When the Charter Schools Act of New York State was passed in 1998, one of the key components called for these schools to be innovators of both practice and school culture in order to create change to help fix the larger, broken public school system. This was of noble intent, but the reality of what it means to be a charter school in New York State, and specifically New York City, is increasingly less about innovation and more about replication.
This week the State Department of Education denied all 15 applications for new charter schools throughout New York State, with 12 of those schools slated to open in the five boroughs. It is not the first time in recent memory in which independent charter schools have been shut out. On October 8, 2014, SUNY Trustees approved 17 new charter schools and granted 14 to the Success Academy Network and the remaining three to the Achievement First Network. Both of these networks were granted their additional charters on the basis of initial success, but it could be argued that without the opportunity to open their first schools nobody would be aware of what they are capable of doing.
While it is true that both of these Networks have created learning environments that are successful for their teachers and their students, shouldn’t the opportunity for choice exist beyond the option between a district school and these networks, which have similar pedagogic underpinnings?
Presently, there are 210 public charter schools operating in New York City and the potential for 25 additional schools to be opened before hitting maximum capacity under the current cap. To give an idea of the dire need for more charters beyond the current permissible amount, there are about 163,000 students presently on waiting lists all over the City whose parents are waiting for the opportunity to exercise a real choice about their education.
Figures such as those indicate two things: 1) authorizers should choose to work more collaboratively with the groups attempting to open these desperately needed schools and 2) the cap should be lifted with new charters going to as diverse a group of schools as the students who will ultimately attend them.
By Christine Nick, Associate Director