Democrats Rule!! Will the Democrats Pass a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

The democrats control both houses of the NYS legislature, and it’s a firm control, an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and 39 out of the 63 seats in the Senate. The last time the dems controlled both houses successive leaders of the Senate ended up in jail, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson; the incoming majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has been an excellent minority leader and is well-regarded as a conciliator. The dem majority can be a contentious group with widely varying interests, downstate (aka, NYC), versus the suburbs versus the other struggling “big five” cities.

The New York Times sees hard times ahead for charter schools with dems in control. The charter school political action committees (PACs) have been strong financial supporters of the republican side of the aisle, as well as of the governor; however, elections have consequences.

The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) was thrashed in the September primaries and their replacements have been clear in their opposition to charter schools

On the national scene charter school creation has waned, the 2017-2018 school year showed the lowest rate of expansion ever, only one percent.

The history of charter schools in New York State is quite interesting. Governor Pataki was completing his first term, running for his second term and during the 1998 legislative session pushed hard for a charter school law. The legislature adjourned in June without passing the law. Discussions continued over the summer and into the fall, Pataki was elected in November to a second term and the legislature returned to Albany for a lame duck session.

The charter school debate pitted advocates and enemies of charter schools, the New York Times wrote,

As if the public schools did not have enough to worry about, like trying to meet higher standards required by the State Board of Regents, curriculum mandates and other reforms, along comes a growing movement to offer alternatives that some observers say nibble away at public education.

Whether it is vouchers to offset private school tuition, allowing the formation of charter schools or offering tuition tax credits, such proposals are viewed by many people as threats not only to financing sources but also to the fundamental mission of public schools.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a New York State Surrogate Court judge, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

In spite of widespread opposition to charter schools the legislature took two actions during the December lame duck session  , they gave themselves a pay increase and facing a Pataki veto passed a charter school law. BTW, Sheldon Silver was the speaker of the Assembly and supported the “deal.”

After gaining potent leverage with a threat to veto a legislative pay raise, Gov. George E. Pataki won approval early this morning of a plan that would alter the state’s educational landscape by authorizing the creation of autonomous public schools.

The support for the plan in the Legislature capped weeks of negotiations that were dominated by the prickly question of how much lawmakers would yield to the Governor in return for a coveted salary increase, the first in a decade. In a final round of horse-trading, Mr. Pataki and legislative leaders agreed on a package of bills that included the school measure, a 38 percent pay raise and proposals to penalize lawmakers for late budgets and to help farmers receive higher prices for milk.

The State Senate approved the school legislation by a vote of 39 to 20 soon after 1:30 A.M. Leaders in the Assembly also agreed to back the bill early this morning, and were moving to pass it.

On December 10th a commission (the Comptrollers of NYC and NYS and the chair of the SUNY Board) will announce whether or not to grant a raise to the legislature, the first since 1998. No action is required by the legislature so no “deals” are necessary; however, this is Albany.

The newly elected legislature will convene the first week in January, the governor will give his state of the state address laying out his plans for the session and the all-democratic state leadership will begin passing its legislative package.

Early voting, the Dream Act, the Urstadt law (rent control) reform , and dozens of other pet bills; however, the dems will be careful to balance the needs of the suburban districts in which repubs were defeated with urban concerns. The 2020 legislature will redistrict the state and could entrench the dems for a decade, maintaining control in 2020 is essential.

My suggestions to the democratic leadership:

A moratorium on both the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of current charter schools

The original idea for charter schools was to create schools that were “engines of innovation;” outside the constraints of rules and regulations schools could experiment with new concepts in teaching and learning that could be rolled into traditional public schools. The original charter school concept morphed into charter schools as competition to traditional public schools, establishing a marketplace, the competition would raise all boats and those that did not improve/compete would fall by the wayside.

Charter schools are indistinguishable from public schools, except, longer school days and hours. Charter schools do not enroll “comparable” percentages of special education students or English language learners. Review the link http://www.uft.org/files/attachments/secure/demographics-charters-v-traditional.pdf that compares charter schools and traditional schools in school districts throughout New York City.

The NAACP called for a moratorium on the creation of charter schools, I agree, and would suggest a five year moratorium. The governor elected in 2022 could review the moratorium.

Fiscal transparency for all funding, public and private

 One of the untold stories is charter school philanthropy. The network charter schools (Success Academy, etc.) raise many, many millions of dollars , usually through 501© 3 organizations, tax-free dollars, and, many of the contributors are shielded from public scrutiny. The current charter school law and court decisions protect charter schools from the rays of sunshine. The charter school law should be amended so that all contributions will open to public inspections, including the barring of anonymous Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) contributions.

