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As summer approaches, New York City’s heated charter school debate seems to be gradually cooling down for now … until the start of another school year in the fall.

Charters are free public schools open to all children in the state through a random lottery. As an alternative to traditional district schools, charters give parents the opportunity to choose what works best for their child. Since they’re usually smaller, charters provide a more personal atmosphere, and many tend to emphasize core subjects (English and math), along with the arts, science, and languages. They have longer school days and school year.

Many parents, teachers and administrators truly believe the larger conversation shouldn’t be about “district vs. charter,” but rather, common sense solutions.

Pros and cons

Some folks support the notion that charters exist solely to “privatize” education, drain traditional schools of money and motivated students, and destroy unions, while others strongly disagree.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams recently weighed in on the debate.

“Charter schools are part of the educational landscape in Brooklyn, one where a parent has various options of how to educate their child. All of our students need to be equipped with the top-notch education they deserve,” he said. “There are some important steps we must take to ensure that our education system as a whole is addressing the overcrowding crisis we have in our borough’s schools, including an end to forced co-location. Additionally, every school needs to take their fair share of ELL (English Language Learners) and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) students, to ensure equitable access to education.”

Charters can innovate

New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman is one of the nation’s foremost experts on, and a leading voice and advocate for high-quality charter schools. He and his team work at the state and city levels to provide a public policy environment that ensures that charters can continue to grow and succeed for our children, especially those most in need.

With extensive support from Gov. Cuomo and the legislature, the Charter Center is currently working to broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of these hybrid schools, remove the arbitrary cap on charters, and secure parity in funding.

According to Merriman, “Charters are able to innovate in their classroom structures, curriculum, and teaching methods. In return, they’re held to higher standards of accountabi­lity.” And it’s working, he said, pointing out that as parents seek out schools that best serve the needs of their children, they’re applying to charters, many of which are out-performing their district counter parts in droves, he claims.

He said recent polls indicate that 86 percent of New Yorkers want more school options, while there are more than 50,000 students on waitlists to get into the city’s 197 charters, which provide high-performing options within the city’s public education system.

Common Core & Success

According to successacademies.org: On the most recent New York State math and English Language Arts exams, Success Academy scholars responded well to the challenge of the more rigorous standards of the Common Core.

Among the 2,255 scholars who were age-eligible to take the test, 94 percent were proficient in math and 64 percent proficient in language arts. Success Academy schools ranked in the top one percent in math and the top three percent in language arts among all 3,560 schools in the state. In math, our scholars outperformed two of the city’s four highly selective gifted and talented schools.

Queens’ charter school movement

“Queens has a very serious problem with student overcrowding in our existing public schools, plus we have the issue of finding enough space to accommodate all our Universal pre-K students,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, adding, “I therefore have concerns about expanding the number of charter schools in our borough because they would be competing with our existing public schools for a limited amount of available classroom space. As Borough President and as the mother of two young boys, my main objective is to make sure all of our borough’s children receive a quality education and do not suffer any negative impacts due to overcrowdi­ng.”

What’s happening in Manhattan?

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s stance on this debate seems to confirm that the issue is in some ways, a double-edged sword.

“Done right, charter schools can be a laboratory for innovation and a benefit for communities looking for additional educational options. But all too often, the expansion of charters has come at the expense of kids in our public schools,” she said.

According to Brewer, the forced co-locations in public schools, both in Manhattan and elsewhere, have left public school students as second-class citizens in their own buildings.

“Just last month, I was at a meeting with teachers from across the city, who described how their students had been deprived of libraries, computer labs, and even bathrooms because a co-located charter had taken over part of their building and refused to share,” she said. “I have seen fabulous charter schools and met fabulous charter operators, but there are others who are wielding the charter school ‘movement’ like a weapon against our public schools. The emphasis in education policy must be on solutions that raise up all our students.”

There’s hope

Department of Education spokesperson Harry Hartfield summed it up best: “It’s our goal to invest in all our public schools to make sure parents have great options for their children, regardless of what neighborhood they live in. It doesn’t matter whether a child attends a traditional public school or a charter public school — we want every child to get the education they need to succeed.”

Updated 4:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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