Replication ≠ Excellence

A week ago Friday, it was announced that Success Academies was given $8.5M by hedge fund manager John Paulson to continue its expansion.

It’s a number that we, in the independent charter sector, can scarcely fathom. Most of us survive hand to mouth, almost entirely by per-pupil funding with occasional boosts from SSF, CSP and other government grants.

It’s certainly not because we eschew private sector money. Au contraire: please bring it on! But that kind of capital infusion, whether from philanthropy or from the investment world, generally seeks some kind of leverage.

Funders love growth and our goals have always been modest. Most of us are educators first and foremost and have not set our sights on the hockey-stick trajectory that drives the investment world.

Encouraging charter schools that do good work to replicate certainly makes sense, but the grand scale to which this is promoted by investors, funders and (dare we say it?) our authorizers is just another example of the ways in which the independent charter school sector has become marginalized. Not only are our schools held to a higher standard that our district counterparts, but now administrators and teachers have to ponder if what they’re doing is not only good enough to stay open, but good enough to copy.

The irony doesn’t stop there. When was the last time you heard of an excellent district school duplicating itself? The last time we checked there was still one Stuyvesant, one Brooklyn Technical High School, one LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts, one Hunter College High School. Should those institutions have to reproduce to prove their worth as well?

Again—this is no slam against investment capital and no slam against Success Academies, which has made a huge impact in the ed-world.

But replication on a grand scale is not what we’re about and it’s certainly not clear that creating large charter districts is a model that fosters innovation or the kind of community-centeredness that characterizes so many of our schools. Nor is it clear that creation of large charter districts was remotely the intention those who drafted the original charter school law.

Regardless of differences in philosophy, the Coalition supports all efforts to create better options in public education. But, above all, our group exists to help sing our collective praises and fight for the continuance and proliferation of our small, but beautiful solutions throughout the city. If only news of the fabulous work that we’re doing in our schools could be heard over the din of the cash registers and the ignorant armies clashing over ed policy.

So here’s a promise that we want to make to you for the coming year. We promise to keep our collective work in the public’s eye and we promise to celebrate all our success and achievements and maintain our presence as cheerleader for our breathtakingly diverse sector.

Christine Nick, Associate Director Steve Zimmerman, Co-Executive Director

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