Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/103 Thu, 29 Oct 2020 08:58:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What the Future of Education Looks Like https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9040-what-the-future-of-education-looks-like-stem-charter https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9040-what-the-future-of-education-looks-like-stem-charter robitics mathematics

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Late last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza proudly announced “record increases” in internet bandwidth in public school buildings – an important milestone because in a digital world, every school deserves good internet access.

But, the announcement invited more questions than it answered, especially in light of the Department of Education’s other recent announcement of planning to create or redesign 40 schools “of the future.” 

What is a “school of the future”? If it’s just faster internet, new computers, and fresh branding, it’s not going to create the kind of opportunity or change the system needs. We need to think bigger if we’re serious about giving public school students a chance to compete in a digital world.  

What new skills and knowledge will graduates need to find jobs in 10 years? What new kinds of literacy will they need to make sense of the world in 20 years? What social and moral education do kids need to live in a digital society?  

If our schools can’t answer these questions, we’re making cosmetic changes to the same outdated model.

Take a recent report by Burning-Glass Technologies, a premier labor market analyst. Burning-Glass looked at millions of job postings and identified 14 “New Foundational Skills” that translate to more money and more opportunity in the digital economy. Specifically, they found that skills in data analysis, computer programming, creativity, critical thinking, and project management are now essential across most good jobs.   

Yet, our schools today are not designed to teach, develop, or assess for most of these skills. Classrooms look nothing like the modern workplace, and the basic content required to graduate high school in New York State has barely changed in 50 years (though the state is finally starting down the long road to change these requirements).  

School schedules are a good example. Right now, students learn in 45- or 60-minute lessons, “punching in and out” of subjects, often working and being graded independently. In today’s workforce, most good jobs don’t work on shift schedules and almost everyone works in teams.  

Consider testing. So much of the debate revolves around whether or how often to test – not necessarily on what to test and why. How does the English Regents exam, a graduation requirement, assess writing? It asks kids to write a literary essay – an opening, a thesis, and a five-paragraph structure interpreting a novel. Good writing is critical for long-term success. But, when was the last time most of us wrote a literary essay at work?  

As the founding principal of the Urban Assembly Charter School for Computer Science (Comp Sci High for short), we’re working to do things differently – what and how kids learn, develop in-demand skills, and generate a pipeline of tech talent in the Bronx. We’re attempting to build a school of the future, and we’re showing that schools can teach history and HTML, that we can focus on integers and internships.

We’re looking at trends in the labor market and in society and working backwards to redesign curricula. Policymakers and school designers should do the same.

First, we need to build in more flexibility. School isn’t a factory and kids aren’t identical cogs in a machine. Flexibility starts from both a curricular standpoint and a scheduling one. We must recognize that within a class of 30 high school students, kids will grasp concepts at different rates and have different interests. Consequently, learning in the classroom and course pathways in a school need to be more personalized. Why, exactly, does everyone still need to learn chemistry but not computing?  

Instead, content and curriculum can and should be personalized using technological tools and creative scheduling.

Next, we need to redesign curricula with a focus on both skills and knowledge. Understanding how to work on a team, to delegate, to work collaboratively and independently, and solve open-ended problems – these are a few of the core skills that aren’t included in most academic standards or curricula.

We also need to modernize graduation requirements to align with preparedness for the labor market. If foundational skills – human skills, digital building block skills, and business processes – are valued by employers, then we need to rethink not just what we’re teaching but what we’re testing. School isn’t only about getting a job. But, that should be part of the promise we make to kids when we tell them to stay in school and work hard. And yet, right now we have many thousands of high school and college students graduating with few career prospects and a lot of debt.   

We need a clearer relationship between what kids learn in school and what they might do afterward. That means rethinking what and how kids learn from top to bottom. Without that level of change, school really will become just an academic exercise.

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David Noah is the Principal of Urban Assembly Charter School for Computer Science, the city’s first career and technical education charter school.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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What the Future of Education Looks Like Thu, 09 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Why the Charter School Proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Shouldn’t Be Controversial https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9027-why-charter-school-proposals-by-bernie-sanders-and-elizabeth-warren-shouldn-t-be-controversial https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9027-why-charter-school-proposals-by-bernie-sanders-and-elizabeth-warren-shouldn-t-be-controversial children school

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Recently, a group of charter school supporters received media attention by protesting at an Elizabeth Warren campaign event, claiming she wants to shut down all charter schools. This is categorically untrue. No one, not Elizabeth Warren, not Bernie Sanders, not even public school advocates like ourselves, is pushing to unilaterally shut down existing non-profit charter schools.

Rather, both Warren and Bernie Sanders have released plans that demand a bare minimum of accountability from existing charter schools -- including financial and operational transparency and requirements that they serve all students. Both presidential candidates also propose ending the federal grant program for new charter schools, imposing a moratorium on charter expansion, and banning for-profit charter schools.

As a former charter school parent and a former charter school teacher, we support these proposals – and we believe, that if implemented both at the federal level and with a similar approach at the state level, this agenda would actually improve charter schools while also limiting some of the harm they have done to district public schools.

First, a little about our experiences, which are, sadly, far from unique. 

I, Liat, spent my first year teaching at a Brooklyn charter school that was started by non-educators and suffered from extreme turnover in administrators and staff. We had six principals over the course of the first year, and ten teachers either quit or were fired. We also lost special education students because our school wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the services they needed. Instead, they were sent to nearby public schools. Now that I work in a public school in District 14, we experience the reverse process -- my school has no choice but to accept the many students pushed out by charter schools when they don’t conform to their rigid academic or behavioral expectations.

