lift? Hey, we can do 4,500 more charters! Sure glad the Department put its best foot forward to the Feds!
This will not impress Washington. The problem with this description of the charter cap is that it is a legalistic absurdity based on the existing provision that places no cap on the number of charter schools that are converted from district schools. As a practical matter, this conversion discussion should have been reduced to a theoretical footnote.
As to the real charter cap, the application also makes the preposterous claim that even though state Education law includes one, "such a cap does not prohibit or effectively limit the number of high-performing charter schools in the state" (p. 223). Does State Ed. expect anyone to belief this? Why include this sentence?
Charter Conversions A Rarity
Consider this: in the first eleven years of chartering in New York, exactly nine district schools converted to a charter school. Today, only six remain (one charter was revoked; two others converted back to district schools).
At this pace, it would take more than 5,500 years (5,548 and 11 months, to be exact) for the remaining district public schools to convert to charters -- a longer period than since the time Joseph wore his technicolor dreamcoat in the land of Canaan.
Looking ahead five and one-half millennia from now, not even James Cameron could come up with a film set for December 7558 -- way passed the Star Trek era.
Legislature Provided Nothing for SED Application
To be fair to the state Education Department, the Commissioner and Regents, along with Gov. Paterson, advocated a genuine increase in the cap on new (non-conversion) charter schools, which required approval by the state legislature. The legislature refused. That left the state's Race to the Top application to discuss the status quo on charters, including this laughable legalism about conversion charters.
New York's Race to the Top application makes the best of a stalemated situation regarding charter schools. That's all it could do.
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Klein presents this as the latest sorry episode in the teacher union's increasingly selfish history. For example, the article mentions the strict work rules the union has won over time that only serve their own comforts at the expense of educating children, including the length of the school day and the near impossibility of firing a bad teacher (NOTE: the Regents proposal to reform this process--"3020-a" reform--was universally ignored by the legislature and governor).
Charter schools, Joe Klein writes, represents a "challenge" to public school system's absence of real accountability and higher student achievement. The late Albert Shanker, the great UFT leader and later the AFT head, worried about how the unions have gone too far in building protections for themselves at the expense of better educational outcomes for children. Klein reminds us of Shanker's 1993 speech fearing a comparison of union-controlled public education to the American auto industry's inferior performance losing market share to others.
The teacher union's behavior in New York has officially become a national embarrassment with an article like this. It could have been worse if the legislature had passed its flawed, union-drafted, anti-charter school bill earlier this month.
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This is never easy, and it's gut-wrenching on the parents whose children attend those schools, along with the staff who work there.
At the all-nighter meeting of the City's Panel on Education Policy this week, the Panel voted to approve the closure recommendations of Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, over the protests of hundreds of parents and teachers attending the public meeting at the Brooklyn Technical High School. Since the Mayor appoints 8 of the panel's 13 members (with each borough president appointing one), the panel approved the Chancellor's closure decisions.
The Bloomberg administration and its Department of Education are making a data-driven education decision about each school's effectiveness. They've concluded that years of low-performance on state exams and poor graduation rates, among other issues, demand these schools be closed. Students would be better off in other schools, or new ones to replace them.
Parents and staff are reacting emotionally, which is completely understandable and must be respected. Their lives are being upended and their pride wounded. But unless they can make a counter-argument that the school's are improving academically or the DOE's analysis is flawed somehow, the closures will proceed, barring some process intervention by a court.
A Familiar Scene for Charter Schools
From a charter school perspective, we've seen this play out several times since 2004 when the first charter school failed to attain renewal of its charter, the John A. Reisenbach Charter School in Harlem. ReadNet Charter School in the Bronx also wasn't renewed, along with several more charters in Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady and Buffalo.
It's a familiar, emotion scene with parents and staff attending a public meeting on a charter school's closure, wondering how it got to this point and not understanding the rules governing accountability in the charter contract. I can appreciate the parental frustration when viewing some disinterested, smug bureaucrat in the room with the power to pull the plug on your child's school. Parents view it as their public school and they want it to continue.
The most recent charter example of this occurred last month when parents gathered at the New Covenant Charter School in Albany to oppose the recommendation of SUNY staff to close that school. The SUNY Board of Trustees has not yet accepted the recommendation of its staff on closing the school, and it waffled last year from doing so by giving the school one more year.
"Accountability and Transparency" for District Schools?
We've been hearing a lot from the United Federation of Teachers lately on more transparency and accountability for charter schools. But it's charter schools--nine of them, thus far--that have been closed for failing to meet rigorous standards of academic performance and governance. Turns out that "accountability" is merely a political soundbite of the UFT's against charter schools.
The UFT's opposition to these 19 NYC district school closures further demonstrates that the union is unserious about accountability and wants no part of it for district schools.
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New York City, of course, has had mayoral control since 2002, and it was renewed by the state legislature last summer amid much debate. Now, Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy wants similar powers to control his city's school district by removing the board of education and appointing the superintendent of schools. Rochester has long pretended to be a reform-minded school system, but it's as dysfunctional and low-performing as almost any in the country.
Other upstate mayors also would like to control their school systems, but Rochester's effort is gaining traction. Area members of the state Assembly, David Gantt and Joseph Morelle, both majority Democrats, favor legislation to institute mayoral control. State Senator Joseph Robach, is less enthused, but has not come out in opposition.
Surprise! Teacher Union Opposes
Then there is the big kahuna, Adam Urbanski, now in his 30th year as the president of the Rochester Teachers Association who also serves as vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. He is opposed (here). He views mayoral control as concentrating power in one person, which reminds him of his native Poland under communist rule.
Now, I respect Mr. Urbanski, especially given his roots in Krakow, his immigration story to America, and his spectacular rise in the labor union movement. But, with all of Rochester's problems, mayoral control becoming a slippery slope to an urban communist dictatorship is not one of them.
Mr. Urbanski makes no bones about his preference to deal with a school board, rather than a mayor, and it's no wonder: in contrast to the mayor's office, school board members are less known, more easily influenced, and easier to elect--or unelect, if they are not malleable to the union's agenda.
Mayor Duffy described Mr. Urbanski's role as to "serve the teachers and the members of his union." This is a subtle way of contrasting his agenda for the children to the teacher union's focus on adults.
Charter Schools Understand Mayoral Control and Accountability
Charter school founder and leader, John Bliss, a former Rochester district teacher, came out in favor of mayoral control in a recent article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Accountability is a familiar reality to any charter school operator, and the Urban Choice Charter School just went through a successful charter renewal. Unfortunately, teacher unions do not think like educational entrepreneurs like Mr. Bliss.
Will mayoral control over public schools become a reality in Rochester? I suspect it will, but not this year. Big changes take time for debate, which has finally gotten serious in Rochester.
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Sen. Johnson, along with his fellow Democratic Senate colleague, Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the Bronx, prevented a disastrous bill by the legislative leadership from securing the votes of the majority Democrats in the Senate. As one blogger put it, this was a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Moment" in the Albany statehouse. Blocking this bad legislation also was made possible since the Senate Republicans led by Sen. Dean Skelos, also refused support.
All 32 Senate Democrats, therefore, were needed to vote in favor for this bad bill to pass. There was relentless pressure to do so. Senators Johnson and Diaz courageously held firm against.
Important legislation often times takes on a momentum, especially when there is a deadline involved. The details of this charter bill took on such negative effects, yet the momentum and consensus built that something had to be done, it had a cap lift in it, it's the best that can be done for now, it could be fixed later, now it's about the leadership, blah blah blah. It's easy for an individual legislator to fall prey to this sort of rationalizing and just go along, despite the fact that the effects of such a bill would have irreparably harmed charter schools. Many ertswhile charter supporters did go along by making such excuses and others. Thankfully, not all did.
Sen. Craig Johnson, Sen. Ruben Diaz, and the Senate Republicans saved the charter school movement in New York last week. That is not an overstatement.
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"Let [charter kids] eat cake!"
The New York Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability today released a survey of all 212 state legislators showing that most Senate Democrats and nearly half of Assembly Democrats "benefited from school choice options" (here). In this case, private school options.
It was not to be in New York.
At a Sunday afternoon press conference, January 3rd, the United Federation of Teachers unveiled a charter "hit-list" (my words) of detrimental policies it wanted to accompany any cap lift. Without question, adoption of any number of these policies, including eliminating SUNY, imposing higher building costs, and others, would turn back the clock on chartering by neutering New York's charter school law. In other words, the teachers unions' agenda was to make any provision to lift the cap unworkable.
That's not what the President had in mind.
