Charter Schools in NYC

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.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan

    Completely agree. The Charter Schools are the only new point of innovation in our public school system.

  2. Lisa Mogull

    I’m all for fixing the “entire public school system, getting rid of dead wood teachers, layers of management and build curriculums for the 21st century.” The education public school children are getting leaves them seriously behind. The level of achievement at my son’s school (which got an “A”) is so poor that every 5th grader I know who took the private school entrance test was baffled by the vocabulary. The kids who tested well on the state tests still got crappy scores. Not one was accepted anywhere.As a public school parent I’m against the charter schools using public school facilities. My son goes to school in a building that houses 3 others. They have no library (the schools all argue over who should pay for it), only have gym once-a-week and have few after-school options because of the crowding, lack of funding and bickering over space. There are no clubs, no school newspaper and no boys sports (the girls have volleyball and track).The charter schools have enough money to send mailings, advertise on billboards and public transit while the public schools have to beg parents to buy pencils and paper towels. It’s just not fair. The charter school movement is supported by many wealthy people who make huge donations. At my son’s school the annual benefit auction doesn’t make enough to fund anything substantial. Since public schools aren’t a trendy cause there are no rich donors waiting to fund anything (Donors Choose notwithstanding and they are truly appreciated).We recently toured the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering a school where the kids have to earn a place (test scores, attendance, report cards). During the tour we saw a beautiful working swimming pool and got all excited. Sadly, the public school kids can’t use the pool; it’s only for the charter school housed in the building.Innovation is absolutely necessary, but, innovation in education should effect all the students, not just the few served by charters. The current charter system just sets up another layer of unfairness.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I totally see your point.It is tough but movement is necessary in order that eventually all the public schools will have great facilities and fantastic teachers. It would be impossible to tear apart the public school system. It has to rebuilt from outside in order to make changes within. The charter school movement has done that. What is unfortunate is that they can not take every kid under their wing. Hopefully one day.

      1. Lisa Mogull

        I almost always agree with you but not in this instance…Innovation for the future benefit of all should not punish some today. Either the charter schools should use separate facilities or they should allow kids in the same buildings to benefit from the physical improvements. As things are now public school parents/students feel victimized by the charter school movement. The kids can’t see the different/better curriculum. But, when there is a charter in a public school building the public school students have bigger class sizes and can’t use all the facilities. They see that and don’t understand why they aren’t entitled to the same enriched environment. If there is a library or swimming pool in a school building all the children should be able to use it. That would lessen the tension between the communities.The situation reminds me of this George Orwell quote from Animal Farm “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

        1. Gotham Gal

          fair enough.

  3. Kimberly Torres

    This is great! What a great letter. As someone who works at a NYC Charter, I couldn’t have said it better myself.Thanks for posting!#charterswork

  4. AG

    I wish someone could explain to me why teachers unions still exist and why the public school system can’t be fixed from the inside. I know the issues are complex and I am not informed enough on the topic, but on the most basic level, it just baffles my mind that this country can’t get it together when it comes to our future.

    1. Gotham Gal

      unions were good when they were good. now they are taking from students education. it is like a large company. layers are built and are literally impossible to take off unless someone actually can make decisions and do it. in public companies which is basically what the school system is, a decision maker at the top makes zero difference b/c getting things passed and changes must go through committee after committee. unfortunate but true.

  5. Leslie

    https://www.commondreams.or… This is an essential read to add to further investigation. Your conclusions in my opinion, are oversimplified and based largely and understandably on your own kids experience. Any definition of ” Liberal” would ( to me), suggest progress for the greater good. Privatization benefits, and perpetuates the elite in our society and further disadvantages the already disadvantaged. That smacks of conservatism.

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting article but i have actually spent some time in the public school system. it is not so pretty.

  6. Leslie

    I know it is not pretty and absolutely needs to be reformed but unless your content with improvements for a few and shit for the majority , charter schools are not the answer.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i believe there are several answers. charter schools are just one piece.

    2. Leslie

      I still maintain you were right before. It’s just a thicker , deeper slog to concern ourselves with the larger public and the longer future. I understand the impulse to protect and seek the best for one’s own family, but change for a few is not acceptable to me. And postponing change for the many is what we have been up to for too long.