I, Fatima, am a single mother whose son was suspended over 30 times by his charter school, Upper West Success Academy, starting in first grade, including for very minor issues, such as walking up the stairs too slowly. He was also denied his mandated special education services, which worsened the situation. The school demanded that I pick him up so frequently in the middle of the day that I was forced to drop out of college myself. When I finally pulled him out of the school, his therapist told me he suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

Then when my son and I were subsequently interviewed on the PBS Newshour about how he had been treated at the school, Success Academy officials at the network sent copies of his disciplinary files, full of trumped-up charges, to every education reporter they could find and posted it online. Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, also recounted false stories about his behavior in her published memoirs. 

Although the US Department of Education eventually found her and the school guilty of violating the federal student privacy law called FERPA more than three years after I filed my initial complaint, Success officials have refused to comply with the law and continue to retaliate in the same way against other parents who dare to speak out against the unfair treatment of their children by releasing their confidential files to reporters. Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department has confirmed that Success Academy has systematically failed to provide students with their mandated special education services, even after having been ordered to do so by hearing officers.

Since my son left Success Academy, he is slowly recovering, and is now doing better in high school, but it took him years to undo the damage he experienced. I have met many other parents whose children suffered similar or worse fates. Success Academy charters are currently facing five different federal education lawsuits for violating student rights, and yet are the fastest growing charter chain in the state of New York, having received more than $60 million in grants from the federal government since 2006 to aid in their expansion and replication.

Now let’s look at the Warren and Sanders proposals, which call for more accountability and oversight for the charter sector.

Both senators say if elected president, they would end the federal grant program known as the Charter School Program (CSP) that funds new charter schools. Aside from funding the expansion of chains like Success, a recent report revealed that this grant program has awarded more than $1 billion in start-up funds to charters that failed to open or quickly closed. At the same time, both candidates support increasing federal Title I funding, which would financially benefit most charter schools as well as district public schools that serve a high-poverty student population. 

Warren would quadruple Title One funding, increase IDEA funding for students with special needs, and press states to boost their own education funding and make it more progressive.  Sanders would triple Title I funds, increase IDEA funding, and provide schools with more funding to reduce class sizes. Charter schools would be eligible to receive all of this funding as well as public schools.

At the same time, both candidates also call for stronger charter oversight, and would ban for-profit charter schools and those that outsource operations to for-profit managers, which have been found to be particularly prone to fraud. And both call for a moratorium on charter school growth, following the lead of the NAACP and Black Lives Matter, which have made this a central point in their advocacy, because charter schools have worsened school segregation and the school to prison pipeline through "no excuses" disciplinary practices that lead to excessive suspensions and expulsions. 

The NAACP has also expressed concern about how, increasingly, public funds are “diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system,” even as many public schools already lack the resources they need to provide a well-rounded education.

Here in New York City, charter schools siphon more than $2.1 billion per year from the Department of Education’s budget, and take up an increasing amount of space in public school buildings, where more than half-a-million students suffer in overcrowded buildings. If the city refuses to offer space to new charters in public schools, they must help pay for their rent in private spaces, which is costing taxpayers an additional $100 million a year. A recent report from Class Size Matters found that the DOE has been paying millions of dollars each year to charter schools to rent space in buildings owned by their charter management company or an affiliated LLC or foundation.

In 2013, the credit rating agency Moody’s warned investors that the rise in charter school enrollments would likely cause negative pressure on public school budgets. Several studies since have confirmed that charter expansion has caused serious harm to district finances in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and California, putting at risk these essential democratic institutions.

We support parent “choice” as long as this doesn’t undermine the ability of children, wherever they attend school, to receive a quality education in safe and caring learning environments. But many charter school advocates do not seem interested in basic accountability and transparency measures that would benefit students enrolled in both charter and DOE public schools. Rather, “choice” has become a euphemism for another aim -- not to improve or defend existing charter schools -- but to dismantle and eliminate as many traditional public schools as possible. This is the end-game of many of the charter movement’s billionaire backers, like the Walton family, the Koch brothers, and Betsy DeVos.

By articulating a need for minimal accountability so that charter schools operate equitably and humanely, and by ending special federal funding streams that encourage unchecked charter growth, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are simply trying to ensure that all students are able to attend schools that will help them thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. There should be no controversy about these essential goals.

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Liat Olenick is a public school teacher in Brooklyn. Fatima Geidi is a parent.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Why the Charter School Proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Shouldn’t Be Controversial Thu, 02 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Top Charter School Advocate on the Controversial Sector’s Strengths and Weaknesses https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8747-top-charter-school-advocate-on-the-controversial-sector-s-strengths-and-weaknesses https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8747-top-charter-school-advocate-on-the-controversial-sector-s-strengths-and-weaknesses gov attends charter

(photo: the governor's office)


James Merriman has been involved in the charter school movement in New York since its inception 20 years ago, first as the general counsel for the Charter Schools Institute and now, for the last 12 years, as CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, a leading charter school advocacy and resource group.

“My parents were both professors. I thought I was going to be a professor. It’s all anybody did in my house,” Merriman said in a recent interview. “And the notion of being involved in education and giving all children the ability to participate fully in our civic, political, and economic life is very important to me. It was then, and it’s what still motivates me today.”

As such, Merriman has been in the middle of many policy and political fights over the years as the controversial charter school sector — public schools that are privately run — of the city’s education system has grown significantly. There were roughly 119,000 students enrolled in 235 charter schools for the 2018-2019 school year, good for 66% growth in student enrollment since 2014, while enrollment in the city’s traditional public schools has declined.

