Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/904 Fri, 04 Dec 2020 09:02:55 +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? 2,268, 'Deinstitutionalization' in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8140-what-s-the-data-point-2-268-deinstitutionalization-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8140-what-s-the-data-point-2-268-deinstitutionalization-in-new-york whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 61 - 2,268, 'Deinstitutionalization' in New York, with Stephen Eide of the Manhattan Institute [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp stephen eide

Stephen Eide, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, is the author of a new report about New York’s inpatient mental healthcare system, the state push toward deinstitutionalization, and what it has meant for people with serious mental illness and New York City. "Cuts to state psychiatric hospital beds has coincided, in recent years, with increasing mental illness-related pressures on the city’s homeless services and criminal justice systems," Eide argues.

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? 2,268, 'Deinstitutionalization' in New York Thu, 13 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
‘Open The Books’ Site Tracks Government Spending, Aims to Reduce Waste https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6880-open-the-books-site-tracks-government-spending-aims-to-reduce-waste https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6880-open-the-books-site-tracks-government-spending-aims-to-reduce-waste Adam Andrzejewski

Adam Andrzejewski (photo: The Manhattan Institute)


Illinois-based businessman and one-time candidate for Governor of that state, Adam Andrzejewski, boasts of running the “world’s largest private repository of public spending” with 3.5 billion individually captured government expenditures. Andrzejewski is the CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, an online transparency tool launched by his nonpartisan, nonprofit group, aptly named American Transparency, with the stated goals of reducing waste in government spending and combatting corruption.

Speaking to a room of about 90 people at an upscale club in Midtown Manhattan, at an event hosted by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, Andrzejewski laid out his organization’s mission: “Every Dime. Online. In Real Time.” His pet project stems from his unsuccessful run as a Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois in 2010, when he said he ran on a platform of “forensic audits of state spending” and “aggressive transparency,” which he believes resonated with voters.

Sourcing vast swathes of data through thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests each year, Andrzejewski says the website now contains nearly all federal expenditures since 2000, checkbook spending from 48 of 50 states from the last 10 years, and data on salary, pension, and vendor spending from about 60,000 municipalities.

In New York State, he said, they are close to having compiled all federal, state, and local expenditures. “We have about 90 cents on every dollar right now,” Andrzejewski said.

OpenTheBooks has made news in the past, with what Andrzejewski calls “oversight reports,” such as an analysis of spending on luxury art by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs; a report on the billions in public funds that go to Ivy League universities through tax benefits and other payments; and one on non-military federal agencies procuring military equipment; among others. The project also launched a mobile application, that allows users to pinpoint federal spending down to their zip code, allowing for “instant journalism,” Andrzejewski says.

More recently, after President Donald Trump’s threat to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, the website analyzed the scope of those potential cuts and their possible effect on municipalities. Within the next 30 days, the nonprofit will release its latest report on cash compensation at all federal agencies.

“The amount of federal waste, fraud, corruption and taxpayer abuse is systemic, it’s embedded and we do need [a] war on waste to root it out,” said Andrzejewski in response to a question from one of the attendees. “We need a new arms race of federal transparency from the private sector up against government,” he later said, again painting the fight in military terms.

The transparency website is not completely novel for New York, where others both in the private and public sectors have attempted to make government data, particularly about spending, publicly available and accessible. Reclaim New York, a nonprofit government transparency project, has compiled checkbook spending while the Empire Center for Public Policy, a think tank, has more than 50 data sets on the state’s taxes, debt, spending, and other economic measures. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Open Book New York portal shows state spending, while in New York City, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Checkbook NYC shows city level indicators.

Andrzejewski praised those efforts (he worked with Reclaim New York on compiling New York’s spending data). “Kudos to the elected officials that don’t need a lawsuit but open the books by making that good government decision,” he told Gotham Gazette after the formal portion of the event, a lunch centered around his presentation. But he maintained that New York is the same as other states. “It’s a level playing field...New York is neither worse nor better but units of government do comply with the law, which is good news,” he said.

For a man whose mission is transparency, however, Andrzejewski would not disclose his group’s donors, saying only that they consist of “foundations, corporations and individuals” who may face pressure if made public. He insisted that none of the group’s funding came from government sources. When asked if this was at odds with his goals, he refuted the premise. “We don’t need more private sector transparency,” he said. “We’re demanding government transparency.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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‘Open The Books’ Site Tracks Government Spending, Aims to Reduce Waste Tue, 18 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What To Do When The L Train Closes https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6129-what-to-do-when-the-l-train https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6129-what-to-do-when-the-l-train mta out of service

Out of service (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)


The denizens of Williamsburg and Bushwick have responded to news of potential multiyear L train closures with a mix of shock, despair, and irritation. People are talking through the alternatives: taking the G, J, and M trains; boarding the East River Ferry; or even (gasp!) riding the bus. Quite likely Williamsburgers will also summon a swarm of UberPools and Lyft Lines unlike any seen in our time.

Hysterics aside, it’s unlikely that the MTA would do a full, year-long double-tube shutdown. The most plausible plan is a long series of “nights and weekends” shutdowns for tube repairs, with the possibility of a brief total closure of both tubes to finish them “Fastrak”-style while rehabs of the 1st Avenue and Bedford stations and additional electrical substations are built. The latter service upgrades, which would permanently boost the line’s peak-hour capacity by 10 percent (a big deal for a subway line often at “crush” capacity during rush hour), depend on the timely success of Senator Chuck Schumer’s request to expedite federal funding. Nothing is certain until the upgrade funding comes through, but some Sandy-related stretch of nights-and-weekends closures is sure to come, as the MTA’s initial bid requests describe a contract lasting about 40 months.

If the MTA does indeed briefly close both tunnels—or even just one at a time—what should be done to limit the carnage? First, carpool restrictions (HOV-2, or even HOV-3) on the Williamsburg Bridge during train closures—just like during transit strikes and natural disasters. Previous nights-and-weekends closures of the L have brought “Carmageddon” to the bridge, especially during UberPool and Lyft Line promotions. Ensuring that solo drivers don’t hog every lane is a surefire way to keep everyone moving.

I personally remember the bridge congestion during the UberPool $2.75-a-ride L train closure special, as it was both the first time I shared an UberPool and the first time I rode with a carsick middle-aged woman being ill out the back window into the East River.

So to minimize the stop-and-go, nausea-inducing congestion—and maximize the potential efficiency of ridesharing services—the city should cooperate with the MTA in implementing HOV restrictions on the bridge, and even dedicating a lane to shuttle buses and the B39. It’s not at all radical to take away a car lane for more efficient transportation modes: The Williamsburg Bridge was built for streetcars.

This potential L train crisis is a reminder that better transit redundancy plans are needed for high-volume chokepoints, even if they inconvenience a comparatively small number of drivers. A truly radical long-term proposal would involve permanently replacing some car lanes with transit-only lanes and re-opening the abandoned streetcar terminal under Essex Street on the Manhattan side of the bridge. Current proposals include replacing the terminal with an odd subterranean mushroom park.

But if the real estate industry ever gets serious about funding a public-private waterfront streetcar through Williamsburg, perhaps restoring the rail lanes to the old streetcar terminal could be added to the plan. No matter what the MTA decides, the coming L train closures are an opportunity to start getting creative with our transportation systems and our waterfront. Let’s hope at least some of these mitigation proposals get a serious hearing.

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Alex Armlovich is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. On Twitter @aarmlovi.

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

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What To Do When The L Train Closes Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:04:28 +0000