Charter schools in New York
Charter schools in New York are independent, not-for-profit public schools operating under a different set of rules than the typical state-run schools, exempt from many requirements and regulations. Any student eligible for publics schools can apply.
- 1 Authorizers
- 2 Governing state law
- 3 Growth of schools
- 4 Evaluations
- 5 Specific schools
- 6 Influence on non charters
- 7 Criticism
- 7.1 Emulation and choice through competition
- 7.2 Draining of resources from public schools
- 7.3 Management being for profit
- 7.4 Competition for space in public noncharter schools
- 7.5 Admission lottery
- 7.6 Scalability of model
- 7.7 CEO compensation
- 7.8 Turnover
- 7.9 Nepotism in contracts and hiring
- 7.10 Union representation
- 7.11 Supervision failures with disciplinary violence
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
A charter school may be authorized by the State University of New York (through its Charter Schools Institute), New York State's Education Department's Board of Regents, or the New York City Department of Education (through the Chancellor's office and the Deputy Executive Director).
Governing state law
State laws govern the establishing and supervision of charter schools. The New York Charter Schools Act of 1998, as amended, is codified as Education Law, §§ 2850–2857. Regulations appear in New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR).
Any locality that has authorization to establish charter schools may have local law governing the process.
Growth of schools
In New York City, the numbers have grown from 17 charter schools serving about 3,200 students in 2002 to 78 charter schools serving about 24,000 students in 2008. Currently, in 2017, there are 216 charter schools serving 106,600 students.
Statewide cap on number of schools
A maximum of 100 charter schools statewide was the limit in 1998 legislation, so legislators could determine their success before expansion. Whether to double the maximum was debated and the legislative bill was subjected to lobbying in 2007 before it passed.
In May 2015, the state Education Department rejected all 15 applications for new charter schools. Twelve of the rejected applicants would have been located in New York City. Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins explained the department rejected all of the applicants on the basis that they did not meet their academic standards. Citing concerns about pro-teacher union politics, CEO of the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools Jeremiah Kittredge countered "The timing and nature of these blanket rejections should raise serious concerns for New Yorkers". Kittredge continued that eliminating the charter cap would be a crucial step in correcting New York's education system, but the de Blasio administration maintained that the existing cap is sufficient to allow for "growth and innovation in the charter sector".
Government political support
In New York City, support by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for new charter schools was substantial but whether substantial mayoral support would continue after a new Mayor was elected in 2013 was, according to an official of Success Academy Charter Schools, unknown. According to reporter Michael Powell, "the charter school wars ... could define the next  mayoral election", with the teachers' union, some parents groups, and New York Communities for Change opposing more charters and Bloomberg helping StudentsFirstNY favor charters.
For political advocacy, according to Geoff Decker in 2012, while independent charter school operators tended to "quietly steer ... clear of front-line battles over ideology", some charter school group operators, including Success Academy Charter Schools, KIPP, Public Prep, and Uncommon Schools, "see charter schools as a weapon in a political fight against teachers unions to reform the larger school system and believe that the fight requires robust, hands-on organizing and lobbying efforts", and, in 2011, led a rally with 2,500 people.
The New York City Department of Education surveys parents and teachers, and, for 6th grade and higher, students, in every school every year about qualities of the school. Comparisons are possible where response rates are reasonably high. Results may indicate some of the strengths and weaknesses of a school. NYC School Survey results are published. According to Brill, "the central evidentiary value of charters like ... [Success Academies] .... [is that] [t]hey proved that intense, effective teaching could overcome poverty and other obstacles and that, as Klein liked to say, demography does not have to be destiny."
Among charter schools are Achievement First charter network, La Cima Elementary Charter School, Democracy Prep charter network, Harlem Children's Zone, Harlem Village Academy charter network, KIPP, Public Prep, Staten Island Community Charter School, and Success Academy Charter Schools. A list of charter schools is available from the Charter Schools Institute. A list of charter and public non charter schools is available from the New York State Education Department.
One charter school founded with its board chair as Randi Weingarten, who also then headed the United Federation of Teachers, a teachers' union, proposed collaboration between teachers and management and a normal-length school day. New York City public schools then-chancellor Joel Klein was "thrilled" for the school's founding, according to journalist Steven Brill, partly because once that school needed space in a public non charter school the union could not object to the principle of collocation and he could arrange for other charters to share space with non charters. Its first charter was approved in 2005. The renewal in 2010 was proposed to be limited to 3 years instead of the normal 5, because the school had "an ambiguous or mixed record of educational achievement", with only 34 percent of students being proficient in math when tested and 28 percent of students doing so in English.
Influence on non charters
Brill argues that the union contract for non charters may, in a few years, allow non charter principals to select and motivate their teachers.
Emulation and choice through competition
Former New York City School Chancellor Joel I. Klein argued that charters don't substitute for public non charters but do demonstrate improvements that non charters might emulate and, by letting parents choose schools, break the non charter monopoly.
Draining of resources from public schools
Arguments include that innovations in the charter schools should be provided in the non charter public schools, smaller class sizes require more financing and public non charters need that finance, and benefits should be provided to the many students in non charter public schools rather than to just the few attending charters, especially since students who are rejected by charters must be accepted by the public schools, so more support should go to public non charter schools.
However, charter schools receive less per-pupil funding from the State government than do public non charter schools, one legislative leader saying that charter schools have been claiming that being nonunion allows cost-saving.
