Saturday, February 15, 2014

Charter School Growth, Bloomberg Style, Creates Dilemma for the de Blasio Administration- A Special Report to BK Nation


By Dr. Mark Naison
In today’s New York Post, an article appeared claiming that charter-school applications in New York City were 56 percent ahead of what they were at this time last year…putting pressure on the de Blasio administration to re-evaluate its efforts to slow charter expansion.
Those numbers are REAL. They reflect the desperation of inner-city and working-class parents who hope to find high-performing, safe schools for their children and see charters as the best hope for that.
However, they are making that judgment, based on what they observe in their own neighborhoods — not because of the inherent superiority of charter schools — but because the Bloomberg Administration rigged the game by giving huge preference to charter schools — both substantively and symbolically — and by using charters not as a strategy to improve public education in the city, but as a wedge to privatize it and to smash the influence of the city’s teachers union.
The challenge of the de Blasio Administration is see what happens when the competition is even, and when public schools are given the resources, encouragement and support that charters were given in the Bloomberg years. When and if that happens, the demand for charters is likely to decrease as parents see public schools in their neighborhood improve dramatically and innovative new public schools open in their neighborhoods.
Under the Bloomberg Administration — aided and abetted by police systems of the state and federal departments of education — charter schools were consciously selected over public schools as the preferred alternative when low-performing public schools were closed. This preference was manifested in several important ways:
• Charters were given facilities in public schools rent-free.
• In schools where they were co-located with public schools, the charters were given preferential access to auditoriums, gymnasiums, laboratories, and often put in the most desirable locations in the buildings.
• Although charters selected their students by lottery, they were allowed to weed out students who had disciplinary problems, or who performed poorly on standardized tests. As a result, according to Ben Chapman of the Daily News, only six percent of charter students are ELL students and nine percent are special-needs students…far lower than the city average for public schools.
• When you count space, charters received more city funding than public schools, and when you add to that private contributions that they solicited, charters spent significantly more per student than public schools.
• Community organizations and universities willing to start new schools were encouraged by the NYC Department of Education to start charter schools rather than public schools.
These preferences had an absolutely devastating effect on inner city public schools, which were in the same neighborhood as the charters. In the case of schools who had charter co-location, it led to humiliating exclusion from school facilities that they once had access to, leaving their students starved of essential resources. But in the case of all inner-city public schools, it led to a drain of high- performing students, whose parents put them in charters, and an influx of ELL students, special-needs students and students pushed out of charters for disciplinary problems–taxing those schools’ resources and making it much more difficult for them to perform well on standardized tests. The school-closing policies of the Bloomberg Administration added to the stress on those already hard-pressed schools, forcing their staffs to work under the threat of closure and of exile to the infamous “rubber room” for teachers.
What occurred was a “tale of two school systems” within inner-city neighborhoods — one favored, given preferential access to scare resources…hailed as the “savior” of inner-city youth…the others demonized, stigmatized, deprived of resources, threatened with closure and deluged with students that charter schools did not want.
If you were a parent, which school would you want to send your child to?
But what happens when the game is no longer rigged? When charter schools have to pay rent? When they can’t push out ELL and special-needs students? When facilities in co-located schools are fairly distributed? When schools are no longer given letter grades and threatened with closing, but are given added resources when they serve students with greater needs? When universities and community organizations are encouraged to start innovative public schools…not just create charters?
If all those things happen — and I expect that some of them will during the next few years of a de Blasio/Farina Department of Education — then public schools in the inner city will gradually improve…charters in those neighborhoods will become less selective…and students, on the whole, will have enhanced choice and opportunity because there will be more good schools in the city.
The current hunger to enroll students in charter schools is understandable, given the policies pursued by the Bloomberg Administration, but those policies, which undermined public education, did not enhance opportunity for all students, and pitted parent against parent and school against school in a competition for scarce resources.
The de Blasio policy of restoring public schools to public favor is a sound one, and should be pursued carefully, humanely, and with respect for the hunger of parents and students of New York City for outstanding educational options.

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