  7. jonathanc

    I think your comment “Hiring a 70 year old woman to run the New York City Public School system would not fit under that category” is off base. I was a parent of a PS6 student when Carmen Fariña was the principal. I also am a former LREI parent, so I understand something about what you experienced there. My kids have gone to other NYC public schools and other private schools, too. Carmen was an outstanding principal. She constantly was in the classrooms, talking to the kids and teachers (and parents). She innovated in a way I’ve not seen in any other schools (public or private). Carmen figured out which teachers she wanted to keep and which ones were phoning it in — and got rid of the bad ones. And she has experience in the bureaucracy from being Deputy Chancellor. The downside was she was a dictator — it was her way or the highway. Simply saying hiring a 70 year old is a bad idea — well, you kinda’ know what that sounds like.i am torn on the Charter School concept. Down deep I think that small change is better than no change. And system wide change is so unlikely that it is functionally equivalent to no change. But I am horrified that a kid has to look at a beautiful pool or brand new library and can’t take advantage of it because they weren’t enrolled in the Charter. Charging rent doesn’t seem to be an appropriate equalizer either.Friends who are teachers say that many Charter schools are actually very formulaic, not child-centered at all, and that the staff is often very unhappy. If that is true — and it is a broad generalization based on anecdote — it would be a pity.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Fair enough on the 70 year old comment but a new fresh thinker would be nice.I agree with you on the charter school. Small change is better than no change. Kids having to look at a pool that they can not dip their toe in is so not ok.Charter schools that I have visited are very formulaic but that works for many of the kids that attend. There is data to prove it. I’d prefer to see schools that embrace both the left brain and left brain in charter schools but reality is that there is no silver bullet.The only thing that must change is disruption of the entire public school system particularly in urban areas. Not sure it is possible to do that from inside. If it was then I actually believe that it would have been done years ago as it has been attempted by several really good mayors. I don’t think DeBlasio is going at it in a productive way but just returning to the hopes to status quo and relying on the union. Not a wise move for change.

      1. jonathanc

        I would have voted for Sal Khan for Chancellor, but that might have been a bit too far off the reservation for Bill.

  8. pointsnfigures

    Great post. I totally agree on charter schools. Democrats (and many Republicans) need to come around to that-but can’t because of teacher’s unions and entrenched hierarchy. The state of Louisiana had a gigantic redo after Katrina and made charters a big part of its educational policy. They are doing better than they did before. My wife and I followed a similar path in Chicago-left the burbs for the city and enrolled in a progressive school (we are conservatives btw). School vouchers are also something that needs to happen. Having great schools is the civil rights issue of our time, and affects everyone equally.

  9. Lisa Mogull

    From today’s NYT: Gilded Crusade for Charters Rolls Onward”

  10. pointsnfigures… This article will enlighten those that think the teachers unions don’t have fangs.

    1. Gotham Gal


  11. Jlix

    this is a great discussion and i appreciate that it has not become contentious. i also had a daughter at LREI–after 8 great years, we left for a small public HS. It was absolutely the right decision for us–our daughter needed a change and more importantly she needed a much more diverse environment (she is not white). Her new school is progressive: small classes, no regents, PBA’s–, young extremely passionate teachers, a student body that is insanely diverse. she is thriving there. It is truly bare bones though– no music, very little art, one foreign language choice (spanish). We can (and do) supplement but many parents there cannot. It amazes me that this school– a very successful place with a close to 100% graduation rate and wonderful college admissions finds its budget slashed every single year–and yes, we parents bring in paper, toner, pencils etc. My daughter has a wonderful peer group of kids who are hard workers and delighted to be at the school and that makes up for a lot–

  12. andyswan

    Good parents don’t let good parents send their kids public school.As the product of public schools, and the son of a public school teacher, it pains me to say that. But they are a failure… a jobs program and a babysitting service. Diversity and esteem are held in higher regard than academic excellence.The only reason these “schools” are in business is because they have the power of government confiscation behind them. Move to a voucher system and make them compete for their funding like everyone else in this world.Edit: Good luck with comrade deBlasio… I have a bad feeling you guys are going to get what you voted for there :/

    1. Gotham Gal

      not sure that there is anyone behind the school system that could figure out how to compete and put in for vouchers. i guess there in lies the problem.

      1. andyswan

        I hear you.

    2. pointsnfigures

      I am a product of public schools, with a father who was a public school teacher. It’s a tragedy.