Teacher Union Heads Hurt NYS Chances for RttT $
The UFT and its state parent, the New York State United Teachers, got the legislative majorities to introduce a bill to pretend to lift the charter cap while simultaneously fulfilling their agenda of shackling charter schools beyond recognition, this time in stealthy fashion. Why else would they support this bill? By contrast, the unions wanted no part of Gov. Paterson's clean cap lift bill.
The union leaders blameshifting logic denies the reality of their own culpability in this fiasco of failing to strengthen New York's competitive chances for Race to the Top. But charter advocates must press on and make the case for the quality and success charters have been for children and the need for more, as the Daily News reports today.
If New York State loses out on a federal Race to the Top grant because 8 percent of the points fell away by its inhibiting charter schools, we can "thank" UFT and NYSUT, who will have ultimately denied their own membership these funds flowing to their schools. How can I be so sure? NYSUT's head, Richard Iannuzzi made this all too clear when he called the charter cap a "bogus issue with respect to Race to the Top."
The unions' behavior throughout the month made abundantly clear that having more, effective charter schools from a unhindered cap lift and other education reforms and accountability wasn't worth up to $700 million in new federal education funds.
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The legislation (S.6468/A.9558) backed by the unions for New York's federal Race to the Top application was on track to be passed by both houses of the legislature. Instead, it was blocked in the Senate by two Democratic senators: Craig Johnson from Long Island and Ruben Diaz, Sr. from the Bronx. They, together with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. Dean Skelos, refused to join what was a masquerade party trying to perpetrate a fraud of an education reform bill. Today's Daily News editorial captures this well.
Courage, integrity and principles are in short supply in the legislature. This was especially true yesterday among many supposed charter school supporters--and you know who you are--who cravenly folded on us like a K-Mart suit. By contrast, those legislators that stood up against this phantom reform bill displayed all three virtues and refused to be bought or bullied - a rare combination in the Albany statehouse.
Senators Johnson and Diaz, along with their GOP colleagues, sought a bipartisan solution being pushed by Gov. Paterson to enact a clean charter cap lift along with codifying existing accountability practices required of charter schools (S.6470). This was never seriously considered by either the Senate or Assembly leadership, each doing the bidding of the New York State United Teachers and their largest locals, the UFT in New York City and the BTF in Buffalo -- both of which loathe the existence of charter schools.
The symbiotic relationship between legislators and the teacher unions is well described here in today's New York Post by its veteran state editor, Fred Dicker.
Baleful Consequences to Charter Schools
Had this bill passed, the result would have been to weaken New York's charter school statute beyond recognition with an overflow of poison pills. For example, approval, oversight and renewal of charter schools would have been concentrated in the Board of Regents - something the Assembly Majority--which opposes charters and appoints the Regents--had sought for 12 years. The SUNY Board of Trustees, recognized nationally as one of the most effective charter authorizers, would have become of carcass of its current self. In addition, new charter schools would have been subject to a centralized RFP process controlled mostly by the state Education Department, which reports to the Regents, with vague input by SUNY. No other state has such a gate-keeping process for new charters, which is a stealthy, restrictive means designed to put a virtual end to new chartering.
There was much more to this farcical legislation, including a mandate to impose more expensive building costs on charter schools - without any building aid; never mind that federal Race to the Top guidance awards points for providing facilities aid to charter schools.
School Boards Assoc. Bill Support Says It All
Lest anyone doubt the legislative legerdemain in this bill, pretending to raise the charter cap, look no further than its endorsement by the New York State School Boards Association. NYSSBA from the beginning has opposed charter schools and has never supported a pro-charter school measure. Yet, this organization, after its 12-year campaign of disdain and deceit against charter schools, supported this sham bill. Why? Because it suddenly repented and wanted more charter schools? Uh, no. Rather, the School Boards Association read and understood this bill the same way charter school advocates did.
This is hardly the end of this struggle. The education establishment and its powerful legislative allies will continue to fight us. Charter schools must fight back, as these relentless charter opponents will continue in termination mode.
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This is odd and insulting coming from the UFT, considering the fact that charter schools are heavily populated by African-American students by the choice of their parents and guardians. The Chalkboard also dealt with some of this issue previously raised by the UFT (here).
Much of Mulgrew's anti-charter agenda is captured in the new Race to the Top legislation that would inhibit chartering through an RFP process and turning SUNY into a charter carcass, subservient to the Regents, from its current independent role. It was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who well described this bill today as "an insult to parents and children and Dr. King and his legacy," as reported on the Daily Politics blog.
Clarity on Charter Schools-Educational Opportunity-Civil Rights
Is Mayor Bloomberg going too far, connecting charter schools to Martin Luther King, Jr? Not according to the Rev. A.R. Brenard, the Founder and CEO of the Christian Culture Center in Brooklyn. In today's New York Post (here), Rev. Bernard connects charter schools to the civil rights movement by invoking Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate today, by writing: "For people of color, education may be the most important civil right." Rev. Bernard goes on to say that charter schools should be expanded, along with other reforms, to "improve education [and] empower local communities to take control of their public schools.
Rev. Bernard also chastised the legislature for resisting President Obama's call for reform "in deference to the education establishment."
Which brings me back to UFT's Michael Mulgrew: Just who is he to invoke "separate but unequal" to disparage charter schools? His agenda against charters is an attack on a key component of educational quality opportunity and civil rights today.
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Today, the legislative leadership of the Assembly and Senate majorities revealed they agree, judging by the contents of this new bill. (For the record, both leaders issued statements today claiming their proposal improves the state's chances for a competitive grant.)
Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver; and Senate Majority Conference Leader, John Sampson late last night introduced legislation (A.9558/S.6468) purportedly to raise the charter school cap from 200 to 400. They may as well have raised it to 1,000, because it doesn't matter -- it's perpetrating a fraud. The U.S. Department of Education will see right through this window-dressing, even if legislators can't or won't.
NYCSA president, Bill Phillips, issued a statement in reaction to the bill (here).
Regents New Powers; SUNY Becomes a Carcass
A new RFP process is imposed for all new charters and is designed purely as a gate-keeping measure to stifle more schools. And, SUNY's chartering role would be a shell of its current self: it would no longer oversee or renew any charters, including those it already approved; and it would have a minimal role in the new RFP process. Ominously, this bill would concentrate chartering with the state Regents, implemented through the state Education Department.
The poison pills overflow in this bill, including more expensive (and unnecessary) building codes even though charters would get no facilities funding; new roadblocks to sharing district space in New York City; removes school districts, namely, the NYC Schools Chancellor, from chartering; and bans charter schools from contracting with for-profit management companies.
Governor Paterson Staying in the Race to the Top
Governor Paterson was critical of the legislature's bill, which ignored his proposal and, even more so, the Regents reform agenda. He called them to Albany on Martin Luther King Day tomorrow evening to deal with Race to the Top legislation -- one that would actually help schoolchildren, including those wanting to attend charter schools.
That is where the legislature's focus needs to be, for a change.
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Governor David Paterson is holding firm to only approve legislation that would strengthen the state's competitiveness for the Race to the Top application - and every point matters is the message we continue to hear from spokespersons at the U.S. Department of Education (e.g., here).
Speaker of the state Assembly, Sheldon Silver, continues to promote a number of, yes, "poison pills" (as the Governor described) being pushed by the teacher unions, including eliminating SUNY and imposing local charter caps disguised as a top-down, bureaucratically-driven "RFP" process -- a disguise that will impress no one who supports charters, including the Obama administration. More importantly, an RFP chartering process would put an effective end to more charter schools and would cause federal Race to the Top points to fall off like autumn leaves.
It's one thing to discuss improving the charter school law; it's something else entirely to consider effectively scrapping it.
The teacher unions this month have turned up the pressure by exploiting Race to the Top to squash any improvement in the state's charter law and pretty much every other education reform advanced by the Regents. Yet, NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi somehow managed to blame charter school advocates for this unsettled legislative mess three days before the Race to the Top application deadline.
Charter Advocates 'Hostage' Takers! Who Knew?
Charter school advocates, according to Mr. Iannuzzi, are "holding the state hostage" by using Race to the Top to advance their goals [!], he told the Times. Huh? In fact, it is President Obama and his federal Department of Education, along with the New York Regents and the Governor, that determined that expanding charter school opportunities was a necessary reform to win new education funding.
Well, pardon us--the charter advocates--for agreeing.
