NYC Charter Schools are Booming

Posted by on 08 / 07 / 2015 0 Reactions

by Wendy Nelson

As this year’s legislative session came to a close, the charter issue legislators focused on most was the growth crisis facing New York City charter schools. We know there’s a huge demand, and it’s apparent when you look at the most recent NYC IBO report.

In fact, the New York City charter school sector saw a 364% increase in enrollment over seven years, from 2007 and 2013.

The authors looked at enrollment trends, academic achievement, and demographics among the varied and dynamic charter community. The overall goal of the release was to be a simple, descriptive report. This report does not include any discussion of hot topics like backfill, which has prompted criticism about the usefulness of the data.

Key observations from IBO research 

  • Over seven years, NYC charter school enrollment grew by 364% (adding nearly 60,000 students) while traditional DOE schools declined by 2.7% (~30,000 students). Some districts see more than 20% of their students attending charter schools, including Harlem, central and eastern Brooklyn, and the South Bronx.


  • A slight majority of NYC charter school students are enrolled in a school affiliated with a network. The Success Charter School Network is the largest and fastest growing network with 18 schools and 6,585 students in 2013-14. Uncommon Schools follows them with 12 schools and 5,051 students. The charter community, however, is diverse - half of charter students attend schools intentionally designed to be individual, stand-alone alternatives.


  • 75% of schools fill more than 70% of their open seats for grades K-3, while ~60% fill more than 70% of seats in grades 4-5. Under current rules charter schools are not obligated to backfill seats that become available through attrition. Many charter schools do fill all available seats, while others fill available seats through 3rd grade only. Policies appear to vary greatly among networks and independent schools. The data used only included 53 charter schools who had a Kindergarten in 2008-09 and a 5th grade in 2013-14. Given the small sample size and current trends in the sector, these numbers will likely increase in the coming years.
  • Charter students are more likely to be eligible for free and reduced price lunch than traditional DOE students, though charters serve smaller populations of English Language Learners and special education students. Charter schools serve an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic population, nearly 93%, while 67% of students are black or Hispanic in DOE schools.
  • Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, the percent of charter students scoring at proficiency (levels 3 & 4) on the state exams increased in both Mathematics and English Language Arts, an increase of 9 and 3 percentage points respectively.


  • Success Charter Network outperformed all other networks in both Math and ELA. Other high performing networks include Icahn, Achievement First, Public Preparatory, and Uncommon Schools.

As a simple report on the charter community, the data won’t settle any debates over demographics, backfilling, or network vs. independent charter school performance, but it does help paint the picture of NYC’s robust charter sector. It’s exciting to see how the schools will continue to grow over the coming years.


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