Selected readings on US charter schools
The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, which made the announcement Tuesday, is offering grants up to $500,000 to charter schools, charter management organizations or education management organizations.
These grants can be used to expand existing charter operations to additional sites or to establish new charter schools.
The foundation said applicants must show that their plans will make a difference in educational outcomes and a commitment, both in philosophy and approach, to be inclusive of children with disabilities.
Plans that involve the proposed school’s immediate neighborhood will also be encouraged. Proposals for funds from the $1 million are due Aug. 29, with the awards to be announced Nov. 20, said Isobel Goldman, director of grants and programs for the foundation.
“The Farash Foundation is committed to looking for every possible model of education that will enhance learning for students in Ontario and Monroe counties,” said Goldman.
Local real estate developer Max Farash and his wife, Marian, established the foundation in 1988. And while the foundation has been giving grants all along, more than $200 million of Farash’s money was provided to the foundation after his death in 2010.
Education was one of Farash’s priorities. The motto, “Getting to 21” — helping students to be successful by that age — has shaped the foundation’s giving for education. Goldman said that the foundation is also working on an initiative — yet to be announced — with the City School District.
A 16-page report, “The Context for Assessing the Role of Charter Schools,” by the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research was commissioned by the foundation and provides a backdrop to the initiative.
“We identified the charter school as one option that has proved to be effective for some children. We don’t make it the only solution,” said Kent Gardner, chief economist for CGR and co-author of the report.
Charter schools, says the report, are empowered to set an independent course for education without the daily oversight of the district administration.
Enrollment in the 11 Monroe County charter schools for this past school year was about 2,700 students, says the report.
Nationwide, there were about 5,000 charter schools, enrolling about 1.6 million students, during the 2009-10 school year — about 3 percent of the total K-12 enrollment.
Closure of two of the early local charter schools, says the report, shows that performance of charters varies, but the report goes on to say that the aggregate data tend to show that local charter school students outperform City School District students.
Charter schools are funded with public dollars earmarked for education, but run independently of local school boards. If a student decides to attend a charter school, money earmarked for that child gets redirected from the school district to the charter school.
The CGR report says that amounts to about $32 million of the school district’s budget.
In recent years, the number of charter schools in Rochester has been steadily climbing, with about 10 more applications expected in the years ahead.
The surge in the next five years is projected to mean a loss of about 3,000 students for the school district, which is already grappling with dramatic enrollment declines.
When the first charter schools opened in 2001, about 4 percent of city students attended them. By 2018, that percentage is expected to increase to 18 percent. The loss of students will put the district’s enrollment at the lowest level it has been in five decades.
On state tests in recent years, a higher percentage of local charter school students have been deemed proficient in math, English and science than school district students, according to the report.
Supporters of charter schools say that they offer options to parents of children in school districts that are failing to reach them. They also create competition that theoretically will challenge traditional school districts to do better. And some offer innovative programs, which in Rochester include single-sex schools, bilingual education and one focused on career preparation.
Yet opponents say the schools do little more than siphon students from traditional public schools, often the highest performers.
While locally some in charter schools post better standardized test scores, some research suggests that the vast majority fail to produce better results than traditional schools. And most of the schools serve significantly lower numbers of students with special needs or those who are learning English, leaving behind the most challenging students for the school districts.
Locally, parents apply to a charter school. A lottery is used to select students from the pool of applicants.
Gardner said that local charter schools are likely to attract students from families more committed to education, given the steps that must be taken to get into a charter school.
The report concludes by saying that charter schools are not a panacea but succeed when they attract exceptional management and exceptional teachers.
And the report asks: “Does leaving students with more motivated parents in the classrooms of traditional struggling schools improve the outcome for all or simply make success unattainable for that group of students?”
Rochester school board member Mary Adams said that she is very committed to a high-quality education and has sent her children to regular public schools — but worries about the effect of charter schools on traditional schools.
“I believe that the rebuilding and repairing of public education is going to depend on a strong public commitment to public education and not through profit-driven, market-oriented approaches,” said Adams.
She expressed concern about the prospect of out-of-state educational management groups collaborating with local groups in starting charter schools based on a more profit-driven model.
“We need to remain focused on strengthening the public system,” Adams said.
Source: DemocratandChronicle.com – by James Goodman