There is no doubt in my mind that Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking the right approach to helping schools that have been struggling with low test scores, graduation rates and teacher attrition. He is, by contrast to his predecessor, a friend of the public school system and teachers. Last year de Blasio announced that as part of his school renewal plan, he would be giving the lowest performing public schools financial support in hopes that they can turn around their downward spiral. He will supply schools with more social workers and help transform them into “community” schools, offering extra programs for families. Their school day will be lengthened and teachers will receive more professional development.
These vital additions are certain to help the New York City public schools that need it most. But not ALL the public schools. None of the funds directed towards public school improvement will go to public charter schools. There has been no real reason given for this.
I probably wouldn’t care about this one bit if I didn’t have a child attending an excellent public charter school in Queens. As it turns out, we could use some extra cash too. Not only do we pay for our rent using the per-pupil funding we receive from the state, but the consequences of continued low test scores have a completely different meaning for charter schools. Mayor de Blasio is not planning on shutting down the struggling district schools (at least not right away). He’s lending a hand, as he should. But when charter schools consistently don’t perform well, their charters will not be renewed.Every three to five years charter schools have to prove themselves worthy. And most authorizers don’t place as much value on the new and innovative teaching models, school culture, and community involvement, as they do on test scores.
In fact, the improvements Mayor de Blasio is making in struggling schools are exactly what many charters are already doing: extended school days, professional development, community involvement. We hear so much about charter schools in the media- all in a negative light. But not all charter schools are deserving of this vitriol. Some of them are actually doing what charter schools originally set out to do. Some of them are actively seeking out ELL and special education students. Some of them offer free educational programs for parents and their kids. All of them present an opportunity of choice for parents that might not be accepting of their zoned district school.
I admit, the conversations about charter schools in my parent circle can be uncomfortable for me. I have many friends and acquaintances whose children attend traditional public schools. I listen to offhand remarks disparaging charters. Most of what I hear are myths which I try to dispel. Many people don’t even realize that charter schools are public schools. How can I rage against the Mayor for helping traditional public schools and leaving public charters out in the cold when the differences between the two are so egregiously confused? Imagine the uproar if charter schools were included in de Blasio’s renewal plan. Sadly, they’re not (at least not yet).
My hope for the future is that the Mayor’s plan works, and works well. Our schools need more resources, and resources cost money. My hope is that his program has successful implementation and expands to all public schools needing assistance. In the meantime, we wait, fingers crossed, expecting that someday soon the New York City children that attend public charter schools are treated like equals in a system that has flaws aplenty, as well as advocates and passionate leaders willing to make a significant change.
By Amanda Lefer