Myth: Charter schools are public schools. Truth: “Public” means open to all members of a community.

Charter schools conduct lotteries to select students. They do not accept any student who wishes to register during the school year (as public schools do). Charter schools currently educate less than 3% of New York City’s children, yet the mayor and chancellor grant them more attention and autonomy. While the lottery process is allegedly blind, evidence shows many charter schools "counsel out" students who present behavioral challenges or need services such as counseling, ESL, small class sizes, occupational or physical therapy. East New York Preparatory Charter School discharged 48% of their students just before state exams last year. KIPP, Harlem Success Academy, and Harlem Children’s Zone (all NYC charter school chains) have been found guilty of the same practice. Public schools do not get rid of students in need. Parents must sign contracts at many charter schools. Contracts may list basic behavioral and uniform codes, but some include strict requirements about volunteer hours, participation in meetings and workshops, and even agreement to attend Saturday detention sessions if children are late or misbehave in school. If parents cannot live up to their end of this bargain, their children will be asked to leave the school. These are not the practices of public schools. While it would be optimal to have parents in schools volunteering, to make it a strict mandate infantilizes parents. The great genius of our public school system is that it is inclusive—regardless of your family’s situation, you are guaranteed access to a free education. Truth: Charter schools are "education corporations" according to the NY State Charter Act of 1998. The law exempts charters from state and local laws, rules, regulations, and policies typically applied to public and private schools. Should the education of our children be outsourced to private corporations free of regulation and oversight? Our nation’s current financial crisis is due, in part, to corporate free rein. Truth: Charter schools are not governed democratically, often limiting the input and voice of parents, students and teachers. To grow up as functional members of our democracy, children need to be witness to and participate in the democratic process. Significant documentation exists about the authoritarian practices charter schools use when it comes to discipline, conduct and even instruction. Harlem Success Academies' kindergarteners are put through a two-week “boot camp,” to learn how to walk, sit and eat in silence. Social skills are often overlooked, as charter schools push their students to achieve higher and higher marks on state-mandated assessments. KIPP schools have been accused of micro-managing students and even resorting to public humiliation as a form of punishment. Meredith Kolonder, of the Daily News, recently reported on the abusive discipline practices at Achievement First Charter School in Crown Heights, asserting that 20 percent of the children are in detention on any given day. Is this

success? Should schools focus on teaching children to do as they are told, to the exclusion of learning to question, to challenge ideas, and most importantly, to think for themselves? Most charter schools appear to place high priority on their students meeting the needs of the school (high test scores for good publicity)—an "adult needs before children's needs" mentality. What about students' needs? Myth: Charter schools serve the same student populations as public schools. Truth: Charter schools serve far fewer English language learners, special needs students, and those who qualify for free lunch than do public schools. Data from the New York State Report Cards and the Department of Education itself is quite telling: Data from 2007-2008 Public Charter Schools Schools Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch 75.8% 73.3% Students Eligible for Free Lunch 66.9% 57.6% English Language Learners 14.2% 3.8 % Special Education Students 16.4% 3.8% Truth: The majority of charter schools are located in the city’s poorest neighborhoods (in Harlem, the South Bronx, and parts of Brooklyn), where free lunch averages for public schools are much higher. Charter schools are NOT educating the same types of students as public schools. Percentage of Free Lunch by Public Schools Charter Neighborhood Schools Harlem 71.5% 60.9% South Bronx 86.5% 61.6% North-Central Brooklyn 80% 54.5% Truth: Most charter schools in New York City are concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods. This is not coincidence. Our mayor, former chancellor Klein and current chancellor Black, have replaced a publically controlled educational system. Education of our black and Latino youth is being outsourced to unregulated, private corporations. Experienced educators, not corporate managers, are best equipped to understand and address the needs of ALL OF OUR CITY'S CHILDREN. Myth: Charter schools produce better outcomes for their students. Truth: 80% of charter school students performed the same as or worse than students in traditional public schools in a study of 2,403 charter schools. Director of the Stanford University research center and study lead author, Margaret E. Raymond said, "If this study shows anything, it shows that we've got a two-to-one margin of bad charters to good charters...That's a red flag."

Truth: Many city charter schools have a habit of counseling out students with behavioral and academic weaknesses. Because charter schools operate privately, with little oversight, they can get away with this practice. When these schools find a student too challenging to work with, they simply ask him or her to go elsewhere. Edwize.org published graphs showing significant increases in test scores as enrollment dropped at four NYC charter schools. Students who could not perform to these schools’ standards were asked to leave.

