Is it time for New York City Charter Schools to be absorbed into a redesigned New York City School System?

In December, 1998 Governor Pataki bundled a salary increase for state legislators with the creation of the charter school law in a lame duck session of the state legislature.  Needless to say, both passed.

Now, twenty-five years later; has the law achieved its purposes? (See Charter School law here).

The law established two authorizers, the State Education Department and the SUNY Charter School Institute. The State Education Department created Charter School Frameworks. (See Charter School Frameworks) and are woefully understaffed and can’t monitor the well-intentioned Frameworks.

The charter school law requires charters schools to:

* Improve student learning and achievement;

*Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure;

*Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;

* 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.

Again, have charter schools achieved the goals established in the law?

The law sets a cap on the number of charter schools in the state which includes a cap for New York City; the cap has been reached in New York City and Governor Hochul is supporting abolishing geographic caps, allowing about 85 new charters to be sited in New York City. (See numbers of charter schools here)

 The local school boards, called Community Education Councils have no role in the Charter School creation or siting process. Charter schools are either co-located in existing schools or placed in private sites; the rent paid by the city, the Charter Law was amended by Cuomo to add this section.

In his recent Albany testimony Mayor Adams, who has been a supporter of charter schools, opposed the lifting of the cap explaining the city could not afford the estimated billion dollars in rent for new charter schools.  In the June, 2021 mayoral primary candidate Adams received $6.9 million in “independent expenditures” from charter supporters.. Under Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision political contribution is speech and limitations on contributions would violate First Amendment rights.

There are two categories of charter schools: network schools, organizations that manage groups of charter schools, functioning, in effect, as school districts. for example, Success Academy, Achievement First,, Uncommon Schools,, Harlem Children’s Zone; the network charter schools are richly funded through philanthropy and the officers are well-compensated (See Success Academy here , Achievement First here. Eva Moskowitz is paid far more than Chancellor Banks)

Community charter schools, sometimes referred to as “Mom and Pop” schools; schools operated by local not-for-profits, schools that clearly have struggled, frequently not meeting the goals in their charter.

A few years ago I was at a forum; a public school parent and a charter school parent were involved in a discussion. The public school parent was arguing,

”Charter schools throw out kids who are discipline problems, don’t take kids with disabilities and English language learners and substitute test prep for meaningful instruction.”

The charter school parent responded, “That’s exactly why I send my children to charter schools.”

We need one school system, not competing systems,

 Again, have charter schools achieved the goals set out in the law?

Do charter schools, “Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure?”

Have charter schools Encourage (d) the use of different and innovative teaching methods?

 Have charter schools “Provide (d) 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?

The answer, clearly, is “no.”

If we define “students who are at risk of academic failure” as students with disabilities and English language learners the answer of a resounding “no.”  Charter schools enroll smaller numbers of at-risk students and try to accept students with easier to remediate handicaps. (See detailed analysis here)

There is no evidence of “innovative teaching methods,” au contraire, instruction is heavily test preparation dominated.

And, I fail to understand what change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools established under this article accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results means: all schools must meet “measurable student achievement results.”

What should happen to charter schools?

Inside the Department of Education there are 150 schools “managed” by charter management-like organization (CMO), a remnant of the last years of the Bloomberg administration, called the Affinity District. Six not-for-profits provide the same level of services as the charter school management organizations supra, or more. New Visions for Public Schools, the Urban Assembly, CUNY Affinity SchoolsOutward BoundInternationals Network and NY Performance Consortium.

Norm Fruchter at the MY Metro Center wrote in detail about the origins and function of the Affinity District (Read here).

The UFT contract supports school-based options, changes in Department of Education regulations and teacher union contractual requirements approved by the staff and the principal and Board and Union hierarchy. Additionally the Board and the Union created an initiative called PROSE (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.

I propose that Charter School Networks be combined with the Affinity District within the Department of Education umbrella.

The Community Charter schools can either join an Affinity Network or come under the jurisdiction of their local school district.

Charter schools networks in New York City would become part of the Department of Education, albeit, if they choose, the ability to function in the Affinity District and/or under the PROSE initiative or simply as a school in a school district.

I realize a heavy lift, the mayoral control model has fruitlessly nibbled around the edges, the 1800 schools in New York City have been adrift for too long.