But while he has a prominent role in often-tense education debates, Merriman strikes a calm, stoic demeanor, tries to be a consensus builder, and is one of few top charter sector figures readily willing to acknowledge charters’ shortcomings.

Reflecting on the two-decade charter school movement in New York, Merriman said that originally the schools were to be “labs of innovations,” but have expanded beyond that as they succeeded, and now form a “parallel alternative” to the traditional public school system in the city. Merriman discussed the sector’s trajectory, reasons he believes New York City charter schools have been successful, and how the schools can and should improve during an appearance on the latest episode of the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.

Merriman said at first the charter school movement was so “upstart” and “revolutionary” that at the time he did not think they would grow beyond that.

“I think, though, as time went on, as they succeeded, as parents demanded more of them, as educators wanted to start more charters, they’ve become a significant part,” Merriman said. “Obviously [WTDP’s] number of the day represents about 10% of students in New York City. We are larger than Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester combined by a significant amount. We’re bigger than Denver in total students.”

As the future of charter schools in the city is somewhat more uncertain than in past years, Merriman weighed in on several key ongoing debates, including about student enrollment and discipline, teacher turnover, the appropriate size of the sector, why charter school students perform so well on state tests, and more.

“There are some people who would say we should not even be the size we are,” Merriman said. “And then there are people who say the natural growth is until parents stop wanting more charter schools.”

The goal of the charter school sector is not to become a replacement to the traditional public school system or even to make up half of the city’s public schools, Merriman said, but to provide parents good choices for their children.

The intent is to grow until there are no longer wait lists, he said, welcoming the idea that traditional district schools improve to the point that there is no longer such demand for charters.

“I wouldn’t say the goal is any specific number,” Merriman said. “The goal is to reach a point where we no longer have parents who aren’t getting a seat if they want one. I don’t know what that number is. I’m going to tell you, though, it’s well, well short of 50%. I just don’t see that at all in any realistic thing. Lots and lots of parents are happy with their district school they’re sending their child to.”

Applications for charter school seats have far surpassed the number of those available, with tens of thousands on wait lists. However, no more charters can be issued as New York City hit the state-imposed cap this past March and legislators declined to work with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a long-time charter school supporter, to lift the cap before the end of the legislative session in June. Charter schools are still growing, however, given that many continue to add new grades — the charter sector is predominantly elementary schools, and schools often build out over years.

Merriman said the charter school center and its allies will continue to try to convince the state Legislature to raise the cap. One of the biggest opponents of charter school growth is Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been sharply critical of the sector, especially Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, who is often the face and voice of charter schools in New York given that her network makes up 14% of charter students in the city. De Blasio has said he is opposed to raising the charter cap.

Charter schools are concentrated in Central Brooklyn, Upper Manhattan, and the South Bronx, Merriman said, generally where there are many students of color and low-income students, and struggling traditional district schools. Merriman said about 82% of charter school students are low-income. Around 90% of charter school students enrolled in 2017-2018 were black or Hispanic, according to the Charter School Center.

“The ethos was that we would help those students who are in need and who are at risk of academic failure and who, historically, have not been well-served,” Merriman said. “And so that’s why you see those concentrations there.”

Charter school students have far outperformed district students on statewide assessments, according to an analysis of State Education Department data by the Charter School Center. In 2018, around 60% of charter school students scored proficiently in math assessments compared to 43% of district students.

Black and Hispanic students in charter schools also outperform those in public school as 30% of black charter school students scored at Level 4 proficiency (the highest level) in math compared to only 8% of those in traditional public schools.

Merriman said the test score success in charter schools comes from “what is being taught in the classroom” and that principals are more focused on academics than paperwork, often hiring a top aide to handle compliance and operations, and give robust teacher feedback, which then benefits students.

“While test scores aren’t everything, and state tests aren’t everything, they’re not nothing, either,” Merriman said. “We need to make sure that our kids have basic skills in the early grades or there is no way that we are going to be able to do complex math and English language, arts and history down the road.”

Merriman acknowledged that there are still ways the charter school system can improve. As the conversation turned to teacher turnover, which the Manhattan Institute noted in a 2018 report is higher in charter schools than traditional public schools, Merriman said teachers leave charter schools because of the difficulty of the work and how much is expected of them.

Merriman said some schools are trying to figure out how to keep a sense of urgency and focus while working with teachers (though he didn’t specify how) who may leave after 3 to 5 years due to the difficulty of the work. He said, though, that the larger networks may see the turnover rate as more of a model than an issue. Most charter schools do not have unionized teaching staff.

“As long as they think kids are doing well, if that means that most people can’t hack it in their view, well, that’s the way it’ll be,” Merriman said. “I think others think probably they’re not going to have people who work 20 or 30 years with them, that they’re trying to make sure they move from an average of say three-and-a-half years, ideally, to six or seven years.”

Some have also criticized charter schools for harsh “no excuses” discipline practices, which means harsh discipline and high suspension rates for their mostly black and Hispanic students, leading networks like KIPP to announce policy changes. Merriman said among charter schools there has already been a “reckoning” that discipline policies need to be changed, but that not all of the work has been done yet.

“People have revamped not just discipline codes, because I don’t think that’s really the issue,” Merriman said, “They’ve revamped how they think about kids. The shift, if you will, is I think in the past the notion was the children will fit the program. I think there’s a reckoning and an understanding we need to make sure the program fits the kids where they are.”