Of course, NYSUT would never think to use any issue to advance its interests -- except it's doing just that like it always does. Mr. Iannuzzi's words ("holding hostage"), in fact, reveal his organization's standard operating procedure in the Albany statehouse: with charter schools on the negotiating table, NYSUT is working hard to put a stop to them and other issues important for Race to the Top -- even if it means New York forfeiting hundreds of millions of education dollars.
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SUNY is a high-quality authorizer, and among the best in the country. That's the view of the U.S. Department of Education and national charter organizations.
Extrapolating from the just-released CREDO study from Stanford University shows that of the New York City charter schools it examined, the SUNY-approved charters outperformed other charter schools.
Eliminating SUNY's charter role means fewer charter school opportunities and lower quality public schools for families, especially in areas of need. Two statewide chartering entities are better than one (see here). There is no valid academic or public policy reason to eliminate SUNY. This is a purely political argument.
Political Rather Than Educational Debate
The SUNY issue dates back to the late 1990's when the Charter Schools Act was first debated in New York. The SUNY Board of Trustees are all appointees of the Governor, subject to approval by the Senate. The Governor also designates the SUNY chairman. By contrast, the Regents are appointed by the Legislature -- meaning the Assembly Majority, which is by far the largest caucus.
It stands to reason that any Governor, regardless of political party, would want the ability to influence chartering under a state charter law. That's why Gov. Pataki insisted that SUNY be given such a role, and that's why Gov. Spitzer rebuffed the Assembly's effort in 2007 to eliminate SUNY chartering. At his meeting today with legislative leaders, Gov. Paterson showed the same unwillingness to tamper with SUNY's chartering role.
The problem the Assembly has with SUNY's role is that it has less influence than it does with the Regents. For example, SUNY has approved some charters that are upsetting some members of the Assembly. The Senate should not be playing along with this dance since it approves SUNY trustees, not the Assembly.
It's Settled Law - Move On
Let's stop arguing policy debates from the last century. The Assembly should drop its 12-year effort to remove SUNY from its charter role, and move on from this power play. There are more important matters, like ensuring another $700 million for New York's fiscal plan.
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Today's New York Post reports that the AFL-CIO, the union umbrella organization, has joined in the anti-charter school fight by working in "solidarity" with its teacher union brethren against more charter school opportunities for the New York's students.
This stark contrast is more glaring than ever: "Union Corporate" against charter schools.
"Are we involved? Yes, that's our job." the AFL-CIO source told the Post. And does this source sleep well at night? The article doesn't say.
The AFL-CIO includes the building trade unions and DC-37, along with NYSUT and UFT, among other labor unions. Clearly the deck is stacked against charter schools.
Welcome to business-as-usual at the Albany statehouse.
'Prevailing' Wage Takes Classroom Resources
You may ask, why do the building trades care about charters? Hint: it's not about some jive about "solidarity." Rather, its about artificially fattening their wallets with a prevailing wage mandate on any deal that involves Dormitory Authority financing to help charters obtain facilities. Just to demonstrate what a selfish, adult-centered debate this has been: DASNY financing is helpful to charters, but it's still borrowed money that charters must pay out of their operating funds. Prevailing wage for the adults in the building trade unions would make it more expensive to finance capital costs, which means charters having to divert more funding from the classroom and personnel - like teachers.
Here again, in the name of "solidarity," NYSUT and UFT support less funding for the classroom and for teachers so someone else outside of education can make more money. Go figure.
Reform Delivered by Executive Leadership
The Race to the Top issues being debated in Albany are front and center in the news and the public will know how this all comes out and why. State legislators and Gov. Paterson have to decide whose side they're on as they negotiate RttT legislation with four days remaining: The adults in the AFL-CIO, NYSUT, et. al., that want more for themselves; or the students and families that want more charter schools in their neighborhoods.
Governor Paterson has thus far been solid in his focus to make New York competitive for Race to the Top. He will need to be in order to make education reform, particularly charter schools, a greater reality for New York, just like his two predecessors. Gov. Pataki held out for a strong charter bill in 1998; Gov. Spitzer held out for a charter cap increase in 2007. Both men stayed focused and would not agree to the predictable union-inspired poison pills that would have shackled charter schools and made a mockery of New York's charter school law.
Governors across the country have led the reform effort for Race to the Top. It's Gov. Paterson's moment to do the same and deliver for New York's children.
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A perfect illustration of this mindset is the whole debate and discussion around charter school "saturation" in certain areas of the state; namely, Buffalo, Albany, Harlem and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Charter schools have proliferated in these areas for good reason: they've had crummy public district schools for years; in some cases, generations. It's not complicated. Go back any number of years to review results on the state exams for 4th and 8th grade and view the "disaggregated" data for students who are minority or from low-income households in these areas. In many instances you have 80 to 90 percent of 8th grade students not meeting state English and mathematics standards, a considerable increase in failure rates from 4th grade results. The tragedy of this is many of these students go into high school, then drop-out -- accelerating a downward spiral.
Such areas cry out for something better, and that is what charter schools have brought to public education: improved student achievement which has been repeatedly documented to exceed that of district results.
Capping Charters to Protect the System
"Saturation" is a term used by school district officials, union chieftains, and their allies in public office who are determined to stop charter schools by capping the number of charters that can be approved in a given location. A local or regional cap would do nothing more than deny public educational opportunity and quality to more families, and is designed to protect and insulate the system over which district officials, union chieftains and their public office friends preside. It also would severely lessen the chances for the state to get Race to the Top funding, assuming any of them care at this point.
Sure, these folks want to help students and families, but only their way, in their system. A charter school here or there may be tolerable, but "too many" makes those connected to the district system way too uncomfortable. It's now to the point where many of them have lashed out at charter schools with one falsehood and distortion after another since New Year's Day, as the Race to the Top issue has heated up and charters are back on the legislature's negotiating table.
"Saturation" not in Parents' Vocabulary
In the context of charters, "saturation" is not in the vocabulary of parents with students in charter schools in these areas of the state, nor is it for those parents seeking to enroll their students in such schools. Until every student in a district or charter school in Harlem, Albany, Buffalo or central Brooklyn attends a high-quality, high-performing school, "saturation" should not be in any adults' vocabulary either.
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This RFP chartering idea has already been tried in New York -- and failed miserably.
We've Seen This Failed Act Before: "21st Century Schools"
In 1994, Governor Mario Cuomo's in his last year in office, got the legislature to approve a new education initiative called "21st Century Schools." The program was well-intentioned. Using a request-for-proposals (RFP) process, the program was designed to give existing district schools greater autonomy from state regulations in exchange for accountability for improved results. Sound familiar?
The program was managed by the state Education Department and overseen by an unpaid board created as part of the statute, with a mix of appointees by the Governor and legislative leaders. The program barely got off the ground and soon fizzled during Gov. Pataki's first term.
I served as one of Gov. Pataki's appointees to the board. The board included at least one teacher union official who was outspoken and naturally looked out for NYSUT's interests. He meticulously picked apart the development of the request for proposals for district schools to apply to become "21st Century Schools." Dozens of schools and districts across the state showed initial interest in applying to the program. A handful of schools eventually became "21st Century Schools" - the exact number I do not recall, and probably no one else does either.
I cannot remember the rest of this failed experiment, because it was so forgettable and a waste of everyone's time. For all the promise of autonomy and regulatory freedom, the reality was much the same, but for added paperwork and bureaucracy. The 21st Century Schools Board only met a few times in 1996 and soon stopped meeting altogether as the whole program deservedly withered on the vine.
Resurrecting a Program Flop - Better to Leave in the Grave
The charter RFP proposal now floating around in the legislature reeks of an attempt to resurrect the "21st Century Schools" concept from the policy graveyard where it belongs. Any attempt to turn charter schools into that program--with SED administering an eerily similar RFP process--will result in the same failure.
Which I suspect is exactly the point of its proponents.
for The Chalkboard
The Assembly Democratic Majority came out today with a proposal to change the approval process for new charter schools by having the state Education Department, which is accountable to the Board of Regents, issue a request for proposals for charters. Rather than charter school applications being prepared and submitted by applicant groups from anywhere in the state, this proposal will leave it to the Regents and state Education Department to decide who gets to submit an application for a new charter school and from where.
This proposal, no doubt proffered at the behest of the teacher unions and their legislative allies, would make a complete mockery of chartering in New York. Actually, it would stifle it to the point that few, if any, charter schools will ever surface. That is precisely the union leadership's objective.
Word is that many Senate Democrats are playing along with this farce of a proposal. It is that, or they are being played by the Assembly. Either way, it's a bad sign and they should reconsider.
