UPDATE (6/27/20): Chancellor Carranza is considering dissolving the Affinity District and folding the schools into exiting districts, a mindless attempt to eradicate the one highly effective reform from the Bloomberg era. btw, there would be no cost savings, the Affinity District staff would either become ATRs or folded into other districts. Simply a question of power: for decades hierarchic educational structures have failed to address the needs of kids, school leaders and school staffs make far, far better decisions than superintendents or executive superintendents. Carranza is taking advantage of the chaos of COVID to topple a leadership model that doesn’t fit his beliefs. A cynical grab that might be under the radar. Hopefully forces of rationality will prevail.
The New York State charter school law begins by differentiating charter and traditional public schools,
Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and (f) Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools established under this article accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results.
In the twenty plus years since the law was passed the school system across New York State has undergone dramatic changes; all schools are held to performance-based accountability systems, all schools are assessed by measurable student achievement results. If schools fail to meet goals set in federal law and state regulation they are placed in oversight categories, Targeted School Improvement (TSI) or Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI), and, if they continue to fail to meet goals they risk a state takeover or closing. Charter schools must meet the same goals and risk the non-renewal of their charter, effectively closing the schools.
Charter schools are either community charter schools, individual or a small number of schools tied to a specific neighborhood or network charter schools, such as Success, KIPP, Ascend or a few others, larger numbers of schools run by Charter Management Organizations (CMO), organizations that provide support, both professional development, fundraising and advocacy.
Across the board charter schools register fewer special education students, especially students requiring self-contained classrooms and English language learners, and high attrition rates without filling vacant seats. (Read detailed data from Success Academy here and here).
Twelve years ago, [Eva Moskowitz]was enrolling just 157 students in two grades. By 2016, those 157 students had become 52 tenth and eleventh graders. And now they have become 16 graduates
We could argue back and forth, let’s move on.
What if I told you that there are 168 schools in New York City, mostly high schools, many have waivers from regulations and union contract rules, they are supported by a number of organizations that look very much like Charter Management Organizations, and are clustered for organizational purposes in a non-geographic district that provides a range of highly targeted professional development and a seemly endless number of educational philosophies and school configurations.
You’d look unhappy, all these charter schools hiding within the massive New York City school system; except, you’d be wrong, they’ll public schools making up the Affinity District.
What the hell is the Affinity District?
A good question: As Bloomberg entered his third term as mayor that swirling cauldron, the schools, were not “fixed,” in fact, maybe it wasn’t as easy to fix as he thought. Ironically. at the end of his tenure the public trusted teachers’ attitude about schools more than Bloomberg’s. Sol Stern in the City Journal wrote,
… according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics. Sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.
Bloomberg gave up on schools, turned the leadership over to Dennis Walcott, a benign community activist and a few insider reformers who made striking changes. The entire school system moved from the traditional geographic school district superintendent–led model to affinity-networks, schools select a network leader, a type of speed-dating. Schools that had an “affinity” with each other and an experienced educator would work together in a collegial setting.
With the end of Bloomberg’s third term and the ascension of de Blasio and Carmen Farina as chancellor the city returned to the classic superintendent model, except, what became the Affinity District.
A number of not-for-profits that had been supporting schools nimbly navigated the web of city politics. While the school system returned to the classic model the not-for-profits were clustered together, a school system within the larger school system.
The support organizations: New Visions for Public Schools ,International Network for Public Schools , NYC Outward Bound Schools , Urban Assembly, CUNY, and the Consortium Schools “look” like CMOs, charter management organizations.
While the support organizations work closely with their schools the Affinity District functions like a school system, albeit within the larger school system. A wide range of professional development activities emanating from schools needs, and, a twitter handle @AffinityNYCDOE
The schools cross the spectrum, from transfer schools dealing with the most disaffected students, to newcomers from across the world, to “waiver” schools to screened schools, from high achieving to schools that require considerable support.
My bottom line: there is no need for any charter secondary schools in New York City.
The Affinity District should become a model for the entire school system.
Terrance Deal and Kent Peterson, in one of my favorite books, Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership, write,
While policy makers and reformers are pressing for new structures and more rational assessments, it is important to remember that these changes cannot be successful without cultural support. School cultures are the key to school improvement and student learning.
The New York City teacher contract encourages “school-based options,” as well as supports staff in seeking school models that meet the needs of their students through a new contractual agreement, Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence,
PROSE is about school-level innovations. It offers schools the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which they function including the way teachers are hired, evaluated and supported; the way students and teachers are programmed; the handling of grievances; and certain city and state regulations. Schools in the program explore and implement a variety of innovations at their schools.
Teachers and school leaders must feel both ownership of their practice and support from the school district and they can build, together, strong school cultures; Affinity offers a richly supportive environment, with buy-ins from the union and external organizations.
New York City has a model that makes charter secondary schools unnecessary; a model, by the way, that should be fine-tuned and emulated.