LISTEN to the full interview with James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center

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by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Top Charter School Advocate on the Controversial Sector’s Strengths and Weaknesses Mon, 19 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? 118,997, the Growing Charter School Sector in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8734-what-s-the-data-point-118-997-charter-schools-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8734-what-s-the-data-point-118-997-charter-schools-new-york-city whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 78 -- 118,977, the Growing Charter School Sector in New York City, with James Merriman of the New York City Charter School Center [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

jam merr podJames Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, joined the podcast to discuss the state of charter schools in New York City. The charter sector educates roughly 120,000 students in more than 230 schools in New York City, and is at the center of a number of fraught debates, including around its overall existence, how large it should be, test scores, discipline practices, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [DATA] Point? 118,997, the Growing Charter School Sector in New York City Tue, 13 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand ember charter2

(image: @EmberCS_BedStuy)


[Update (6/3/19): shortly before the Board of Regents meeting on Monday, June 3, Ember Charter School's application to expand was added to the agenda]

[Update (6/5/19): the Board of Regents sent application back the city DOE with comments, no final decision has been made]

The founder of a black-led charter school in Brooklyn with a focus on African and African-American cultural education is alleging the New York State Education Department (SED) is surreptitiously blocking the school’s application to grow. As the next school year approaches, leadership of the Ember Charter School for Mindful Education, Innovation and Transformation is claiming plans to revise its charter to expand programming into high school are being denied, not on formal grounds, but through procedural techniques that have kept it off the agenda of the state’s Board of Regents, where approval is needed.

Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, the founder and managing partner of Ember Charter School, claims his is the only school to apply for a revision or renewal of its charter this year and not receive it, despite having authorization from the city’s Department of Education. The DOE, as the school’s “authorizer,” is required by law to ensure its charter changes meet certain criteria, like whether it will satisfy educational standards and improve outcomes, before sending its recommendation to the Board of Regents, which presides over SED, for final approval.

With that step accomplished, Kalam Id-Din II says the state rebuff is a new chapter in SED’s hostility towards his school and aversion to its “culturally responsive” mission. He argues that SED is far more friendly to traditional, large charter networks, often run by white executives who enjoy less scrutiny and more unquestioned support from the state power structure.

Ember, which prides itself on having black leadership, embraces an educational model centered around the experiences of its students, who are predominantly black and labelled “at-risk” to be underserved. After the DOE authorized Ember’s proposal to expand its programming, it was apparently sent to SED to be placed on the Board of Regents’ May agenda, but the May meeting passed and the June meeting is approaching without any sign that Ember’s application will be taken up.

The inaction from SED hints at the degree of discretion that may exist between the agency’s mandate to ensure high educational standards and the traditional procedures intended to produce those results.

“We are being treated in a way that is completely different than every other charter school is being treated,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Kalam Id-Din II believes Ember’s charter revision application was ready to be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting in May, but it was left off the agenda while another school with an application submitted at the same time was discussed and approved. Through Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, whose district includes Ember, Kalam Id-Din II says he learned this month that Ember’s application would again be left off the Board’s June calendar. (Wright’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

“The New York State Education Department is working closely with the New York City Department of Education to evaluate this revision request to expand this school to a high school and ensure that all students in New York City have access to high quality educational options,” J.P. O’Hare, deputy director of communications at SED, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

But in a draft memo provided to Gotham Gazette by Kalam Id-Din II, authorizing Ember’s charter revision, the DOE wrote, “This issue will be before the P-12 Education Committee and the Full Board for action at the May 2019 Regents meeting.” O’Hare did not respond to a follow-up email from Gotham Gazette asking whether it would be on the agenda of the board’s June 3 meeting Monday, and Kalam Id-Din II had no word from SED as of 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. The school community is planning to protest at the Regents meeting scheduled for Monday, June 3, in Albany.

The Ember Charter School was launched in Brooklyn in 2011, serving kindergarten through first grade under the name Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School. The school has been expanding its program ever since, first incorporating a second grade class in 2012 and reaching grade six by 2016. When it changed its name to the Ember Charter School in 2017, its goal was to continue to expand through grade 12, according to its website.

The school’s board of trustees decided to formally pursue the expansion into high school in October 2018, which would allow it to increase enrollment by 176 students from its current K-8 program to roughly 970 total students. Both the extension through twelfth grade and the growth in enrollment require the school to submit an application for a “material revision” to its charter through the authorizing agency -- in this case the city DOE -- which is responsible for making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.

As the authorizing agency, the DOE must certify that the application meets the requirements under the state’s Education Law; that the applicant demonstrates the ability to operate the school soundly; that the changes would improve student learning; and that the school district consents to the proposal in districts where charter school enrollment makes up more than five percent of total enrollment.

On April 4, 2019 the DOE held a mandated public hearing in the school’s auditorium to solicit feedback from parents and the community about the proposed changes. Fifty-five people attended the hearing and eight spoke, seven of whom were in favor of Ember’s proposed expansion, according to the DOE’s draft memo.

Following the hearing, and after completing its required assessment of Ember’s charter revision application and authorizing it, the DOE appears to have sent the proposal to SED to be taken up by the Board of Regents.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Kalam Id-Din II said Ember Charter School “relied on the long-standing practice that our authorizer’s decision in this matter would be dispositive and that the Regents would act to effectuate their decision.” But this did not happen in May, and looks like it will not be on the Board of Regents’ Monday meeting agenda either, even as families with high school-age students prepare for the upcoming school year.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, O’Hare of SED wrote that the city DOE has informed SED that if the charter revision request is not approved, all matriculating eighth grade students at Ember will be matched to a placement in a DOE high school for the next academic year.