Centralized Planning for Charter Schools
At this posting, I have not seen this proposal in writing, nor has any bill language surfaced. Therefore, details are somewhat sketchy. Conceptually, however, this proposal would bring top-down control of chartering by politicians and the bureaucracy, rather than bottom-up from the grassroots and community level, which has been so successful for thousands of students and their families across the state.
This throwback, centralized planning approach to chartering, in effect, doesn't make them charter schools any more but something else entirely. This is suppose to get New York $700 million from Race to the Top?
SUNY and NYC Schools Chancellor Getting the Shaft
This so-called RFP proposal would effectively eliminate as charter authorizers the State University of New York and the New York City Schools Chancellor. The SUNY Board of Trustees are appointed by the Governor, while the Chancellor is appointed by the Mayor. So, this charter proposal is clearly aimed right between the eyes of Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg, neither of whom is a favorite in the legislature.
More than one charter authorizer in New York has meant more and higher quality charters for students. That's the rub. SUNY's authorizing power has been a sore spot for charter school opponents from the beginning when the Charter Schools Act was first approved. Yet SUNY has been a national example in quality charter school authorizing, including establishing a rigorous accountability and oversight system which, on balance, is more sensible than anything coming out the Regents in recent years. Quality authorizing also has meant quality schools, as was confirmed with the recent CREDO study from Stanford University that found that most SUNY-authorized charters in New York City academically outperformed the remaining charters. These facts should count for something in the legislature. At the moment, they don't matter a whit.
And what of Mayoral control of New York City's schools? Charter schools have been one of Mayor Bloomberg's major policy reform initiatives. Enactment of an RFP process for chartering under the complete control of the state Education Department would stifle the Mayor's role in chartering. Done.
Can't Have Too Many Charters
An RFP requirement for submitting a charter school proposal controlled by State Ed. also would serve to limit any new charter schools where the politicians don't want them. For the thousands of their own constituent families that do want more charter school opportunities? Too bad for them, is the message from this idea. Areas like Harlem, Buffalo and Albany and parts of Brooklyn have proportionately more charter schools because the education failure in these areas had been rampant for years, with the district school system's malpractice going unchecked.
Charter schools in these areas have shown impressive test scores and narrowed the racial achievement gap. Yet what do we here from the teacher unions and certain politicians? We got "too many" charter schools! And now, this RFP proposal is their brazen attempt to put a stop to charters once and for all. That still thousands of students remain on waiting lists for these schools is lost on too many politicians.
Race to the Top in Jeopardy
If the charter RFP proposal gets approved by the state legislature, which is uncertain at this posting, Gov. Paterson should refuse to go along with this fiction and veto it. This idea would shackle chartering in New York, and cost valuable points on New York's Race to the Top application. A charter cap lift that goes along with this RFP idea would fool no one, especially the Feds, who will decide on Race to the Top grants.
It's very clear the teacher unions don't want Race to the Top funding if the price is real reform and accountability in public education. If the legislature continues to advance this sham proposal for charter RFPs, they will make New York a national embarrassment. Assuming the legislature remains interested in $700 million in new federal education funding, they should ditch this RFP idea fast, and get serious about enacting the Regents reform agenda.
for The Chalkboard
NYSUT Ad campaign against charter schools;
A Trojan Horse to kill NY's RttT application?
NYSUT's ad campaign is built on myths about charter schools that some state legislators buy into. The question is how many?
NYSUT claims charter school budgets and funding are basically secret, and that charters don't want audits. Can anyone working in a charter school, with all the statutory, regulatory and bureaucratic requirements possibly believe this? Of course not, but NYSUT is counting on legislators to believe it.
The fact is charter schools are transparent and highly accountable:
Disclosure: All charter schools are subject to Open Meeting and the Freedom of Information laws, which means all their budgets must be approved in public and available to the public. The authorizers--NYC DOE, the Regents and SUNY--also have all such information which is subject to FOIL. In addition, all charter schools, like district schools, have state promulgated "School Report Cards" with academic and fiscal information which must be included in a mandatory Annual Report -- again, all publicly available, including on-line at the charter school authorizers websites. If more information should be disclosed of charters, then it also should apply equally to school districts.
Audits: Every charter school must have an annual fiscal audit by an independent certified public accountant, as do school districts. The Regents and the charter authorizer also are empowered to conduct their own audits, including financial control audits which the State Comptroller conducts of school districts. The state Court of Appeals ruled last summer that the Comptroller's auditing power is limited by the state Constitution. This is a non-issue.
Special Ed/ELL students: There are reasonable steps that can be done for charter schools that are workable and legal. The NYSUT quota idea is neither. Proposals allowing charter schools to form special education consortia, authorizing BOCES contracts, allowing admission preference for such students, and other ideas should be considered.
Charter "Corporate": This may be the biggest joke on NYSUT's agenda, considering the size and location of its own headquarters, whose space needs were too large to fit in downtown Albany and had to be in a suburb near an exit off the Interstate. The UFT's headquarters is located at 52 Broadway in lower Manhattan, at the heart of Wall Street, near the old offices of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. Make no mistake -- the teacher unions are de facto for-profit corporations, seeking to maximize profits. This isn't a criticism, but a reality that reveals its hypocrisy toward charter schools.
I don't care where the unions reside, and I trust their lease payments are reasonable. But they should stop the hypocrisy of attacking charter schools for working with for-profit and non-profit companies which manage many of the state's highest achieving charter schools, and raise private-sector philanthropy for public education. That's the rub. NYSUT loathes this successful competition and wants it strangled.
Focus Focus Focus
The legislature needs to focus on what matters, and not be distracted by NYSUT's expensive ad campaign. New York needs every education dollar it can find, even if the teacher unions don't.
for The Chalkboard
In the last century century (1990's), a $700 million annual increase in state school aid was orgasmic to the teacher unions. To be sure, more than a decade later, the same money doesn't buy as much, but it still makes a dent in what is sure to be a diminishing state funding pie for school aid and every other competing program.
NYSUT's "Bogus" Charter Claims
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is now deploying its war chest for a lobbying and ad campaign to derail any meaningful charter school expansion as part of the state's application for federal Race to the Top funding. It's increasingly apparent this is a Trojan Horse for its real agenda: stopping implementation of Race to the Top reforms. It's not worth the money to the unions.
To borrow from NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi's description of the charter cap for Race to the Top, NYSUT's ad campaign is "bogus."
Simply put: the Obama administration's education agenda is not shared, much less supported, by NYSUT, and not worth the money to the teacher union leadership.
Far fetched? Look at the Buffalo Teachers Federation President, Phil Rumore, head of NYSUT's second largest local. Mr. Rumore, not known for subtlety, made clear to the Buffalo School District last week he wants no part of Race to the Top (unless the money comes through after all, then he'll "negotiate" for it). Perhaps Mr. Rumore is riding that Trojan Horse for his state brethren.
Unionized Charter School Teachers Fleeced Again
NOTE: To unionized charter school teachers: NYSUT's deceitful lobbying and ad campaign is yet another example of your dues payments working against your school - and you. As NYSUT head, Richard Iannuzzi, messaged in the Buffalo News last November: you're outvoted (see here).
Note also that NYSUT wants the charter funding formula changed so that public schools are "fairly funded." Really? Not only do charter schools get less funding to begin with, but last time NYSUT opined on the charter formula, they got the legislature to cut funding to charter schools by $50 million.
We've been down this road before.
for The Chalkboard
This has always been the case for charter schools, of which eight have been closed since 2004, when the initial schools first came up for their five-year charter renewal (another conversion charter was revoked in 2001).
In some instances, it's a close call whether or not to close a charter school. Like any school, charters can make mistakes and need more time to implement corrections to show better academic results. Charter school authorizers have typically granted additional time in the form of a short-term renewal of their charters. In most cases, short-term renewals were just the right approach, as these charters took the extra time to show better results to earn them a subsequent full five-year renewal.
We have agreed with most, but not all, closure decisions made by charter authorizers. In this case, New Covenant Charter School has been given numerous opportunities by SUNY to implement changes to improve. Now in its 11th year, it still has come up short under the latest in a long series of conditions. This school's unique set of circumstances now demands its closure.
We won't rehash New Covenant's dubious and troubled history, some of which was discussed on The Chalkboard (here). The questions confronting the SUNY Board of Trustees on New Covenant are few and narrow: in sum, did the school fulfill each and every condition imposed upon it last year--with the school's agreement--when SUNY granted it a one-year renewal?
