Charter Schools in NYC

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I have no problem to admit I was wrong.  I was brought up in the public school system in a wealthy suburb of DC/Maryland.  As most people do they follow what they know and where they came from so I always believed in the public school system and certainly wanted to follow that path for our kids at one point.  

We were living in the suburbs when Jessica started elementary school.  Her first teacher was a delight.  Happy, cheerful, engaging kindergarten teacher.  Just what you want.  Her second teacher not so much.  She had been at it for 40 years and she was just showing up.  She had zero interest in doing anything that would challenge the kids outside of her box.  I actually spoke to the principal about it but he just dismissed me.  Welcome to the public school system and unfortunately the unions behind the public school system that keep those teachers around.  The room for motivation and excitement is not built into the program.  Educating our kids with the best educators should be the number one priority in this country not insuring that a 40 year veteran still gets her paycheck.

We moved back to the city and put our kids in private school.  I had spent enough time in the public school system through MOUSE and knew that the best move for us and our kids was the school we chose, LREI.  What we liked about the school was the progressive curriculum and the fact that 25% of the operating budget went towards financial aid.  There is a commitment to diversty at the school and that was important to us.  

Fast forward Charter Schools start cropping up.  The concept being that they will build better schools for kids and do it through public funding.  Like technology start-ups that are disrupting old industries the Charter Schools are doing the same thing through public education.  How can we shake the trees of a system that is barely working.  I was not sold.  I thought we should just fix the public school system.  Slowly but surely the Charter Schools started to make a difference.  The data is there.  The kids in those schools who were the lucky few to get chosen through the lottery were not only staying in school they were excelling.  I admit it, I was wrong.  The Charter School system is a winner for families in NYC.  I'd even be so bold to say how do we get them to fix the entire public school system getting rid of dead wood teachers, layers of management and build curriculums for the 21st century.  

The city has elected Bill DeBlasio as our mayor for the next four years.  A man who has embraced an old time liberalism that really did not work so great 20 years ago (by the way I am a liberal).  Now is the time to create a new paradigm for what liberalism means.  Hiring a 70 year old woman to run the New York City Public School system would not fit under that category or would hiring the same old faces from years ago.  Aren't there some new forward thinkers out there to bring the city forward adapting what he ran on which is making the city work for everyone.  

He appears to be hell bent on getting rid of Charter Schools although I would bet many of the people who voted for him send their kids to those schools or wish they could.  Is DeBlasio just looking out for the unions or is he reading the actual data in regards to the success of the students at Charter schools?  

My friend wrote this letter to her city council member.  It is worth the read.  My fear is that the next four years will be equal of treading water with hopes that the city does not drown under stuck in the mud idealism that doesn't make sense in 2014.  

Council Member Mendez,

My husband and I have never been one-issue voters, but now that our son is thriving at Success Academy Union Square, fair treatment of charter schools is the yardstick by which we will measure our representatives.  Here’s a quick summary of our experience:

- At our neighborhood public school, our son had a mediocre teacher in a mostly homogenous environment (overwhelmingly white and Asian) that was not very challenging academically.

- Now, at Success Academy Union Square, our son has a spectacular teacher in a wonderfully diverse environment that embodies “joyful rigor.” 

Some people like to say that charter schools benefit from fewer ELL students, fewer students with disabilities, and a self-selecting population.  But in our case, our son attended kindergarten at a school reflecting our high-income neighborhood, so his attending 1st grade at Success Academy meant more students from low-income neighborhoods, and I presume no fewer students with disabilities—and that didn’t stop Success Academy from delivering a remarkably better education to our child than our neighborhood public school.  And of course the greater diversity + greater learning makes us cherish the experience he’s now getting at Success Academy.

We wouldn’t expect you to “favor” charter schools but we hope dearly that you will not punish them:

- Charging rent to charter schools—when charter schools already receive lower per-pupil funding, and regular public schools pay no rent—is punishment, not equal treatment.

- Charging higher rent to charter schools that have raised more private philanthropy makes sense for about 2 seconds.  Then you realize that these charter schools have succeeded at raising private philanthropy precisely because they have delivered great student outcomes.  I’m sure there’s an example of a charter school that has raised a lot of money simply because its founder knows a lot of rich people, but generally speaking, a charter school network’s fundraising is a good proxy for its performance in closing the achievement gap.  In other words, if you allow the NYC DOE to charge higher rent to charter schools that have raised private philanthropy, you will be seeking out and penalizing precisely those schools that are performing the best.  It’s effectively a tax on achievement, and conversely, a subsidy for underachievement.

- Such an approach will inflict even greater damage than the rent expense itself, because going forward, philanthropists will think that by donating to a charter school, they are triggering a new expense that will negate their own donation.  Imagine you’re in a position to donate money, and realize that if you give money to Success Academy, you will mark Success Academy as a “high fundraising” network of schools, thereby triggering a rent charge that will eat up the very donation you made.  Well, then you will stop donating.  I bet that for every $1 that the NYC DOE is thinking about charging in rent, the punished charter school will lose another 50 cents on top of that, in the form of philanthropists who no longer want to provide support.  So it’s not just a tax on achievement, but a scheme designed to “leverage” the damage inflicted on children.

We will vote, donate, and agitate based on your approach to the issues above.  Thank you for your consideration.

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