In May, Assemblymember Wright allegedly told Ember’s leadership that the application was being tabled out of consideration for a nonbinding resolution passed by a number of local and citywide education councils calling for a moratorium on charter authorizations throughout the city. According to Kalam Id-Din II, Wright also cited concerns that Ember’s math test scores trailed the state average, and its enrollment of students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged did not reflect the make-up of the school district it is in.

Kalam Id-Din II disagrees with those characterizations. In the email to Gotham Gazette, he points out that the community education council in Ember’s school district declined to adopt the charter moratorium resolution, and questioned the motives behind holding up only one charter school application on that basis. “[I]t defies any sense of equity or fairness that Ember would be the only charter school whose material revision and expansion were scrutinized and impeded” because of the non-binding citywide moratorium voted on by the citywide education council, he wrote.

Kalam Id-Din II also argues Ember’s state test scores should be evaluated with respect to the school district it serves, rather than the state as a whole, and in comparison to similar black and Latino student populations. “In both of these measures, Ember’s overall math state test performance meets or exceeds these indicators,” he wrote in the email, an assertion that is supported by test score data he provided, as well as information available on SED’s website.

Ember Charter School’s student body is predominantly black and almost exclusively black and Latino: according to DOE data from the 2017-18 school year, it’s students were 79 percent black and 19 percent Hispanic. The school embraces its blackness by gearing its curriculum towards the experiences of its students of color with an emphasis on “culturally relevant” and “economically relevant pedagogy,” according to its website.

Data from the city DOE indicates the total student population in the city is 26 percent black and 40.5 percent Hispanic, whereas, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s analysis of SED data, 53 percent of the city’s charter school students are African-American and 38 percent are Hispanic.

In terms of the school’s “special populations” enrollment figures, Kalam Id-Din II points out that a significant portion of its student body has been exposed to trauma, but that this is not captured in the data on students with disabilities. He added that a vast majority of charter schools approved for renewal or revision had enrollment figures that lagged behind their school district’s in at least two special population categories. Nevertheless, Kalam Id-Din II says Ember is working with the DOE to implement an enrollment preference for students with disabilities next year.

The disagreement between the way the state evaluates test scores and special populations underscores the obstacles faced by schools serving communities of color with curricula that deviate from the mainstream. “We’re the only school taking these steps and really putting...the culturally responsive commitment to our black and our Latinx students at the center of our work,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in the interview. There is a growing movement among black parents in Brooklyn and throughout the country towards Afrocentric schools and curricula, partially as a response to decades of failed desegregation efforts and the feeling of marginalization many black students experience in integrated schools.

Whatever the school, Kalam Id-Din II says, black-led programs are “impeded in the same particular way...I don’t think that there is a lack of desire of black, Latinx people looking to open or start their own charter schools. I think this is one of the reasons why this sector looks the way it does now. This is a huge equity issue.”

He says Ember’s focus on the experiences of communities of color has been the subject of SED scrutiny before. According to Kalam Id-Din II, when the school tried to incorporate a study abroad program in Africa into its renewed charter in years passed, SED expressed skepticism about the value and safety of bringing New York students there and sought for the language to be removed. “All of these things...really rang hollow to us given that study abroad is pretty widely accepted,” he said.

No agenda for the Board of Regents’ June meeting had been published as of Thursday, May 30 at 5 p.m., and Kalam Id-Din II still hopes the board will take up Ember’s application. Whether or not it does, Ember Charter School plans to take students, parents, and staff to the board’s meeting Monday in Albany. “Either way SED will need to deal with us, our kids, our community face to face,” said Kalam Id-Din II.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand Thu, 30 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap students with signs

(photo: Governor's Office)


There has been much discussion that the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo may raise the cap on charter schools, especially since the sub-cap of 235 charter schools in New York City has now been reached. As public school parents and co-chairs of the Education Council Consortium, which represents the elected parent leaders of Community Education Councils across the five boroughs, we overwhelmingly oppose raising the cap because this would have a seriously detrimental impact on our public schools.

Privately-run charter schools in New York City are already costing the Department of Education more than $2.1 billion a year. In addition, the city is required to pay for private space for all new and expanding charter schools if they are not given space in our already overcrowded public schools – the only district in the state and the nation that is so obligated. The cost to the city for this private space is rising fast, as our existing charters continue to expand to new grade levels.

On average, charter schools enroll far fewer special needs students and English Language Learners than other public schools. If the Legislature allows charters to continue to proliferate, our public schools will be even more concentrated with the highest needs students in less space and with fewer resources to educate them. Some of the fastest growing charter chains, including Success Academy, have been sued repeatedly for pushing out students and violating their civil rights, especially children with disabilities. The State Education Department has recently ordered that Success adopt a corrective action plan to cease these discriminatory practices.

The charter school waiting lists of 50,000 students are often cited as a reason to raise the cap. However a few points about these lists should be made: First, no one audits the figures claimed by charters and many students are double or triple counted if they apply to more than one charter school, as commonly occurs.  When charter waiting lists are audited, as happened in Boston, their figures were found to be inflated. We also know from a recent research study that 50 percent of the students accepted by lottery to Success Academy do not end up enrolling in their schools; which means that thousands of students are accepted off their waiting list without any need to raise the cap.

Some charter schools spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertising on radio, subways, bus stops, social media, and glossy mailings to build up their waiting lists. This process is encouraged by the mayor, who allows charter schools, including Success Academy, Uncommon, KIPP, and Achievement First, to use Department of Education mailing lists to send promotional materials to families to market their schools.

