Michael Mulgrew must be bored. After a successful campaign to dissociate test scores from teacher evaluations, the UFT president is looking for another battle. But this new battle is without merit.
Mulgrew is proposing legislation that would penalize charter schools that do not reach targeted enrollment numbers for ELL and special education students. The punishments range from school closure to fines for infractions. Is he working for the FCC now? The NFL? If I wear pink sneakers on the field, will I have to pay a $50,000 fine? If XYZ Charter School only enrolls 11.9% ELLs, will it be shuttered in shame for missing the target?
Let’s not pretend that this is about leveling the playing field for NYC schools. If it was, then every public school in the city would have to be held to the same standards and targets. But they’re not. It is a fact that public schools vary in the degrees of success they achieve when handling ELL and special needs enrollment and services. Taking aim on the entire charter sector and ignoring the same issues in district schools does nothing to improve public education as a whole. Setting “new” rules and standards (that already exist) in order to punish the worst offenders is a thinly guised statement of disgust for a few bad actors in a genuinely diverse and talented cast. Transforming those stringent standards into law serves only to mollify the UFT.
Charter schools are already held to high standards by their authorizers, and if they do not perform on task, there are very real consequences. Michael Mulgrew experienced this first-hand when the UFT Charter School in East New York was forced to close its elementary and middle schools last year.
C3S represents a vast array of independent charter schools, many of which specialize in serving students with the highest educational needs. Every class at Global Community and DREAM Charter Schools are ICT classrooms. Fifty percent of students at Opportunity Charter have IEPs. New York Center for Autism Charter School and the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem focus on enrolling students on the autism spectrum. Many of our member schools aim to enroll over-age and under-credited students, students experiencing homelessness or those that have been incarcerated. Nineteen of our member schools have a UFT staff. Lumping all charter schools together in order to cast a negative shadow on the entire sector is undeserved, and unappreciated.
In 2011 the city rolled out its guidelines for special education reform in an effort to provide the least restrictive setting for all children at their local zoned schools. More than four years later, many district schools are still ironing out the kinks. Just as charter schools are. There is an overarching district-charter mission to be able to welcome all students, no matter what their needs and abilities may be. But this movement towards inclusion takes time and resources. We cannot expect that a new system will be implemented overnight, and operate flawlessly. We cannot expect a process without hiccups and struggles. If the UFT is going to analyze the enrollment numbers for all charter schools, they should also do the same with district schools including the NYC Specialized High Schools and Gifted and Talented programs. They’ll soon find that those numbers don’t add up. But Mulgrew’s fight isn’t really against all charter schools—this time. He has a bone to pick with the heavy hitters, and he’s ginning up anti-charter sentiment to get at them.
The UFT has to come to terms with the grudge it holds over charter schools. Their obsession is undermining intelligent conversation. The charter school world is filled with courageous leaders and teachers who spill their guts to help kids get what they’ve got. Accusing them of bad faith is extremely unhelpful. It’s not about helping children. It’s not about parity in the field. Equitable enrollment of disadvantaged students is an issue throughout public education, district and charter alike. Working together towards a solution is a better way to channel our energy. Mr. Mulgrew should transform his ire into a force for good.
Amanda Lefer, Family and Community Outreach Associate at C3S