Charter Pulse

Selected readings on US charter schools

NEW YORK: Charter schools are public schools

kidsCharter schools, which educate 70,000 kids in 183 locations throughout New York City, are public schools. That’s more than a semantic point; it’s a core philosophical one.

Those who oppose charters are desperate to paint a picture that the independently run, publicly funded schools serve the fortunate few while undermining the larger system that serves 95% of the kids. It’s a lie.

Charter schools run primarily on taxpayer dollars. They are held strictly accountable to the state for results. They educate some of our most challenging students, the vast majority of them low-income, black and Latino. They are open to all applicants, with seats determined by random lottery.

And the very best charters, through educational innovation and management flexibility, set a stunning example of what’s possible throughout the free, public system.

At Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, the largest and most successful charter network in New York City — and, not coincidentally, the schools most loathed by Mayor de Blasio — there’s a safe, respectful and disciplined climate for learning. Kids get far more time on task and outstanding instruction in English and math. They get science every day, enriching electives from an early age, chess and more.

This yields amazing dividends. Proficiency rates in Success Academy schools — which overwhelmingly serve low-income and minority kids — are on par with New York State’s very best suburban schools.

That’s not the result of relentless test-prep, or of cherry-picking kids and casting off those who can’t cut it. These are smears that have been disproven by research.

Nor is it the result of a massive infusion of corporate money creating, essentially, private academies with a public imprimatur. While charters do raise outside money, particularly to cover scale-up costs and enhance teacher training, their overall per-student funding is on par with other public schools. In fact, they are explicitly denied some funding streams, like facilities funding, made available to district schools.

Meanwhile, many traditional public schools also pass the hat and cultivate wealthy benefactors. Brooklyn Tech, where Dante de Blasio goes, has a sizable endowment. So do well-to-do schools in many other parts of the city. The Fund for Public Schools raises more than $20 million a year to support district schools throughout New York City. There’s nothing about fundraising that is fundamental to the charter model.

The results that great charter schools get are proof of what can happen when you smartly unleash innovation within a system that, thanks in no small part to a rigid teachers’ union contract, bureaucratic ossification and other hardened habits, often fails to meet the crying demands of its neediest students.

All of which is to say: Outstanding charter schools are helping save public education, not destroy it.

This is why Mayor de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, are horribly wrong to treat charter school kids as though they’re bastard stepchildren.

They are trying to scale back charters’ school-sharing arrangements — a move that is patently unfair, given that hundreds of district schools are similarly co-located. It was especially perverse to force nearly 200 kids in one of the city’s very best schools, Success Academy 4, out of the classrooms they were promised for next fall. Then came the blowback, and a belated, begrudging change of course.

Because charters are public schools, giving them free, underutilized space in district buildings, to compensate for the fact that they get no facilities funding from the state, is not some unseemly favor. De Blasio seems to think it is.

And going still further — aiming to charge charters rent when they use space in public school buildings — is downright hostile to a movement that has done more than any other to give hope to tens of thousands of families who have long felt abandoned by their local schools.

But the lie that charter schools aren’t really public schools isn’t only propagated by enemies of the movement. It’s furthered by the salaries of network leaders themselves.

Moskowitz and a handful of other charter school network CEOs earn salaries that are approaching a half-million dollars, with most of those sums coming from private sources. If these truly are networks of public schools, then sky-high executive pay, enabled by deep-pocketed donors, ought to be concerning to them and their champions.

I have deep respect for Moskowitz (6,700 children and counting in her 22 schools, $475,000 annual pay, about half of which is paid by a private foundation), Deborah Kenny (1,400 children and growing in her five Village Academy Network schools, $499,000 annual pay, paid entirely from private sources) and others who make less doing similar work.

They have unique skill sets. They run complex and unique organizations — risky startups, often with ambitions above and beyond running a group of schools — remarkably well. Moskowitz in particular, with her off-the-charts success and persuasive but polarizing public posture, handily serves as the poster woman for the movement and the dart target of opponents.

But they and their boards of directors must step back and see the damage done to the cause they love when, enabled by generous cash from private individuals and foundations, they collect paychecks that are roughly double that of the chancellor who runs the entire million-plus child public school system.

There’s a reason nobody working for city or state government, not even the mayor ($225,000) or governor ($179,000) makes anything close to $500,000 a year. The people who pay their taxes earn, on average, less than a tenth that, and it’s offensive for public servants to pocket too much profit with our tax dollars.

When charter school network leaders, with the help of private funding streams, earn excessive sums, justifying their take-home by saying that they’re so much more than mere public school leaders, they argue against their own talking points. They make it far harder to make the case that modest rent charges are a heavy burden that will force them to make serious instructional cutbacks. They give credence to the argument that they function on the corporate model, not the public sector one. And they feed the perception that they are private schools accountable first to donors, not public institutions accountable to taxpayers — and ultimately to children.

Not helpful.

Source: New York Daily News – by Joshua Greenman

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This entry was posted on March 10, 2014 by in Charter Schools, New York, States.

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