Success Academy itself has what is described as a “full service brand strategy, marketing and creative division” including an advertising staff of more than 30 creative directors, designers, copywriters, strategists and project managers, an expense which no public school can afford.

Even so, the city’s public schools have longer waiting lists. This year, there were more than 155,000 instances in which the city’s 8th grade students applied but weren’t admitted to 21 of the most popular public high schools for lack of space. Many of the students who landed on these waiting lists were probably double- or triple-counted of course, just like students on the charter school waiting lists.  Yet this represents only a small fraction of the waiting lists at the 1,800 public schools across the city, which spend no funds on advertising or glossy mailings.

What is tragic is how, unlike charter schools, the city’s most popular and successful public schools, are prevented from expanding or replicating by insufficient space and funding, which would be further diminished if the charter cap were raised. 

As a city and a state, we must focus on supporting and improving our public schools, rather than encourage the growth of privately-managed charter schools that pull resources from them.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to acknowledge that fact by keeping the cap on charters in New York City and statewide.

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NeQuan McLean and Shino Tanikawa are Co-Chairs, of the Education Council Consortium. On Twitter @CNequan & @estuaryqueen.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap Sun, 19 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap govcuomo capi rally

Gov. Cuomo at a charter school rally (photo: governor's office)


After several new charter schools were approved last month, the cap on such schools allowed in New York City was reached. New York State has a cap on the number of issuable charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, the controversial, privately-run, publicly-funded schools that mostly proliferate in the five boroughs and educate roughly 10% of the city's 1 million students. Within the larger cap, there is a sub-cap for charters that can be issued for schools in New York City.

In the past few months, 18 applicants for charters in New York City made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of the two authorizers, but there were only seven charters left to be issued under the sub-cap.

New York City Charter School Center, among others, raised concerns about this earlier this year. James Merriman, the center's CEO, called the situation “the definition of a crisis” at the time. Charter school advocates had hoped that the sub-cap would be addressed in the state budget process, but there was little talk of an extension in Albany during budget negotiations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and longtime charter school supporter, favors lifting the cap. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat and longtime charter opponent, is against lifting the cap; as is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It’s not clear how much say de Blasio, Johnson, and Williams will have, though, as the decision will be made by Cuomo and the state Legislature, where the Assembly appears cold to the idea of lifting the sub-cap while the Senate appears open to it.

While it was clear the New York City sub-cap on charter schools would be hit this year, Cuomo did not include raising the cap in his State of the State policy book or his executive budget. After the Cuomo administration declined to comment for a Gotham Gazette story in February, when the cap was about to be hit, a budget deal was reached with no mention of the cap.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, echoing a comment he made mid-April to the New York Post.

This public support heightens the potential that there could be a change to the charter school cap before the end of the legislative session in June. Cuomo has long been a strong supporter of charter schools and his advisor’s comments mirror Merriman’s statement that the cap is “arbitrary.”

A spokesperson for Senate Democrats told Gotham Gazette, “We will discuss as a conference” while a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats said “It is not something we are considering.”

State Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat and the chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on New York City Schools, said “The charter cap should be increased only when charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools. For every family waiting for a spot in a charter school, there are more families waiting for a spot in a preferred public school.”

Before Democrats took a majority in the State Senate last year, Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would work with Cuomo to advance charter school priorities as part of the budget process or the regular negotiations over extending mayoral control of New York City public schools.

With the new budget, state lawmakers agreed to extend mayoral control for three years, until June 2022, after Mayor Bill de Blasio will leave office, but the charter cap was left out of the deal, perhaps indicative of the new Democratic reality in Albany.

This last happened in 2017 when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. The deal also allowed 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued.

It’s unclear how hard Cuomo will push for the cap to be raised, and how receptive Senate Democrats might be. As often happens in Albany, a deal may be reached where Assembly Democrats get movement on a priority in exchange for agreeing to the cap being lifted.

Senate Democrats could also help mitigate potential opposition in key swing districts in next year’s legislative elections, when they will be trying to defend their new majority for the first time. Charter school interests are often major campaign donors -- including to Cuomo, the former IDC, and Senate Republicans -- and spenders on independent expenditure campaigns meant to influence elections.

Those charter interests have also spent heavily against de Blasio in the past. Asked for the mayor’s position on the charter school cap, a spokesperson pointed to a statement by the mayor from September and said “our position hasn’t changed.”

“I believe that the charter cap is perfectly sufficient the way it is,” de Blasio said at a press conference then, “and that our focus should not be on the expansion of charters. Our focus should be on doing the hard work of making our traditional public schools better.”

Other New York City elected officials are also against an expansion of charter schools in the city. “I have long had concerns about charter schools, which is why I do not support raising the cap. Chief among those concerns is the fact that charter schools do not have the same level of transparency that’s required of public schools, which is inherently unfair. Our focus should be on strengthening all of our schools and ensuring every student gets the opportunity to succeed,” said City Council Speaker Johnson in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The answer to the real issues in the NYC public school system is not to create further imbalance," Public Advocate Williams said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "I do not support the the current push to raise the charter school cap. In fact, what the Governor should do is pay the public schools of the city the money they’ve been owed for decades. I also urge the Administration to launch a full investigation into the controversial disciplinary practices seen in some charter schools to combat wrongdoings that continue to occur.”

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a Democrat, said she is “opposed to raising the cap, period.” In previous testimony, Brewer has said that charter schools “are unsustainable education practices that serve the few at the expense of many.”

Spokespeople for other top city officials -- Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- did not provide comment for this story on where those officials stand on the charter school cap, despite multiple requests to each office.