Tightening the charter school law to require enrollment of special education and English language learners at the percentages or greater in schools in the encompassing community school district

 The State Education Department has interpreted the current law so that charter schools can fail to enroll special education students and English language learners at the same level as neighboring schools: that loophole must be closed.  If anyone wants specific language I can forward.

 Legislation that would create Innovation Districts, clusters of schools, that can operate outside the constraints of current regulations, the original purpose of charter schools

 The current federal law, the successor of No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act, contains a section in which states can apply for innovation waivers, to create alternatives to the current required grades 3-8 testing. Only two states applied, although a number of states are conducting pilots in schools or school districts in the state. The NY State Education Department has shown no interest in either the original application or conducting local pilots. There are a number of innovative pilots operating below the radar, the forty or so consortium schools with waivers only requiring the English Regents exam, the highly successful International Schools Network, high schools that only enroll new immigrants and use their own instructional model and the PROSE schools in New York City that have waivers for school-created instructional or management models.

I would suggest a statute that would require the State Education Department create an application process by which schools/schools districts and unions could collaboratively apply for innovative waivers, in other words, create engines of innovation within public schools.

New York State, and many other states, are engaged in a “race to the bottom,” creating mechanisms that results in high test scores without increasing student proficiency.

Education Next,   the scholarly education journal published by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance writes,

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed into law in 2015, explicitly prohibits the federal government from creating incentives to set national standards. The law represents a major departure from recent federal initiatives, such as Race to the Top, which … encouraged the adoption of uniform content standards and expectations for performance. At one point, 46 states had committed themselves to implementing Common Core standards designed to ensure consistent benchmarks for student learning across the country. But when public opinion turned against the Common Core brand, numerous states moved to revise the standards or withdraw from them.

 Although early indications are that most state revisions of Common Core have been minimal, the retreat from the standards carries with it the possibility of a “race to the bottom,” as one state after another lowers the bar that students must clear in order to qualify as academically proficient. The political advantages of a lower hurdle are obvious: when it is easier for students to meet a state’s performance standards, a higher percentage of them will be deemed “proficient” in math and reading. Schools will appear to be succeeding and state and local school administrators may experience less pressure to improve outcomes …

 So, has the starting gun been fired on a race to the bottom? Have the bars for reaching academic proficiency fallen as many states have loosened their commitment to Common Core? And, is there any evidence that the states that have raised their proficiency bars since 2009 have seen greater growth in student learning?

 In a nutshell, the answers to these three questions are no, no, and, so far, none.

 From Diane Ravitch to Linda Darling-Hammond, from the Fordham Institute to the Shanker Institute, the reliance on standardized testing to drive students to proficiency is waning. Sadly it’s easier for states to massage the rules to satisfy parents and at the same time “game the tests,” an example: unlimited testing time increases scores, of course, with an invalid baseline.

Let’s take a deep breath, charter schools and choice are not an answer, they are a trompe d’oeil; testing viewed as punitive is a failure: are performance-tasks, portfolios, looping teachers/grades viable alternatives?

Let’s put charter schools on the sidelines and encourage the folks in the trenches to create a wide range of strategies.

One response to “Democrats Rule!! Will the Democrats Pass a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

  1. Teaching to the test, innovation network schools, no competition from Charters that will enable the public schools to get down to the business of creating new models, and, the bs goes on and on. Maybe you should share a secret that in my opinion represents the fundamental flaw in our educational system and renders all innovation and creative solutions without merit. We do not have a common curriculum with common expectations that would enable the maximization of effective instructional methodologies through professional collaboration. Schools that cater to the most needy students deliver curricula to them that is often not up to grade level content and skill-based standards. In other words, we train our most needy children to remain behind by teaching them an inferior curriculum – often locked in the cell block of failed remediation or maybe a fancier term will soften you up and make you more receptive – accelerated learning, caught-up; you get the idea! They come up with a slew of fancy terms to justify the gap in curriculum such as “just right books or courses”, which means that we believe that some children are limited and cannot compete with students who can handle appropriate grade level work. Let’s begin the work of improving schools with honesty; until we do that we will continue to jump from one failed practice to the next – sorry portfolios, personalized learning, differentiation, mastery learning, balanced literacy, looping and lolly-popping – the whole lot of initiatives designed to gain a good share of the educational market.. Without a credible curriculum you are spinning wheels and in the end the kids suffer from professional malpractice, discrimination and tracking. I think it’s time to fess up and take on the challenges of ensuring that all children play on a field of equal opportunity. If you doubt me, compare the curriculum and reading materials in high and low performing districts. If you prefer to manufacture new innovative practices without addressing the inadequacies of what we teach some of our children we are doing a disservice.

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