Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1991 Sat, 28 Nov 2020 15:01:05 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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
     

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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
     

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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
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
   

Read more by this writer.

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
Success Academy Schools Largely Responsible for Charter Gains on State Tests https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6477-success-academy-schools-largely-responsible-for-charter-gains-on-state-tests https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6477-success-academy-schools-largely-responsible-for-charter-gains-on-state-tests Success Academy Binghamton

photo: @SuccessCharters


Release of the most recent student test scores on state English and math exams for third- through eighth-graders set off widespread celebration in public education circles. Supporters and leaders of charter schools and traditional public schools alike have been promoting the results, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has cited test score jumps as proof that his education agenda is working.

The Common Core-aligned proficiency tests, administered in April and released by State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on July 29, show significant increases for students in the city’s traditional public schools and even bigger jumps for charter schools students.

In an annual tradition, the release of the scores led different interest groups and interested individuals to see the results through the lens of their politics and another round of the district versus charter school debate commenced. On Wednesday, de Blasio attributed the larger growth in scores by charter school students to the sector’s emphasis on test preparation, setting off a new round of criticism of the mayor by charter school supporters, who he has mostly been at odds with for years.

The most acrimony for de Blasio and the charter school sector has come with Success Academy and its lightning rod founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz. Success is the city’s largest charter school network, its students routinely outperform most others across the city on standardized tests. It has been the focus of much criticism over its discipline practices, emphasis on test prep, and stringent expectations of both students and teachers.

Charter school supporters, including Moskowitz, who published a related op-ed in the New York Daily News on August 4, were quick to tout the fact that the charter sector outpaced district schools on the state tests. But the sector’s increase was driven disproportionately by Moskowitz’s own Success Academy students.

For context, 445,482 New York City students took the English Language Arts test this past Spring; 400,820 from district schools and 44,632 from charter schools, including 4,337 from Success Academy schools specifically. A total of 440,542 students took the math test; 396,849 from district schools and 43,693 from charter schools, including 4,339 from Success Academy schools. Success Academy accounted for about 10 percent of charter school test-takers and 1 percent of total city test-takers.

The percent of district school students with scores of “proficient” or higher rose 1.2 points from last year to 36.4 percent in math and rose 7.6 points to 38 percent in English. This places New York City district schools 3 points behind the overall state average for math proficiency and, for the first time in history, in line with the statewide average for English.

“The steps we took, the investments we made are paying off, and we have objective evidence of that in these test scores,” de Blasio said at an August 1 press conference called to celebrate the scores. “That is true in both English and math. And I’m very proud to say in English, every single one of our 32 local districts improved. And that is extraordinary consistency.”

For students at charter schools, math proficiency rose 4.5 points to 48.7 percent, while English proficiency jumped 13.7 points to 43 percent—surpassing district school English proficiency for the first time. Charter school proponents said the data evidenced charter schools’ success, especially for low-income students and students of color, with both groups scoring higher on average in charter schools than in district schools.

“From the perspective of the [New York City charter school] sector, the sector scores are strong overall. There's a lot of strong performers,” NYC Charter School Center CEO James Merriman told Gotham Gazette. “The bottom line is it's part of a longer trend where you have a sector that's working and that parents, particularly parents of students who are black and Hispanic, want more of.”

Charter school proponents regularly cite the long wait lists for their schools and criticize de Blasio and others for standing in the way of the creation of more charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately-run schools authorized by state entities. There is a cap on the number of charter schools that is set by state lawmakers, who have generally been supportive of raising it. A recent Quinnipiac public opinion poll showed that among New York City voters, 51 percent said they would prefer for their child to attend a charter school while 37 percent said they would prefer a traditional public school.

While de Blasio and his allies have celebrated district school students’ gains on the tests, some have sought to discredit those jumps. Statewide, proficiency on English exams increased by seven points since last year, critics point out, and for the first time, students were given unlimited time on state exams this year.