Management being for profit
Whether charter schools should be either run by for-profit businesses or supported with for-profit management support organizations has been challenged. One side argues that money is going to pay profit (rather than to educate children) and therefore that for-profit managements should be banned. The other side argues that a for-profit management firm is assisting a school in producing academic results, the school can focus on academics and accountability, the firm can raise major funds, fewer than 12% of the charter schools are run for profit, and, in the case of charter authorizer State University of New York, the charter agreement is with the school's board of trustees and not with a management company. Relevantly, if the authorizer is the New York City Department of Education, the school's board of trustees has not-for-profit status.
Competition for space in public noncharter schools
There has been criticism that charter schools are often given space in public noncharter schools, constraining the latter. A counterargument is that, at least in New York City, the schools losing space are generally not educating well and the space is going to charter schools that generally do better at educating students. A counterargument to that is that the two sets of schools are not educating the same students, leaving students in the noncharter schools with fewer resources for their needs. A counterargument to that is that noncharter students generally may apply to other schools to get access to better education. A counterargument to that is that space is limited in many schools.
Another counterargument (to the argument that collocation constrains noncharters' space) is that the cost of renovating existing school space is far lower than the cost of renting, buying, or building fresh real estate.
Closing public noncharters & accommodating charters
A court ruled on March 26, 2010, that the City of New York government could not phase out or close certain public high schools currently. The number of schools subject to the court's decision is 19 and that includes 15 high schools. As a consequence, charter schools may not find space in those schools to move into at this time.
The order not to close the schools was granted by the court because the City had not complied with the recently-amended state law on Mayoral control of the public schools, requiring "meaningful community involvement" in the decision to close a school. "The judge wrote that the [educational] impact statement for ["Paul"] Robeson ["High School in Brooklyn"], for example, did not say where young mothers . . . could find similar programs [in the city] ["like one devised for mothers and pregnant teenagers . . . that offers day care and teaches parenting skills"]." A 20th school, a vocational high school, was slated for closing but the City had opted not to close it because of community feedback favoring preserving its automotive program; the court cited that as an example of what might result from proper procedure for community involvement. While the impact statements were provided online, respondents didn't deny that they were not distributed to parents and others as "hard copies . . . . Although some parents [and others] . . . may have computer and internet [sic] access, certainly not all do." Impact statements were often boilerplate in disclosing information about numbers of seats but not about specialized programs, some participants in the process were scripted when they should instead have been "part of the process of structuring those meetings", and question-and-answer sessions were not allowed at all the meetings where they should have been.
The ruling did not mean, in general, that failing schools couldn't be closed or that these 19 schools were not failing, but that the process applied for deciding on these closures at this time had not been complied with, and that compliance must be "strict". This decision does not prevent the City from closing the schools in the future if the proper procedure is followed.
Among the petitioners or official supporters of the lawsuit were the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Alliance for Quality Education, elected political office-holders Scott M. Stringer, Eric Adams, Bill Perkins, Hakeem Jeffries, Alan Maisel, Robert Jackson, Charles Barron, Erik Martin Dilan, Mark Welprin, and Lewis A. Fidler, several parents and school officials, and a teacher. Co-plaintiff Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and UFT president Michael Mulgrew supported the court's decision.
The Department of Education hopes to find other space for the charter schools (and new public schools) that would have moved into the public schools had they closed. "The New York City Charter School Center said in a statement that it will work with the city 'to assure that charter school students, teachers and parents aren't impacted by this turn of events.'"
When qualified applicants outnumber available capacity, a lottery is required, leaving some families disappointed when admission is denied despite otherwise qualifying. A film about the admission lottery at the Success Academy Charter Schools (then known as Harlem Success Academy), possibly typical of many admission lotteries, has been shown as The Lottery. It was inspired by a 2008 lottery.
Scalability of model
For charters to be a model for the larger public non charter school systems, teachers in the larger system have to be replaceable by teachers able to practice the more intense teaching model applied in charters, but some argue there may not be enough of the latter teachers available so that upgrading may take a decade, teachers' unions may resist replacement, and politicians may be unwilling to seek a difficult change that lacks much short-term benefit. Some disagree, for example, Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charter Schools arguing that scalability is hard but within reach.
Some chief executive officers of charter schools have been criticized for accepting pay that is substantially more than that of the New York City Schools Chancellor or the former State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor for running many more schools or colleges, respectively, with many more students. The New York City Chancellor shared management and support with approximately 62,000 nonteaching personnel in Fiscal Year 2009–2010. SUNY's Chancellor shared responsibility with 87,362 employees, including 54,162 non-faculty and 283 in system administration (estimates), as of November, 2009. The compensation has also been compared with that of first-year law firm associates and supported with the argument from political liberals that teachers and school leaders should be paid well for valuable and challenging work.
Nepotism in contracts and hiring
A journalistic investigation uncovered several charter schools awarding contracts or a teaching position to relatives of school leaders.
Most charter schools in the state do not offer union representation of teachers. Some organizing of charter school staff has led to unionization, although members at one school, the KIPP AMP Academy Charter School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y., have begun seeking an end to their union representation.
State law, enacted in 2007 with the doubling of the cap, requires union representation for larger charter schools except for those already existing, potentially impacting the financial viability of schools attempting to achieve economies of scale as their student enrollments grow.
Steven Brill, in his book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (2011), changed his position on charter schools and unions. He said that after two years of researching school reform, he understood the complexities. He reversed his view of union leader Randi Weingarten and suggested she run the New York City school system.
Supervision failures with disciplinary violence
At one school, New York City's Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI) found the school failed to adequately document incidents involving student violence and staff responses that included violence called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI). "'If everybody knows about a restraint and nobody reports it,' he [Commissioner Richard Condon] said, 'then it's not unfair to conclude they were covering it up.'" "The school serves some of the city's lowest-performing and troubled students who can be tough to handle."
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