This year, by happenstance, an unusually large number of charter schools are up for renewal.
A little background: the law sets a cap on the number of charter schools, a cap for NYC and one for the remainder of the state, the NYC cap has about 25 slots left and over 100 slots for the rest of the state. There are three charter authorizers, SUNY, the Board of Regents and the NYC Department of Education. The charter is the equivalent of a permit to operate a school; the charter must be renewed every five years. In the fourth year the charter authorizer examines the school; in the original application the proposed school established goals; the authorizer examines the schools data in considerable detail and determines the length of the charter renewal; from another five years down to a low of 1.5 years.
In December charter renewal recommendations from NYC came before the Regents, usually pro forma. This time, Regent members had questions, lots of questions, and asked the Department to attend the January meeting and explain their renewal criteria.
There is no question that there are many charter schools that are struggling, with little hope of improvement. Single entrepreneur charter schools have no place to go for help; maybe they can purchase a professional development package, hire a consultant, change the principal, with no guarantee that results will change. If they struggle for the first five years, what will change in the ensuing years?
The Department and the State have also identified 94 struggling public schools in NYC, about a dozen are referred to as “out of time” schools, they have not shown any progress over a number of years. The Department is closely monitoring the schools, each school has a detailed plan, and many of the schools are receiving State Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars which bring outside resources into the school. Chancellor Farina says the schools need time.
The former administration crowed that they closed over 150 schools; I believe the Regents have closed something like seventeen charter schools.
At the February Regents meeting three schools from Buffalo were up for renewal and the recommendations were: one school, 3.5 years, another 4 years and the third the full 5 years. Regent Bennett, who represents Buffalo, objected, he claimed the Regents either extended for 3 or 5 years, nothing else (He’s wrong) and urged the Regents to extend all for five years. The committee chair, Regent Bottar, huddled with SED staff, and extended all for five years. Why should a Regent be permitted to over turn a decision based on an examination of data? As an aside, I am told Regent Bennett’s daughter teaches in a charter school in Buffalo.
Are we treating public and charter schools the same? Is there an equal playing field?
The law clearly gives the Board of Regents the power to revoke charters,
When a charter school’s outcome on student assessment measures
adopted by the board of regents falls below the level that would allow
the commissioner to revoke the registration of another public school,
and student achievement on such measures has not shown improvement over
the preceding three school years;
In the original charter application applicants agreed that percentages of Students with Disabilities, English language learners and Title 1 eligible children would at least match the percentages in the surrounding school district.
the charter school shall demonstrate good faith efforts to attract and retain a comparable or
greater enrollment of students with disabilities, English language
learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free and
reduced price lunch program when compared to the enrollment figures for
such students in the school district in which the charter school is
And, if the charter school fails to “attract and retain” said students the Regents can revoke the charter, with a caveat,
Repeated failure to comply with the requirement to meet or exceed
enrollment and retention targets of students with disabilities, English
language learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free
and reduced price lunch program pursuant to targets established by the
board of regents charter school demonstrates that it has made
extensive efforts to recruit and retain such students, including
outreach to parents and families in the surrounding communities, widely
publicizing the lottery for such school, and efforts to academically
support such students in such charter school, then the charter entity or
board of regents may retain such charter.
When it comes to student suspensions charter schools must meet the same criteria as public schools,
A charter school shall meet the same health and safety, civil
rights, and student assessment requirements applicable to other public
Charter school discipline policies routinely violate both state law and federal regulations. State law,
No pupil may be suspended for a period in excess of five
school days unless such pupil and the person in parental relation to
such pupil shall have had an opportunity for a fair hearing, upon
reasonable notice, at which such pupil shall have the right of
representation by counsel, with the right to question witnesses against
such pupil and to present witnesses and other evidence on his or her
The feds have released extensive guidance relating to discipline practices which charter schools routinely ignore.
Let’s take an in-depth look at charter schools versus public schools. The charts in the link below give the average percentages of English language learners, total special education (Students with Disabilities), special ed students in self-contained classrooms and students in temporary housing in public elementary and K-8 schools by Community School District
There are glaring differences in EVERY school district.
Now, why not compare “apples to apple,” let’s compare charter and traditional schools sharing the same buildings, which is generally referred to as co-location, once again glaring differences in % ELL, % IEPs, % High Needs Special Education (self-contained classes) and % in temporary housing.
The Department has created a tool called the peer index; it uses the index to compare schools with similar demographics for purposes of school assessment. The link below compares charter and traditional schools within Community School Districts, and, yes, once again in the vast percentages of charter schools serve significantly fewer percentages of high needs students
In realm of school suspensions Chalkbeat, the go-to site for school news reports,
New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.
Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.
If we compare general ed students to general ed students in charter and traditional schools the traditional schools would far outpace the charter schools. The assessment of charter schools, whether conducted by the NYC Department or the State Department of Education is deeply flawed.
The charter review process, just as the State Diagnostic Tool, has to assess student progress taking into account the total percentage of students with disabilities, special education students in self-contained classes, students in temporary housing, English language learners and other “risk factors” To compare schools in affluent suburbs with students in high needs communities is unfair to all students and school staffs.
We must expect progress in all schools; our challenge is developing tools to measure progress. The primary purpose of measuring progress must not be to “rate” practitioners, the purpose must be to guide the school, to assist the school in developing and implementing appropriate interventions.
Unfortunately the modus operandi in too many charter schools is to limit the admission of high needs youngsters and to rid the school of low performing and “difficult” students.
The State Department (SED) acted vigorously in districts that were not assigning “undocumented” new arrivals to classes as they arrived, they ordered the districts to comply. The SED must act with the same vigor with charter schools.
The charter school program in New York State is fifteen years old, the SED has danced around the issue of two separate and unequal systems of schooling, the law is clear, the sanctions for not complying with the law is the revocation of the charter and the SED has to make it clear that revocation will result for charter schools failing to comply. To allow charter schools to skulk around the law with a “wink and a nod” is not acceptable.
The question of closing low performing schools, traditional and charter, is complex, we have not developed sophisticated tools; graduation rates and scores on state standardized tests are not adequate. There are times when school leadership and school staffs ate not up to the challenge – up to now the NYC Department and the SED has allowed charter schools to slide, they sidestepped the toxic politics.
It’s time to address the issue.