The answer, sadly, is no. New Covenant came up short on at least two the conditions required of the school by not achieving its goals on the state's ELA exam. It came close, but the problem for the school is that SUNY was poised last year to shut it down and in lieu of doing so, made ironclad demands, each of which had to be fulfilled.
It's understandable for New Covenant to contend that other charters were renewed by reaching most of their academic goals while coming close enough to meeting the remainder. So, why should New Covenant not get the same treatment? The answer is that this charter was under a different set of conditions uniquely assigned to it last year as the only way to avert what should have been a SUNY closure decision. Moreover, these unique conditions were imposed on New Covenant after a series of authorizer actions for the last decade, inluding short-term renewal, conditional renewal, charter revision, and probation and corrective action requirements that far exceed what has been afforded to any other charter school.
It also should be noted that if SUNY closes this charter school, it is not a reflection of its management company, Victory Schools. In fact, last fall SUNY approved a new charter school on Staten Island that will be managed by Victory. Against the odds, Victory assumed management of New Covenant in 2006 with the school flat on its back and warranting closure. The school has made progress under Victory, but ultimately not enough to fulfill last year's rigorous, but reasonable conditions under the circumstances.
What About New Covenant's Students and Families?
Were that this issue was simply about meeting or not meeting charter conditions. It isn't. Closing a charter school also involves upending the lives of children and their families and teachers all of whom have been attached to New Covenant Charter School, including many students who have done well academically. Emotions run high for good reason, as was seen at SUNY's public hearing held at the school last month. These families sent their children to New Covenant because they don't want them in the neighborhood district school. Most of them will have no choice but to return to the district since Albany's elementary charter schools are full, and families cannot afford private school, nor can they move to the suburbs.
SUNY should come up with a plan to attempt to accommodate as many New Covenant students as possible, including working with the Albany City School District and the other charter schools in the area. For example, can any of the elementary charters expand for next year for New Covenant students? This would require a revision to an existing charter school's charter, which any such charter school would have to agree. Can a new, smaller contract school be approved to serve New Covenant students? The absence of some kind of transition plan, however, is not a reason to keep the school open.
The absence of a transition plan for such closures is a flaw in the whole closure process and its high time it was dealt with by authorizers, school districts and, if possible, other charter schools.
Unfortunately, New Covenant's chances nevertheless should be exhausted. There is a litany of warnings to New Covenant going back years by SUNY Trustees and the staff at the Charter Schools Institute that risk being made a mockery if they are not finally carried out. Last year's conditions and the admonition that accompanied them, were approved by the SUNY Board, including the new chairman of SUNY's Charter Schools Committee, Pedro Noguera.
If Dr. Noguera and the SUNY Board do not enforce their conditions and close the school, as the Institute now recommends based on the Board's own firm direction given last year, their authority will diminish, and charter schools across the state will be given, at best, a confusing message.
Maintaining Charter School Integrity
The closing of John A. Reisenbach Charter School in Harlem in 2004, the first non-renewal of a charter, was another difficult decision. The school's operators and parents made a strong case to be given more time. SUNY refused, which set the tone early on that it means business and takes accountability seriously. Other charter schools took notice, and improved as a result. SUNY's rigorous oversight and accountability, including its willingness to close low-performing schools also received national recognition, including by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
History repeats itself. SUNY must reject the renewal of New Covenant and send the proper message. It should do so not for any enjoyment of national recognition, bureaucratic process or egocentric toughness, but to ensure the integrity of charter schools statewide, which are in the business of raising and sustaining quality student achievement.
for The Chalkboard
--Spokesman for U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, discussing Race to the Top (Jan. 11) to the Albany Times Union (here).
Will the state legislature blow it for Race to the Top funding?
If the legislature heeds the anti-charter school advocates, the answer is yes. The teacher unions, and their collection of union-funded allies (each with their own letterhead) are intent on rationalizing not raising the charter cap, or doing so with heavy baggage that dilutes the effectiveness of charter schools, thus making a joke of any cap lift. This was on full display by the United Federation of Teachers' proposals unveiled earlier this month, and it continues.
Teacher Unions & Letterhead Allies Risk Losing Their Own $$
The teacher unions and their allies, minimizing the need for 40 points on the federal scoring rubric, risk losing points, and losing their own money. The $700 million lost to New York will result in deeper education spending cuts and higher taxes without the new federal Race to the Top award.
A New York Post editorial today also warns the state not water down Race to the Top legislation with "poison pills" especially given the fact that other states have taken bold actions already to compete for a federal award.
More and more I'm thinking this is not an irony, but deliberate on the unions' part to forgo new education dollars if it means more charters and broader public education accountability measures replete in the Regents' Race to the Top proposals. Buffalo teachers union head, Phil Rumore, made clear his views (e.g., here) are exactly that: no reform; keep your RttT money (though he'll gladly spend it if it shows up). His New York City and state union brethren are far more subtle, but less so as the federal Jan. 19th deadline approaches. To be clear, I want to be wrong on this, and hope I'm misjudging these other union leaders.
Finals Week in Albany for RttT
This is "finals week" for the Governor and legislature to get it right. Cramming at the end before a final can sometimes work, or more likely it can expose how unprepared they are to pass the test. Maximizing points on the federal scoring rubric means not being distracted by issues that are not on the exam, and will result in a lower grade.
for The Chalkboard
The new schools are:
- Kingsbridge Innovative Design Charter School;
- Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School;
- Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School;
- Hyde Leaderhip Charter School;
- Imagine Me Leadership Charter School; and
- Riverton Street Charter School.
The Regents also renewed several existing charter schools: Enterprise Charter School in Buffalo; Urban Choice Charter School in Rochester; and Southside Charter School in Syracuse.
Congratulations to all the successful applicants, many of whom attended the meeting at the Education Department building in downtown Albany. A list of the Regents actions, recommended by the state Education Department, is here.
Several other charter schools previously approved by the State University of New York were acted on by the Regents, most of which were "returned" to SUNY with comments. This is a familiar dance between the two statewide authorizers since they don't agree entirely on what should be in a charter application, which is a healthy thing. The SUNY Trustees meet later this week and, as usual, will resubmit each returned application for approval and incorporation.
Charter Count toward 200
The Regents EMSC committee action becomes final when the full Board meets tomorrow and accepts its actions, which it always does. In fact, most Regents attend the EMSC committee to avoid rehashing the discussion when the full Board meets.
As it now stands, the Regents and school districts have approved 94 of its 100 charters, and SUNY has approved 82 of its 100, leaving just 24 charters remaining. However, Chancellor Klein has at least five more proposed schools pending with the Regents for its February meeting, and SUNY's deadline for new charter applications is today. As many as a dozen or more could be under consideration by SUNY for approval in spring.
As a practical matter, we are shortly reaching the state charter cap of 200, and it must be raised this week to include such action in the state's Race to the Top application, due on January 19th to the U.S. Department of Education.
for The Chalkboard
Also mentioned in the editorial (here) is New York's rigorous approval process, that is, "licensing," for charters and the oversight they are under. It credits the New York City Department of Education for allowing charter schools to use free space, which has attracted exceptional charter school operators around the country.
This discussion by the Times should give state legislators support to raise the cap and also give them pause for larding up any bill with a host of new charter mandates including more hurdles on on space sharing, salary caps on charter school operators, or bans on management companies. The absence of such mandates, the Times basically confirms, are factors in charter school academic success in New York.
Will a "Compromise" on RttT bill "meet the White House Test"?
Meanwhile, the New York Post reports today that legislation will get done this week to position New York for Race to the Top, including raising the cap on charter schools. A legislative source informed the Post that both the teacher unions and charter advocates "will have problems with" the "compromise" bill, but assures that "[the bill] will meet the White House test."
That all depends on how much "compromise" is contained in any final bill.
The "White House test" is actually quite rigorous for Race to the Top funding, and President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been demanding and consistent on this issue from the outset. And, if Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein remain unwilling to sign onto a "compromise" bill, that's a pretty good indicator it fails the "White House test."
What this article also reveals is the peculiarity of New York's approach, and how out of step it can be with other states on reforming their laws for Race to the Top. More than two dozen other states that have made improvements to their education laws rather cleanly, as the Democrats for Education Reform list shows (dfer).
