Selected readings on US charter schools
New York and Illinois are headed in two different directions when it comes to support for public charter schools.
In New York, state leaders reached agreement on a budget plan that will increase per-pupil funding for charter schools and make public school facilities available to charters (or require the city to pay for private space). The agreement rolls back the anti-charter measures launched earlier this year by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who cut funding for charter school facilities, reneged on plans to let three charter schools share space with district schools, and put a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools.
Fierce public resistance by charter school parents and teachers forced de Blasio to reconsider his aggressive anti-charter posture and take a more accommodating stance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo played a part, too.
Cuomo, a Democrat, quickly came to the aid of charter schools. He threw his weight behind students who want to stay in their school, and parents, teachers and other supporters who want more children to have access to the opportunities charters offer.
New York City charter schools – including those from poor neighborhoods in Harlem and the Bronx – have been some of the best performers on state academic achievement tests. These schools, which serve a large number of black, Hispanic, and low-income students, are rewriting the script when it comes to urban education. They’re showing what can be done when students and schools are held to high standards and given the freedom to innovate. That’s why 50,000 New York City students’ names are on charter school waitlists today.
Charter schools in Illinois have also been successful at closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority children. In Chicago, 22 percent of high school students attend charters, which is a large fraction of the 58,000 charter students across the state. And 20,000 additional children are on charter schools waitlists. But despite high demand for charter schools, and their proven success, the Illinois legislature is currently considering several bills that would break new ground in hostility toward charters.
One bill would do away with Illinois’ statewide charter school authorizer, making local school boards, which are often suspicious of charters, the final judges of whether charters can open or expand. Another bill would require elections to determine whether a charter school can open – which would simply force education dollars to be spent on campaigns and discourage great charter school operators from serving more students. Still another bill would prevent charters from advertising themselves, an illogical restriction on schools that have to advertise to let parents know they exist.
Perhaps the strangest bill of all would force every charter school in Illinois to offer vocational training. Vocational training is great for many students, but forcing every charter – including those focused on college prep or the arts – to offer vocational training would undermine the core tenets of educational choice and curriculum innovation that have made charters so successful.
All of these efforts are designed to squelch an educational option that parents and students are flocking to in droves. Just consider Noble charter schools. Noble was started in 1999 by two Chicago public school teachers who wanted better for their students. And did they ever deliver.
Today, Noble educates 9,000 students in 14 schools throughout Chicago. Ninety-eight percent of Noble students are minorities and 89 percent come from low-income families. But the most important fact is this: 90 percent of Noble graduates go on to college.
Innovation in any sector is disruptive, and innovation sometimes scares people and institutions that prefer the status quo. But innovations that are working to give children better lives are something everyone should be able to support.
New York is showing how good charters can be nurtured and strengthened to serve more students. Illinois is threatening to deny its most vulnerable students the advantages of a great education.
Source: US News – by Nina Rees