Adam and Diaz Jr. have both been supportive of charter schools, while Stringer has been more cool to the privately-run, publicly-funded schools that now educate roughly 10% of the city’s students.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Cap on Charter Schools in New York City is About to Hit, Little Talk of Extension in Albany https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8253-as-cap-on-charter-schools-in-new-york-city-is-about-to-hit-little-talk-of-extension-in-albany https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8253-as-cap-on-charter-schools-in-new-york-city-is-about-to-hit-little-talk-of-extension-in-albany albany charter gov

(photo: the governor's office)


Throughout his tenure, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a strong advocate for charter schools as part of his broader education policy, even as many of his fellow Democrats are far less friendly toward, if not opposed to, the privately-run, publicly-funded schools. Cuomo has repeatedly supported and helped orchestrate a raising of the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York, both across the state, and the sub-cap for New York City, where the vast majority of charters exist.

Now, as that sub-cap on charter schools in the city is about to reach its limit with a new round of approvals in March, there is virtually no talk in Albany, from Cuomo or legislators, about raising or doing away with the sub-cap, either of which would allow more charters to open in the five boroughs. Though he has recently reiterated his support for charter schools when asked by reporters, Cuomo did not mention charter schools or the cap in his January State of the State address or the lengthy accompanying policy book, nor in his Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

During his first eight years as governor, Cuomo has had fellow charter school supporters leading the state Senate, where Republicans held the majority, at times with the help of charter-friendly breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The Democrat-dominated Assembly has been unfriendly toward charter schools and closely aligned with teachers unions that oppose them -- most charters are not unionized. But now, both the Republican Senate majority and the IDC are gone. While there are charter-supporting legislators in both houses, including some Democrats and Republicans, Cuomo now faces more of the individual responsibility to advocate for charter-helpful policies in Albany.

While his policy book and budget do not include anything on the charter cap, that does not mean Cuomo won’t push for changes that would allow more charters to open in New York City. A new state budget is due by April 1, and though the city sub-cap will be hit by then, it would be just a short delay if Cuomo orchestrates a cap change in the budget, where many deals are known to come together in Albany.

The governor’s recently-outlined plans do include a 3.5% increase in total per pupil funding for New York City charter schools, but this was the only time charter schools were mentioned in the State of the State book or Executive Budget.

New York State has a cap on the number of charter schools that can be approved by the two authorizing authorities, but there is a special sub-cap for the number of charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, that can be issued for New York City. There are currently 236 charter schools in New York City educating 123,000 students, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

There are now seven remaining charters left under the New York City sub-cap, while there are 99 charters left for the rest of the state. There are currently 18 applicants for charters in New York City that have made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of two authorizers, is set for March.

This would be the first time that the board has to decide not just whether an applicant meets its standards, but also which of the 18 applicants should get the seven remaining charters. Assuming that more than eight applicants meet the standards, this would mean that some potentially satisfactory applicants would not receive charters.

Charter school advocates, such as those at the New York City Charter School Center, believe this is a worst possible scenario. The Center has called for the charter school cap to be eliminated altogether or at least raised to allow for new charters to be issued. Another proposal would be to end the sub-cap so that there would no longer be a distinction between charters issued for New York City and the rest of the state. This could mean dozens of new charters in the city as opposed to the final seven under the current sub-cap (in theory, all 107 statewide slots could go to charters for the city).

In a statement, James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said the “arbitrary charter cap for New York City” should be raised. He called the current situation “the definition of a crisis” and that “we are running out of charters at a time when charter schools are making remarkable progress in closing the achievement gap for some of the most vulnerable children in New York City.” Merriman called on state lawmakers “to forgo special interests and ensure all families have the opportunity to access high quality public school.”

No proposal to change the cap is currently on the agenda of the state Legislature, which has been moving a host of progressive legislation long-stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Gotham Gazette sent multiple requests for comment about the charter school cap to spokespeople for Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; none of them were returned.

The politics around charter schools has shifted in New York over the last year or two, but especially since the November 2018 elections. While Cuomo, an outspoken advocate for charter schools, won a third term as governor, pro-charter school legislators lost a variety of races, including several in New York City, both in Democratic primaries and the general election. Republicans and members of the Independent Democratic Conference lost a large number of races, though charter schools were rarely central issues in those elections. Advocates for charter schools, of both parties and in both houses of the state Legislature, currently do not hold enough power to extract charter school expansion as a concession in larger policy negotiations, but like with many issues, the fate of the charter school cap may rest in Cuomo’s powerful hands.

Lifting of the charter cap last happened in 2017, when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools that also included a provision that would allow 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued. Now, only seven of those “zombie” charters remain.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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Note: this article has been changed to cite seven available charters in New York City, not eight, as dicated by a spokesperson for the state education department; though there has been conflicting information put forward by several entities involved about whether there are seven or eight charters available under the city sub-cap.

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As Cap on Charter Schools in New York City is About to Hit, Little Talk of Extension in Albany Mon, 04 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Bridging the Achievement Gap Through Real Renewal https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8036-bridging-the-achievement-gap-through-real-renewal https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8036-bridging-the-achievement-gap-through-real-renewal nycmayorsoffice 1st dayschool

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


When the New York State Board of Regents met last month, the mood was despondent. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” said Regent Kathy Cashin, decrying the racial achievement gap on the newly-released 2018 state exam scores for students in grades 3-8. The reaction of the Regents ran the usual gamut of hand-wringing, blaming the tests, and calling for more dilatory “analysis.”