New York would be wise to minimize any negative provisions and impediments to charter schools and other education reforms under the guise of "compromise." That would defeat the purpose of education reform and fail to impress the Obama administration, which can easily say "no" to New York with no political downside.
for The Chalkboard
The City's lack of endorsement should matter, considering it represents about 40 percent of the state's public school population and an even higher percentage of lower income, federal Title One students. Mayor Bloomberg and City Schools Chancellor Joel don't normally carry much weight in the state legislature, which is typical of mayors and schools chancellors going back decades. On this issue, however, the City has leverage in Washington since the Bloomberg/Klein education record has been strong and is viewed favorably. If NYC is unimpressed with the state's Race to the Top application as a result of tepid changes this week by the legislature, Obama administration evaluators may take a similarly dim view.
State Education Commissioner David Steiner extended the deadline for school districts and charters to Wednesday (Jan. 13). We will know a lot more the direction the legislature is taking by then.
The state legislature should take care this week to enact serious education reforms recommended by the Regents and win the support of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. For Race to the Top, it matters.
for The Chalkboard
The editorial is simple and straightforward: adopt a strong agenda for education reform, which includes raising the charter school cap and providing facilities support (it outlines what is the Regents reform agenda); and don't allow the make-believe from the United Federation of Teachers about charter schools water down a strong legislative package. Otherwise, New York's chances for the large award are at high-risk.
The issue is not complicated.
Will Legislature Water Down Race-to-the-Top Agenda?
The less free funding the New York gets from the federal government, the more the state will have to find funding somewhere else - or make deeper education spending cuts.
The pressure from the teachers unions to dilute reform provisions is irresponsible and built on selfishness and myth-making about charters. Examples of this abound, including here and there. The irony of the union's anti-charter efforts, with its pile of absurd mandates, could result in cutting education funding that would benefit their own district membership. Such funding the unions will desperately claw for in late March when the state budget adoption is due.
Not only is the union's behavior anti-climatic and short-sighted for to Race to the Top, but it comes after release of the second major academic study documenting the high academic performance of New York City charter schools. If the Legislature does anything on the merits--and for new money--it should be to expand charters.
The Legislature should avoid rationalizing and cowering to the distortions and greed from the unions, especially when the unions will be no less kind to the Legislature for cutting education due to any failure to maximize federal money now with a strong Race to the Top bill.
Moreover, the Legislature last month just gave a Christmas present to the teachers unions by allowing an earlier retirement age in the new Tier V retirement system, along with a 30-day enrollment loophole for Tier IV, which the unions happily exploited. Teachers in the new system can retire at 57 with full benefits, compared to 62 for all other Tier V public employees. The Legislature should not give into further pressure this month especially since the cost will be more immediate.
Follow Your Own Appointees: the Regents
The state Regents are appointed by the Legislature, not Gov. Paterson, with whom they often clash. They should follow the Regents advice (and Governor's bill) on charters and other reform issues, and take no chances on Race to the Top. Just because the teacher unions want to be reckless doesn't mean the Legislature should follow suit.
for The Chalkboard
This abrupt reversal on Thursday, 24 hours following Wednesday's embarrassment of a board meeting (here), will now secure the district's share of new federal funding should New York receive an award.
Credit must go to Board member Christopher Jacobs--who has strong charter school roots--who consistently pushed for his colleagues to sign on in support of the state's reform plans which the district stands now to benefit from financially.
Superintendent James Williams, a schizophrenic on education reform, nevertheless also strongly urged the board to sign on, even to the point of berating them at Wednesday's meeting fiasco when it initially refused. That was gutsy. I'm under no illusions Dr. Williams suddenly likes charter schools, nor do I put it past him to return to his scapegoating act of blaming them for the district's financial problems. But Dr. Williams did the right thing on Race to the Top, and the board's majority finally heeded his message.
As for Board President Ralph Hernandez, he's nothing if not confusing. Earlier this week he trashed the state's reform agenda; later in the week he showed willingness to support it; and now he's signed on with the cover of six of his eight fellow board members. Hernandez comes across often as a shill for the Buffalo teachers union, yet as Board President he sometimes rises above it to do the right thing by the district because it is "a very important issue," as he put it.
Love That BTF Chutzpah!
The chutzpah of teacher union president, Phil Rumore, did not disappoint this week. Mr. Rumore was consistent in his opposition the the state's Race to the Top plan, referring to some of it as "insulting." This is consistent with his whole career of opposing much of anything with a whiff of reform and change. Teacher accountability and merit pay just isn't in his DNA, and he refused to sign on in support.
But Rumore wants any financial booty just the same.
In his letter to the Buffalo district, Rumore said that if the district does receive funding, the News reported that his union "feels it will be able to negotiate an agreement with school officials to use the money" for his own agenda of smaller class sizes (more union members) and summer programs (still more union members).
Isn't that big of Phil? He won't taint himself by signing on in support of reform to get new money, but he's willing to sit down and negotiate how that new money gets spent. Hey, the man knows what he wants, even as he trashes the means by which to get it.
Test Looms for Buffalo & State Ed.
The school district and the state Education Department should not give into this two-face mentality of non-supporters who will inevitably clamor for Race to the Top funding this spring for their own narrow, more-of-the-same agenda. Doing so risks turning this whole reform effort by the Regents into a toothless successor of those "Contracts for Excellence" that spent more education money and achieved nothing discernible.
for The Chalkboard
"[W]e will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools and instead, spur a race to the top...I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of charter schools, wherever such caps are in place."
--U.S. President Barack Obama
to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (March 10, 2009)
"[The charter cap is] a bogus issue with respect to Race to the Top"
-- N.Y.S.U.T. President Richard Iannuzzi
to the Times Union and Daily Politics weblog (Jan. 7, 2010)
The President of the United States and the President of the New York State United Teachers disagree--in no subtle fashion--about the importance of raising the cap on charter schools as part of the Race to the Top program.
President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, have been bastions of consistency and purpose for the last ten months on spurring education reform at the state level. Their seriousness also has been demonstrated by establishing a non-political scoring rubric and using outside evaluators for all state Race to the Top applications.
States across the country have responded to the Obama administration's reform plans by enacting major changes their education programs to meet the federal Race to the Top criteria. New York is now somewhat belatedly stepping up, first by the Regents approval last month of a comprehensive education reform agenda, then bipartisan Senate legislation since introduced to reflect much of this agenda, and now Governor Paterson's Race to the Top bill unveiled yesterday.
The NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi, in the face of all this ("Bogus!"), is trying his best imitation of General McAuliffe at the Battle of the Bulge ("Nuts!"); but instead, he comes off as some anachronistic southern governor. Such overreaction by him is unwarranted, to say the least. Up to $700 million in new money is at stake for New York, nearly all of which will go to school districts employing his members.
RttT Funding is Five Times What NYSUT Sued Over
My calculator says that $700 million is nearly five times the amount of aid over which NYSUT sued the Governor for delaying to school districts last month (4.795 times the $146 million in delayed school aid, to be exact). Maximizing New York's chances for getting that new federal funding should be the focus.
Allowing for more charter schools gets school districts up to $700 million - a 'win-win' for public education. This is a good thing. Be happy.
for The Chalkboard
-- eliminate the statutory cap on the number of new charter schools in the state (yes, eliminate it, not simply raise the cap);
-- authorize the state Dormitory Authority to provide financing for charter school facilities;
-- authorize the Regents to appoint a "temporary receiver" to takeover chronically low-performing school districts; and
-- repeal on January 15th (moved up from July 1) the ban on using student test scores to make teacher tenure determinations.
The Governor's statement on his legislation is here. Significantly, he's speaking in terms of being "competitive" in the application process. His bill is focused and doable for the state legislature in the limited time remaining before the January 19th deadline (which means a bill would have to be enacted next week).
The New York Charter Schools Association's president, Bill Phillips, issued a statement in support of the Governor's proposal, while also mentioning the importance of adopting a more comprehensive agenda proposed by the Board of Regents to maximize the state's chances for a Race to the Top award.
It also should be noted that eliminating the charter cap would have no change on how quickly charters get approved in New York. The process for getting a charter school from SUNY or the Regents is rigorous and difficult, as it should be -- cap or no cap.
Not Everyone's Pleased With the Governor
Predictably, the teacher unions are not happy with the Governor's bill. Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the New York State United Teachers, comes off piqued, like he's having a bad hair day. He told the Albany Times Union (here) that the charter cap is a "bogus issue" that counts for just four of the 500 points on the federal scoring rubric.
Nice try, Dick, but failure to deal with the cap will cost the state 40 points, or 8 percent of the total, since the failure to have more charter schools makes a moot argument all the other charter points on the rubric.
This is irascible behavior from someone who heads an organization that has most to gain from New York getting $700 million in new education money -- an amount considerably higher than the $146 million in delayed school aid payments that provoked NYSUT's lawsuit against the Governor. Such funding shouldn't be forfeited by failing to expand charter school opportunities.
