Time to Stir the Stew

Here are some numbers to mull:

So, let’s start by debunking one of the great charter schools myths. Are we serving children with special needs? Indeed, we are. Overall, independent charters are nearly at parity with the city, and our numbers are 25% higher than the networks. Our enrollment of EL’s is not yet where we want it to be, but many of us have put great effort into changing that and, I believe that once we take a deeper look at the EL numbers we’ll see that individual schools in our coalition are quite close to their districts.

It’s important to have these numbers when we’re speaking with our electeds. And it would be really nice if parents knew these numbers as well. The collective voice of the parents of our 46,000 kids could have quite an impact on some of the conversations we’re having.

While we’re on the subject of numbers, here’s some more grist for your mill:

Slight disclaimer about this ratio: it’s probably an underestimation. We pulled the numbers from the National Alliance for Charter Schools, which has been the nation’s cheerleader for “scale.” To understand this push better, here’s how it was stated by Alice Johnson Cain, the VP for External Affairs of the National Alliance in 2011:

“In the past, federal charter laws were really focused on growing new models, and that was very appropriate when the charter movement was getting launched. Twenty years in, we have a good sense of what the effective schools are. We need to encourage replication and expansion of models we know work.”

Could anything be more antithetical to great education than an assumption that we now know what the great public school models are and all we have to do is scale the hell out of them?

I’m not sure why we haven’t been able to find reputable figures for the last four years but, given our national infatuation with scale and the bonanza of money flowing into CMO coffers, one could safely assume that this disparity is worsening.

This should not be interpreted in any way as being disparaging of the CMO’s. Their outcomes speak persuasively and they have greatly increased educational opportunities for families in NYC.

But charter laws were also created to increase innovation and choice in public education. If the choice is whether to send your child to a district school or a no-excuses charter school, that is a false choice. Why should that be the model for charter schools rather than, say, Sidwell Friends?

At the very least, there needs to be parity between the network and independent sectors. And, collectively, we’re going to have to work at finding ways to make it easier for independent charter schools to open and flourish.

The schools in our coalition provide an amazing array of choice. We have schools that are arts-centered, STEAM-centered, music-centered, ecology-centered, social-justice-centered. We have schools whose mission is to serve the children of the homeless, kids who are floundering in district high schools and children with severe learning challenges. What our schools have done individually is heroic. What we have done collectively is breathtaking.

Let’s work on getting the story out.

by Steve Zimmerman


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