And then came the damning report in The New York Times on the failure of New York City’s Renewal schools program. After investing $755 million—nearly the entire annual budget of the San Francisco Unified School District—in the academic improvement of the 94 lowest performing schools, the needle has barely moved there either.

Why the hand-wringing, and why the wasteful investment in programs doomed to fail, when the achievement gap can be closed—for this generation, and with current resources?

Charter schools are dramatically outperforming traditional district schools in the city. In school year 2017-18, New York City public charter schools, enrolling 91% percent children of color, vastly outperformed the rest of the state in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math proficiency, 57 percent to 45 percent and 60 percent to 45 percent, respectively.

Our practices vary, and we don’t always agree on policies. But collectively we are offering a brighter future to 100,000 city students.

Students who attend Ascend Public Charter Schools—a network of 12 schools in central Brooklyn’s most challenged communities—are proving what’s possible.

Brownsville, where we operate five schools, is a community of tremendous potential, but blighted by failed schools. The incarceration rate is the second-highest in the city and a mere 26% of students were found proficient in English. Yet our 5,000 students, 96 percent of whom are black or Latino and 83 percent of whom are from low-income families, not only closed but reversed the achievement gap. Ascend’s African-American students outperformed white students statewide by 7 percentage points in ELA and 2 points in math.

Eschewing the harsh disciplinary practices of “no excuses” schools, Ascend schools offer a rich liberal arts education in a supportive and joyful environment. As our results have climbed, suspension rates have plummeted, down 40% in our lower schools in four years and 28% percent in middle schools.

We commit to making every child feel welcome and cherished. We don’t select students on the way in, nor on the way out. Some, including those affected by homelessness and other traumas, are afforded individual attention for years, and then blossom.

Our schools accomplish all this while holding true to our deepest commitment: to operate truly public schools that enroll all students and operate at district funding levels. All students are enrolled strictly by lottery, we charge no tuition or fees, and most important, we fill every vacant seat through grade 9.

We are but one example of successful charter education. Other networks are posting results as exciting. We are not stuck in the transformational “ice age” that Regent Luis Reyes bemoaned at the recent Regents meeting. Our students—New Yorkers’ students—are not consigned to lives where promise is crushed.

Our education officials are staring a solution in the face.

Yet charter growth may soon stall because of an artificial statutory cap on the number of new charters; only a handful now remain to be awarded statewide. Why not lift the cap? Why not have charters run even half of the Renewal schools to test our methods? Why limit our children’s potential?

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Steven Wilson is founder and chief executive officer of Ascend Charter Schools.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Bridging the Achievement Gap Through Real Renewal Wed, 31 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Failure of 'Renewal Schools' https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7497-the-failure-of-renewal-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7497-the-failure-of-renewal-schools de Blasio school visit

Mayor de Blasio on a school visit (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


My daughter is a third-grader in one of Mayor de Blasio’s so-called Renewal Schools in Harlem. When I first heard about the program, I was hopeful: P.S. 149 needed attention and change to become the kind of school I wanted for my daughter. But, as a parent, I have not seen much renewal.

Since the program started, enrollment at P.S. 149 has dropped 25 percent. For the kids who have stayed, scores haven’t improved much – students passing the English Language Arts exam has gone from 5 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2017. The math pass rate has dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent over the same time. So despite all the resources the Department of Education claims to have pumped into our school, fewer students are doing math at grade level.

When Mayor de Blasio announced his Renewal Schools program, he promised that his “bold new plan” would be the key to turning around chronically-struggling public schools like my daughter’s. Four years and $600 million later, there is little to show for it. None of the schools have come close to any sort of “renewal” and the mayor has been forced to close nine of them and merge others. Just a handful of the original 94 Renewal Schools have seen real improvement.

For me, this broken promise means a lot more than just numbers on a state test. My daughter is struggling in reading and math, and nothing the mayor has done these past few years has helped her school improve.

When I realized my daughter needed extra help, I reached out to the school’s parent coordinator – I’m not about to give up on my child. The coordinator promised to look for outside resources that might offer her the support she needs. I appreciate the effort, but why do we need outside resources when our school is supposed to be part of the mayor’s major project? If his program were of high quality, my daughter’s school would be able to provide a good education for kids inside the classroom, and parents like me wouldn’t be scrambling.

I am so discouraged with the state of the district schools in my neighborhood. The system is failing communities like mine all over the city – the same communities that elected this mayor. At the end of the day, it’s becoming clear that we can’t depend on Mayor de Blasio to improve struggling schools for children of color.

That’s why I’m trying to get my daughter a spot in a charter school, where kids like her have a shot to catch up. It’s really her only hope.

The problem is that there aren’t enough spaces at charter schools. I guess the mayor knows that if parents like me had a choice, we’d leave, just like a quarter of our school already has.

The mayor shouldn’t be the only one with a say here. The New York City Council will be holding a hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 27 – and I hope Council members get to the bottom of this failed experiment. Our Council members live in our neighborhoods and they see what’s happening in our schools. They need to step up because our communities can’t wait another four years for Mayor de Blasio to figure things out.

As I keep fighting for my daughter, my son is getting ready for kindergarten. I am trying to do everything I can to make sure he’s on a better path. Knowing what I know now, I am fighting like hell to get him into a charter school right from the start. As a single mom, juggling two different schools will be hard, but I would do anything to get my kids a better education.

If Mayor de Blasio was really focused on turning around struggling schools, me and my kids wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now. The mayor’s “bold new plan” is nothing more than another broken promise.

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Aradany Vargas is a public school parent at P.S. 149 Sojourner Truth.

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The Failure of 'Renewal Schools' Mon, 26 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000