Can Race to the Top legislation be enacted in a week? Mr. Iannuzzi doesn't think so. "The bottom line here is that nothing of value is going to get done in seven calendar days," he told the Casey Seiler at the Times Union's Capitol bureau. "Nothing of value"? Hey, $700 million is still real money, even in 2010, and we should try real hard for it. If New York fails to pass a strong Race to the Top bill in the next week, it will be a national joke.
The fact is, the state legislature could pass a bill in seven minutes if NYSUT and the UFT stopped kicking against the goads to scuttle charter schools.
History of Charters Distorted
Mr. Iannuzzi didn't stop there. He told a whopper to Liz Benjamin of the Daily Politics blog that the Charter Schools Act was "hastily-written" when it was approved in December 1998.
In fact, the Charter Schools Act was proposed by then-Gov. George Pataki in January 1997, nearly two years before legislative approval. His bill was negotiated with both houses of the legislature during the regular sessions in 1997 and again in 1998. NYSUT and the UFT were very close to the action in both instances and effectively blocked approval. After the November 1998 election, Pataki, newly re-elected, pushed again for the bill using the legislature's desire for a pay raise (after a decade) as leverage.
The Senate passed the Governor's bill in November. NYSUT and UFT saw the inevitable and wisely negotiated some concessions in the Governor's bill, which passed in December. "Hastily-written" charter law? Nope, and Mr. Iannuzzi knows it.
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The Buffalo school board met to decide whether to support the New York's Race to the Top application, which, if approved, would add millions of new federal dollars to the state's second largest city.
Yup; the Buffalo Board of Education's dysfunction was on full display last night, worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation, by its voting against supporting the state's education reform agenda for federal Race to the Top discretionary education funding.
Today's Buffalo News reports that a majority of the school board--at least of those that bothered to show up--refused to support the state Regents education reform agenda for obtaining these competitive federal funds for New York. This is not a huge surprise after yesterday's account of the likely direction of the board and the opposition to the Regents agenda from the Buffalo Teacher's Federation president, Phil Rumore (now entering his 3rd--or 4th[?]--decade as head of the union).
Of the nine-member board, a minimum quorum of five showed up, which means that all five needed to vote in favor. Chris Jacobs and Ralph Hernandez--yes, that Ralph Hernandez--were in support. Half-apologies to Mr. Hernandez from yesterday's Chalkboard; he was at least willing to support reform if the rest of the board went along.
The three mouseketeers on the board voting no were: Vivian Evans, Pamela Perry-Cahill and Mary Ruth Kapsiak. Actually, Ms. Kapsiak refused to vote at all, which counts as a "no," lest she think she can dodge responsibility for this fiasco.
Ms. Perry-Hyphen-Cahill acknowledged abject ignorance of what she was being asked to vote on: "We're signing something before we even know what it is," she said. This pillar of public service should try reading her board material, beginning with the Regents reform plans, which have been posted on-line for several weeks now (e.g., here).
And what of the four board members that did not show up for such a critical meeting? Barring health or family emergency, they should have had their fannies at City Hall to do the right thing by Buffalo's students and teachers, who stand now to lose out on any new federal money for the state.
Dr. Williams Stands Tall - and Loses
As for Superintendent James Williams, he had a bad night, as he could not persuade the board to support the Regents application. "Board, you're are making a big mistake -- a big mistake." Rarely if ever would a chief executive so publicly chastise a board this way, which is his boss. He may as well dust off his resume, not because he would be fired, but out of disgust trying to work for this bunch pretending to govern a major school district.
Is it any wonder the Regents refused to abide the board's request for a charter school moratorium?
One has to wonder how many of these board members opposing the Obama administration's Race to the Top reforms are on the BTF's payroll, figuratively speaking. If they aren't in reality, they should be, since they otherwise sold out the Buffalo school district for dirt cheap.
Buffalo's Loss is Everyone Else's Gain
The upshot of this outcome is not all bad from a parochial standpoint. With all its Title One students, Buffalo will now get nothing from any Race to the Top award to New York, which means the a larger share of the grant will be spread out to all the other school districts and charter schools that signed on in support.
Thanks, Buffalo. Your school board's majority managed to become a bigger laughingstock than before.
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The study by Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University examined student test scores in 49 charter schools and found after three years they outperformed district students by 15 points in math and by 4 points in reading. The study was reported by New York Public Radio (here).
The author of the study, Professor Margaret Raymond, conducted similar charter studies in other states and the results were not as favorable. The head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, liked to cite CREDO's work to downplay charter schools (e.g., here). No such luck in New York.
Today's New York Post includes an op-ed piece by James Merriman, head of the New York City Charter School Center, who points out that Prof. Raymond's methodology is different from that of Prof. Caroline Hoxby, also of Stanford, but not part of CREDO. Nonetheless, both studies of New York City charter schools (Hoxby's study is here) arrive at the same favorable conclusions.
Case closed. Charter schools in New York are a big success story.
Now Legislature Must Act
If ever the New York State Legislature should do something on the merits, it should be in favor of charter schools. They should expand charters and provide funding parity with facilities support, among other steps. The state Regents--whom the legislature, not the Governor, appoints--recommended these and other pro-charter school policies to be adopted in time for the state's submission of the Race to the Top application for $700 million in new federal education funds.
Imagine that: Different studies have shown charters' success, and the state increases its chances to get paid $700 million to use for district schools if they expand charters.
Legislative Resistance to Charters - Still
Would that life was that simple and obvious.
There remain many--too many--state legislators that simply oppose charter schools and tune out any favorable discussion of them, no matter the source. Many of these members "represent" hundreds if not thousands of constituents that benefit from charters or want them. The United Federation of Teachers looms large in these legislative minds, and the UFT is on a mission this week to scuttle any favorable action on charter schools.
This is what gubernatorial and legislative leadership is all about -- bringing the votes from otherwise recalcitrant colleagues to do the right thing for the state.
It will be an interesting next few days in Albany's statehouse.
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That's what occurred in Buffalo with its Superintendent of Schools, James Williams, announcing his change of heart about charter schools by backing the Board of Regents application for federal Race to the Top funding, which includes raising the charter school cap. Today's Buffalo News reports on these developments here, with some revealing quotes from district officials captured by education reporter, Peter Simon.
Dr. Williams previously recommended to the Buffalo Board of Education to request that the Regents impose a "moratorium" on approving any new charter schools for Buffalo. The Chalkboard strongly criticized the district's position (here). By now supporting the Regents reform plan, and the federal money that would accrue to Buffalo as a result, the moratorium idea goes out the window.
Buffalo Moratorium Request a Dead Letter
Then again, the school district may as well support the Regents Race to the Top application since Buffalo's charter moratorium request has been a dead letter since mid-December. The Regents responded to the district's moratorium request through the head of the Education Department's charter school office, Barbara Moscinski. In her letter to Board of Education president, Ralph Hernandez, Ms. Moscinski explained the Regents chartering process and the law governing it. She wrote that the Department and Regents "will abide by the language of the law."
In other words, there ain't gonna be no moratorium for Buffalo. Request denied.
This very dry, bureaucratic response tells the larger story: if a worthy charter school proposal comes in and would provide a "significant educational benefit" to students in Buffalo, why would the Regents deny those students just to appease the adults running the district? It makes no sense for the Regents to tie their hands and they refused to do so. Good for them.
So, while it's encouraging that Dr. Williams had this supposed change of heart and said very right-minded things to the Buffalo News, there's a backdrop that was omitted. But, hey, we'll take it. Hopefully the superintendent's new reform mindset will continue, which many in Buffalo were hoping to see since he arrived on the scene.
Welcome back, Dr. Williams.
Buffalo Board Prez Amazes
In contrast to all of this, the long-time head of the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF), Phil Rumore, also came out against the Regents reform and the money that would go with it. Potential teacher salary increases could result from what he acknowledges is "a lot of money." Still the dollars aren't worth it to Mr. Rumore since education reforms and accountability are part of the package. No one should be shocked. We'll soon see if he prevails with the school board and city common council to follow his lead. Mr. Rumore should, however, move up his January 21st meeting of union delegates to vote on Race to the Top since the state's application is due to the U.S. Department of Education two days prior, on the 19th.
As for Ralph Hernandez, he continues to read from the BTF's talking points. As head of the school board he pushed for the charter moratorium and is disinclined to support the Regents education reforms, which says much about his priorities these days. He told the Buffalo News he is "troubled" about many aspects of the Regents plan, including the provision that would evaluate teachers on student test scores.
