The “Left Behind” Charter Schools: Can You Close Public Schools Without Closing Low Performing Charter Schools?

The Bloomberg-Klein administration created almost 200 charter schools (See list here) and closed over 150 public schools. One class of charter schools are the networks, charter management organizations that manage clusters of schools: Success Academy Charter Schools, Harlem Children’s Zone, Uncommon Charter Schools, KIPP, Democracy Prep and a few others.

The major of charter schools are “mom and pop” charter schools, single entrepreneurships attached to a large church or community-based organization.

The charter networks aggressively raise dollars, oftentimes from hedge fund partners. A recent change in the tax code benefits investors,

“A federal tax break known as the “New Markets” tax credit lets hedge funds that invest in charters double their money in seven years. Charters have become, notes one education analyst, “just another investor playground for easy money passed from taxpayers to the wealthy.”

Students First New York is the political action arm of the charter school networks, the Board includes Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, Michelle Rhee and Dan Senior (Campbell Brown’s husband) and they poured over four million dollars into the Cuomo and Republican state senatorial campaigns.

The scores of “mom and pop” charter schools were created to “buy-out” leaders of communities of color across the city. Reverend Barnard (Christian Cultural Center), Johnny Youngblood (East Brooklyn Congregations). Floyd Flake (Greater Allen AME); organization after organization, and they all supported Mayor Bloomberg, Interestingly the teacher union fought back, school by school and neighborhood by neighbor. A spring, 2013 Zogby poll surprisingly reported that the public supported teachers more than the mayor,

When asked to name two groups that should play the largest role in determining education policy, only 16 percent named the mayor’s office, while 28 percent said the schools chancellor. Nearly half (49.1 percent) named teachers. So while the public wants to continue the reform push of recent years, it would prefer that teachers lead it

The de Blasio-Farina administration is making every effort to fix not close schools. The 94 Renewal Schools, about a dozen of which are “out of time” schools will define the new administration. The renewal plan has been “negotiated” with the folks at State Ed for months and in the last week the department assigned a leader and the “fixes” are beginning to move forward, albeit slowly.

At the State Ed level there is a problem, how do you pressure the city to close public schools and ignore charter schools?

At the December Regents Meeting what is usually a pro-forma action was on the agenda, the reauthorization of expiring charters. Charters are actually licenses to operate and must be renewed. There are three charter authorizing agencies, SUNY, the Board of Regents and the NYC Department of Education. As the Regents perused the NYC request a few of the Regents were clearly uncomfortable, the data from a number of charter schools was poor, very poor, below the data of public schools in the district. The Regents deferred action and asked the department to come to Albany and explain the process that they used to assess the charter schools.

At the January meeting a team for the department explained the process, and offered new plans with reduced renewal periods – three of the schools were only given 1.5 years. The Regents members were clearly uncomfortable; the process still seems “soft.” The Regents voted to accept the plans with reduced renewal periods, with the exception of Chancellor Tisch, who asked that her vote be recorded as a “no” vote. Over the next few months many other charter schools will be in the charter renewal pipeline, and many will have poor data. (Read Chalkbeat report here).

The department, finally, released some data on attrition rates of charter schools; however, the reports are skimpy, who are the discharged students? Are they low achievers or discipline force-outs? Were they replaced (“back-fill”)? How did they impact their new schools?

The “mom and pop” charter schools struggle, frequently led by inexperienced principals, new and revolving staffs, and without an external support network. The NYC Charter School Center does provide support, however, it’s primarily role is advocacy and assisting new charter school applicants.

Without deep-pocketed funders to spread around political dollars, without external networks to manage their schools, without knowledgeable, experienced school leaders and staffs the scores of low-achieving charter schools will face closings. If State Ed pushes ahead forcing the city to close public schools it will be difficult to protect charter schools, and, as charter schools close their patina will blemish.

An increasing number of studies are casting doubt on the wisdom of the unabated increase in the number of charter schools,

a recently released Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study showing that Ohio charter school students on average learn less in a year than their district school peers (See details of the Ohio CREDO report here)

It would make sense if New York State took a step backwards, rather than increasing or removing the charter school cap a deep dive into the effectiveness of the charter school model might make more sense.

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One response to “The “Left Behind” Charter Schools: Can You Close Public Schools Without Closing Low Performing Charter Schools?

  1. rachel dearagon

    Excellent points. In an era when accountability has become a imperative; we need to look at the charters through the eyes of quality assurance.

    Like

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