We need smaller, “thinner,” more manageable districts, with an emphasis on school and district-based decision-making.

Merging Charter networks and the Affinity networks would be a model for other school districts across the nation,

How can we accomplish this giant step?

It is likely that the legislature will explore alternatives to mayoral control after the passage of the budget. Last year that legislature resoundingly rejected Governor Hochul’s plan to grant a four year extension to mayoral control within the budgeting process. Post budget the legislature expanded the size of the PEP (Board of Education), adding parent members; however, the mayoral appointees are still a majority. The legislature should create a task force, with a sunset provision, to redesign school governance: empowering the local Community Education Councils, reconfiguring the PEP (Board), perhaps moving back to appointees by the Mayor (2), Borough Presidents (5), City Council (1) and Comptroller (1) and, begin the phase-out of charter schools.

We have a weakened governor and a progressive legislature with overwhelming democratic majorities, a moment in time to correct the error of 1998.

5 responses to “Is it time for New York City Charter Schools to be absorbed into a redesigned New York City School System?

  1. NYC public schools have lost 200,000 students in the last few years. Of the remaining 813,000 students, a third are Long Term Absentees.”

    Given such dismal performance, it would be a serious error to determine that this is a politically opportune moment to add 275 charter schools to a district struggling with the students it currently has.


  2. The existence of Charter Schools has weakened and hobbled the Public School system, and increased the burden on ( some) parents to make difficult choices.


  3. Eric Nadelstern: Thank you for your flawed opinion that I think is probably just as flawed as this one from billionaire Bloomberg about your leadership abilities.

    “He was among those whose expertise Mayor Bloomberg cited in his explanation for why a non-educator could be successful heading the nation’s largest school system.”

    Once I read Bloomberg’s opinion, that’s all I had to know, since he is also a non-educator, but billionaires often think they are experts and have a solution for everything, just because they have a lot of money. We already know that Donald Trump thinks that way, too.

    The original concept of charter schools was to allow teachers, inside real public school districts, to decide how they teach and how those schools should work without interference from administration and non-educators.

    Public funds should not be used to fund private sector charter schools that end up making a few people a lot of money. Private sector charter schools that also do not have to follow the same rules that public schools must follow, rules that came about through legislation from elected representative at the state and federal level. Private charter schools that are allowed to be opaque and secretive while the legislated rules requires public schools to be transparent. Private charter schools that bully students while the legislated rules doesn’t allow public schools to abuse students. It’s amazing how much non-educators can get away with when you do not have to follow the legislated laws and rules that are there to protect public school children and the people that work in those public schools.

    I’m a real educator. I earned my teaching credential through a full year urban residency, and then taught for thirty years in real public schools. I retired by choice in 2005, because of opinionated non-educators filling too many admin positions and managing from the top down.

    The one thing I learned about the non-educator administrators I suffered under during those thirty years was that non-educators are almost always micromanagers that bully from the top down, and they were almost always wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to micromanage public schools or public school districts.

    The best principal I worked under was Ralph Pagan and he believed in managing from the bottom up by empowering teachers to make most of the decisions and supporting them. Imagine that novel idea, schools run the way teachers would do it (the way they do it in Finland where it works great, the way charter schools were supposed to work).

    With Pagan’s style of managing, he turned a middle school around that was considered the most dangerous and worst middle school in the San Gabriel Valley, a real success story. I know. I was there, teaching. That was my first full time teaching job. Ralph hired me.

    Unfortunately, the top down district administration full of non-educators almost killed Ralph from pressure to do it their way, top down, even after he pulled off a miracle by managing a public school the right way, bottom up.

    Pagan even included interested students in the bottom up process, who were part of his teacher management teams.

    The child poverty rate in Giano Middle School in La Puente, California was somewhere between 80 to 100%. I suspect it hasn’t changed much since the late 1970s and early 1980s when I taught there. In 1989, I transfered to the high school where Giano’s students went, where I taught until 2005.

    I haven’t forgotten the first staff meeting I attended at Giano where Ralph told his staff to never to leave campus and take a walk through the local community because we might vanish and our bodies would never be found. The local multi generational, mostly adolescent street gangs around Giano were that dangerous. Still, those few years with Ralph as my principal I remember as my best years as teacher.


  4. Pingback: Teachers, Teacher Unions and Parents As the Defenders of Public Education | Ed In The Apple

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