The reality is that Buffalo's students need this and other Regents reforms, which would increase teacher accountability and bring about school turnarounds; and which are especially designed for low-performing urban districts like Buffalo. Yet, Mr. Hernandez is still "troubled." What's next, Ralph? Naming your next child, Phil?
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It should be understood that students with disabilities are designated by the committee on special education (CSE) of the school district (or, in New York City, the community school district) where the student resides. Charter schools by law do not have their own CSE, but must work with each students' district CSE and implement its determinations for special education plans for students. Charters implement district CSE plans directly, by contract with a private provider, or by working with school district special education personnel, just as district school would.
On average, charter schools serve a lower percentage of special education students than the districts in which they reside. So do many, if not most, district schools, obviously, since the overall district average would have some schools above it and others below.
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has been attacking charter schools for its special education student numbers, especially since they could no longer assert that charter schools didn't perform well academically - state test score data has shown for years that charters far outperform school districts.
The UFT's "solution" for charter schools is to mandate that they serve the same special education percentage as that of the school district in which they are located. This simplistic, soundbite of a proposal from the UFT is unserious and unworkable. The union leadership is not stupid - they know this is impractical, which is one reason they don't demand the same solution for district schools that serve a lower percentage of special education students. Furthermore, the one charter school operated by the UFT in Brooklyn has a special ed percentage (6%) less than half of community school district 19 (12.7%). I don't believe this or any other charter school is doing anything nefarious toward special education students, nor has any evidence been presented to suggest as much.
Realistic Solutions for Increasing Charter Special Education Students
Let's get serious about dealing with the special education issue with realistic policies to increase their numbers in charter schools. For example:
-- Charter schools should be able to contract with boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), which are set up to serve smaller school districts to provide specialty services for high need students.
--Charter schools should be able to establish special education consortiums to pool resources and serve each others students with special education or English language needs.
--Charter schools also should be able to give an enrollment preference for ELL and special education students, something several has sought to do but were denied by the state Education Department.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced this week in the Senate that would accomplish some of these objectives (S.6413/A.9485), and more can be done.
A thoughtful article (here) on special education issues in charter schools was published in today's Daily News by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute; and, Thomas Carroll of the New York Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability outlines (here) a list of policies that would increase the special education population in charter schools. Mr. Carroll also is chairman of the two Brighter Choice single-sex elementary schools in Albany.
To borrow a term used frequently by Education Commissioner, David Steiner, and Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch; lets get "thoughtful" about addressing the special education issue in charter schools. I believe the charter school community would welcome this discussion and would accept realistic solutions that encourage more special education students to attend charters.
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That would be the likely scenario if the United Federation of Teachers got its charter school agenda, unveiled last Sunday, adopted by the state legislature.
In fact, the scenario would be worse -- existing charter schools would close their doors since it would be fiscally unsound to operate a viable education program.
Mandates have consequences. The UFT's agenda is choc full of them that raise the cost of education without helping students that are suppose to be the beneficiaries. Make charter schools do more stuff that has nothing to do with improving education, and you will have fewer charters. Few, if any, will spring up to replace them. School districts can raise taxes to meet higher costs; charters can't, nor can they grow money on trees.
Fewer charter schools--actually, no charter schools--has been the goal of UFT and its state parent organization, NYSUT, from the very beginning, since charter schools were first introduced in this state in the mid-1990s. After eleven years, 140 charter schools, and documented academic success (including the new CREDO study on charter success in New York City, reported here), the UFT still wants them smothered.
Even more amazing is that the union's leadership is willing risk up to $700 million in discretionary federal education funding for New York which will accrue primarily to school districts. Today's New York Post comments on this here.
We've seen this act many times by the UFT and NYSUT, especially in 2007 when the cap was last raised. Dozens of harmful, costly and superfluous charter provisions were pushed, most of which dropped in the end when the cap was finally lifted by the legislature. These machinations are too risky as the Race to the Top deadline of Jan. 19th fast approaches.
Abiding UFT Distracts from the Prize - and Self-Defeating
The legislature must keep in mind that abiding the UFT risks our state's chances of being awarded this desperately needed federal funding. Raising the cap accompanied by anti-charter requirements will fool no one, and will not garner the necessary support from the charter community. They will not sign on to the fraud being advanced by the UFT, and the $700 million lost to New York will be on the union leadership's doing.
The legislature realistically must enact education reforms in the next week to enable the state's Race to the Top application to be competitive. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would codify the Board of Regents charter agenda - it should be passed.
The UFT should urge legislators to do what it takes to get this money for New York, rather than derail it by pushing its self-serving agenda that will hurt charters and the interests of its member teachers who ultimately lose the federal money.
It's way past time for distractions.
for The Chalkboard
Charter school policy comprises to 8 percent of the scoring rubric for Race to the Top funding, so the state legislature, following the lead of the Board of Regents, may act this month to expand charter school opportunities to compete for this federal discretionary award.
The United Federation of Teachers in New York City, sensing positive legislative movement on charter schools, has made its wish list known today by releasing a grab-bag of proposals that can charitably described as selfish and counterproductive. The New York Charter Schools Association and the New York City Charter School Center issued a joint statement in response (here). Also, the New York Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability issued this statement responding to the UFT.
UFT Agenda Offers Nothing for Children or Teachers
Much of the UFT's agenda today is a dusting off of self-serving proposals we've seen before, including the following:
--mandate unions for all charter schools, which empowers the union with more dues from teacher paychecks, removes teachers' choice to decide that for themselves, and does exactly nothing to improve teacher accountability for Race to the Top;
--impose higher-cost "prevailing wage" mandates on charter schools, which makes the challenge of securing facilities more expensive even as charters get no facilities funding, and would further damage the state's chance for Race to the Top which grades on charters having access to facilities;
-- eliminate the State University of New York as a viable charter authorizer, even though the UFT Charter School and Green Dot, for example, chose SUNY as its authorizer (Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, favorable to this idea, knew not to include such a counterproductive measure in the Regents reform agenda for Race to the Top);
And, in a new twist:
--mandate, somehow, all charter schools to serve "the same proportion" of the neediest students as the community school district in which they are located, though the UFT fails to recommend the same "mandate" that each district school also serve the same percentages.
The UFT also proposes to change the charter school funding formula by eliminating the funding lag, but details of what this would look like are scant. If the charter formula changes, it should ensure a level playing field by providing funding parity for charter schools, which get less than district schools on a per pupil basis. Unfortunately, the UFT's track record has been to cut charter funding rather than repair its funding (see here).
The prevailing wage mandate is particularly odd coming from the UFT. Such a mandate not only is counterproductive and financially harmful for charter schools, but also hurts charter school teachers -- union and non-union alike -- by diverting more scarce operating dollars to fund building expenses and away from school operations, like personnel. Incredible. Just who is the UFT trying to "represent" with this whopper? Its construction brethren at the expense of teachers? Sure looks that way.
Serving More Needy Students
The UFT's proposed mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students is pure posturing by the union leadership. If the UFT were serious, it would begin by serving higher percentages of needy students at the one charter school it operates in Brooklyn that it named after itself (for more, see here). Furthermore, the UFT should mandate every district school have the same proportion of such students, not just charter schools. Of course, the union doesn't propose such consistency because it knows it is unworkable as a mandate and because district schools, like charters, have a wide range of such percentages.
In contrast to such posturing by the UFT, charter school advocates have for years proposed that Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) be authorized to contract directly with charter schools to serve special education students and students with limited English proficiency (which would help charters outside the City). The charter community also is proposing the legislature enable charter schools to give enrollment preference to these student populations, which from the outset has been prevented by the state Education Department. And, charter schools also should be allowed to operate at more than a single location to achieve economies of scale to offer more specialty teachers to serve greater numbers of needy student populations as well as offer more high school opportunities. (Legislation has been proposed to accomplish this: S.6339.)
These are serious proposals offered by charter school advocates to reach more needy student populations, rather than vapid soundbites offered by the UFT in its attempt to score political points and bamboozle legislators. It also should be understood that charter schools already well serve higher percentages of students from low-income families that qualify for federal free- and reduced-price lunch than the school districts in which they are located. Many of these households are minority families that have fled their low-performing community district school for a better opportunity in a charter school.
Build on Charter Success
In the next two weeks, New York should build on the success of charter schools in serving low-income students and improving student achievement, rather than adopting the UFT's self-serving, retro charter agenda that achieves nothing for students, and risks Race to the Top funding for New York.
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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.