We cannot continue to allow those in power to tout the success of charter schools, when they are not doing the hard work of educating all learners. The brilliant intention of our public school system is that it was designed to serve everyone, not just a select few. While charter schools hold lotteries for acceptance to their schools, they deliberately recruit high performing students from neighborhood public schools and discourage students with special needs from applying. Truth: We need to consider how we measure the quality of education in our country. President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have been pushing an agenda that equates student performance with a test score. Our children are more than just numbers--they are individuals with varied learning styles, strengths and needs. Focusing ourselves, and our children, on tests dangerously oversimplifies the learning process and does not allow us to foster the true and unique potential of our youth. Charter schools tend to be heavily focused on preparing students for standardized tests. Test prep reigns king, and little time is spent fostering creativity or critical thinking skills. We need reform that takes us away from test prep and pushes us toward truly improved teaching and learning. Myth: Charter schools hire better teachers and administrators. Truth: Charter schools have surprising staff turnover rates. Examining 2003-04 federal data, researchers from Vanderbilt University found teachers left at a rate of 25% vs. 14% in public schools based on 2003-

04 federal data. A July 2009 New York Times story quoted a charter school employee, “We were really proud of the scores, and still are…but the workload…it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.” Higher turnover rates create destabilized and chaotic school environments. Many charter school employees are overworked, underpaid, and denied the right to be part of a union. Truth: Many charter school administrators and principals are new and inexperienced. Success Academies, a network of 7 charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx is run by former city-council member Eva Moskowitz, a woman with no background in teaching who pays herself $300,000 a year. Overpaid CEO’s have contributed to the recent downfall of our economy—do we really expect a different result if we take this approach with education? Myth: Charter schools act as lab sites for innovative educational ideas and practices. Truth: Charter schools were intended to be innovative, but the schools sprouting up in New York City are anything but. A few charter corporations (Green Dot, Uncommon Schools, KIPP) run many schools and push students through a scripted and test-driven curriculum. In a February 2011 Brooklyn Rail piece, “Dubious Standards for Charter Schools,” reporter Liza Featherstone details the Department of Education’s own Office of Charter Schools recent report on the state of the city’s charters: “The report shows that most of the schools are neglecting basic elements of decent education, yet in no case were they punished for this, or pressured to change their ways.” Any sort of emphasis on critical thinking was missing from the instruction in many of the schools. Students were given little time for discussion and spent most of their time answering factual questions posed by their teachers. Very little of the learning appeared to be student-driven. “At Democracy Prep, a Harlem charter school where students have been acing standardized tests, ‘few lessons required higher-order thinking skills or deep analysis of concepts.’” Critical thinking is an essential skill, and it must be fostered and taught. Students need to be given opportunities to debate, to discuss and to question. Teaching students to memorize is not difficult work. Teaching students to think for themselves? That is the work of a true educator, and few charter schools are doing this important work. Truth: Charter schools are invading and privatizing public space. Well over fifty percent of New York City’s charter schools are colocated inside other functioning public school buildings, often to the detriment of the public school already there. Charter schools are given free space in public school buildings the Department of Education claims are “underutilized,” however few have extra space to share. In most instances, the public schools are forced out of their classrooms

or to consolidate classrooms to make room for the charter schools moving in. In many cases the charter schools continue to take more and more space each year from the public schools—in effect, taking over the building. At PS 241 in Harlem, public school students are now forced to learn in basement classrooms bordering the boiler room, all so that Harlem Success Academy Charter School can have more space upstairs. At PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, special education students are receiving their services in hallways and stairwells, all so that PAVE Academy Charter School can have more classrooms. In each public school where a charter school has opened there are equally devastating stories. Instead of working with and supporting district public schools, the Department of Education is allowing (and encouraging) our public school spaces to be replaced and privatized. MYTH: Competition between schools will improve the educational system. Truth: Any system based on competition will have winners and losers. In the case of our educational system, the winners and losers are our children. We need to create a system in which everyone, especially our most needy, can excel. In a competitive system, one school’s success is only possible when another fails. Education is not a game—it is a right. OUR VISION Our vision for public school reform does not include privatization. We support quality public neighborhood schools with smaller class sizes, equitable funding, union protections, local school councils, and neighborhood enrollment that protects and includes all children. We support a moratorium on charters, turnarounds, consolidations, phase-outs, school closings and any other form of school privatization. Public schools and educators should be empowered to work with communities to develop curriculum that is grounded in the lives of the young people they teach. Each school’s curriculum should reflect the culture, needs and lived experience of its students, critically support student identities, embrace and recognize the value of students’ home languages, and invite students to engage in solving societal problems. The Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) believes in a bottomup, participatory and highly democratic process to engage schools and communities in school improvement. JOIN US! gemnyc@gmail.com grassrootseducationmovement.blogspot.com/

The Truth about Charter Schools in New York City

Access to a high quality public education is not something that should be won in a lottery—it is a most basic human and civil right. Yet, in May, the New York State Legislature voted to raise the charter school cap, allowing 460 charter schools to be open in New York State—200 of them in the 5 boroughs of New York City. 125 are already open and operating as of this school year. But, what do these charter schools really represent? Are they the innovation and reform we need in education as our president and his education secretary so frequently proclaim? Are charter schools improving education? Or are they destabilizing, threatening and hindering the public education of our children, while at the time same dividing our communities? Read on to discover the truth. Then, please join our fight to improve and preserve public education for all.

 

GEM: Grassroots Education Movement, New York City grassrootseducationmovement.blogspot.com/ April, 2011

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