Moskowitz of Success Academy, a former City Council member, concluded in her recent Daily News op-ed that unlike district schools, city charters, which exceeded the seven-point statewide jump, are a “set of schools that meets the criteria” to truly be considered improving.

This trend was not uniform, however, across charter schools - something that many in the charter sector are not necessarily eager to point out, even including Moskowitz. Success earned far higher scores than schools across the charter sector, which includes 25 other networks and 216 total schools, pulling the sector average upwards by a significant margin.

Over 4,300 Success Academy students took the state tests in 2016, about 10 percent of charter school students tested in the city. Success students showed proficiency at nearly double the rate of all charter schools -- 94 percent were proficient in math and 82 percent were proficient in English this year. Success also outperformed traditional public school students by 58 points in math and 44 points in English.

With Success scores factored out, the city’s charter school students averaged 43.8 percent proficiency in math and 38.9 percent in English, outperforming district school students by 7.4 points and less than one point, respectively.

“The scores from Success are startling. They're incredibly high,” Merriman said. “Another thing I would say stands out is the relative uniformity across [Moskowitz’s] schools. There's a consistency there that I think most people would agree is very difficult to achieve.”

But because of Success’ approach, and uniquely high scores, David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said that categorizing in the same set alongside all other charters in the city is unproductive. Because charter schools are privately operated, Bloomfield said, their methods differ from one school to the next as greatly as private schools, which makes grouping them difficult.

“The Success scores give a halo effect to charters in general, and that's based on a fundamental misunderstanding of variation between charters,” Bloomfield told Gotham Gazette. “What we're supposed to be finding out from these scores is…how much students are learning, but the variation in the preparation practices makes that impossible.”

Representatives of Success Academy say that it makes sense to group all charter schools together since all district schools are discussed in sum although they vary widely as well.

Success Academy is driven by an emphasis on standardized testing, preparing students rigorously and from a young age, as explored in depth by The New York Times and Chalkbeat, and frequently discussed by Moskowitz and others at the network. Students’ grades are posted in the hallways at Success schools; students who do well on tests are rewarded with toys and candy, while those who do poorly face punishments like detention or calls home. Extracurriculars can relate to testing—in April, Moskowitz organized the network’s annual “slam the exam” rally for third through eighth graders the week before the state tests.

The network has come under significant criticism for its approach to testing and has been the target of various accusations around pushing low-performing students out of its schools. In October, The Times revealed that one Success principal kept a “got to go” list of low-performing students he wanted to see leave his school. Moskowitz called it an anomaly, as she did when The Times published a secretly recorded video of a Success teacher at a different school berating a young student for answering questions incorrectly. The network does not shy away from its especially high rate of student suspensions. In May, Politico New York reported that internal Success documents pointed to possible cheating by teachers.

Still, most charter school backers have held Success Academy as a model and praised Moskowitz for her work. There are some in the sector, especially at smaller, non-network schools that are critical of Success and do not align with political work the chain is heavily involved with. Success now includes 41 schools and has the stated goal of expanding to 100 by 2025.

Moskowitz’s schools continue to be the pace-setters for the charter sector on the state exams.

When asked by Gotham Gazette about the disparity between charter school and district school performance at a press conference on Wednesday, de Blasio criticized schools that prioritize test prep and implied that those schools distort the sector’s overall numbers. He said that his administration believes that tests are important, but not in too much of a focus on them.

“Some substantial piece of that [average] is based on charters that focus on test prep. And that’s where they put a lot of their time and energy,” de Blasio said. “Of course it could yield better test scores, but we don’t think that’s good educational policy so we’re going to do it the way we believe is right for our children.”

In response, a Success Academy spokesperson sent a statement to Gotham Gazette extolling the network’s well-rounded approach.

"At Success Academy we have tried to reimagine public education, putting children at the heart of everything we do -- from our field studies, chess clubs, and recess to hands-on science, literacy, and math,” the statement reads. “In many district schools, children are bored out of their minds. We banish boredom by filling every day with child-centered learning."

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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Success Academy Schools Largely Responsible for Charter Gains on State Tests Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000