From time to time I make the case that charter schools are like animals: some, like skunks, stink. Others are our very best friends. So to say you’re “for” or “against” charters schools — or animals — is not very helpful. I mention this because I’m six months late in passing on yet another data point in the extraordinary track record of the now-47 New York City Success Academy public schools and their more than 17,000 students selected by lottery. Most of them children of color; with a median household income about one-fourth and one-tenth of, say, the Chappaqua and Scarsdale median incomes.
When last year’s state exam results came in, the Success Schools — larger than 95% of the school districts in the country (if, taken together, they were a school district) — were the highest-performing in New York State, “outpacing the most affluent suburban districts and even gifted-and-talented programs.”
There are 53,000 children on waiting lists for public charter schools in NYC. There are 100,000 empty seats in NYC school buildings. The math is simple, but Mayor de Blasio refuses to give parents and kids the space they need, the space Success needs to open new schools.
Only 1 in 3 students of color in this city, out of 750,000, are being equipped by their schools to read and do math. Parents and children are being failed. They know it. They feel it. Without the knowledge and skills that only a world-class education delivers, these children will be locked out of access to college and careers and the prosperity that brings.
Mayor de Blasio brushes aside these high stakes by arguing the city’s system is “steadily improving.” And maybe, based on this rate of improvement, it will actually be helping the families who need it most — in the year 2050. But every child deserves a high-quality education today.
I’d love to see traditional public schools — all of them well-intentioned, for sure — adopt the Success Academy teaching methods that have been proven to work. Even if it’s uncomfortable for some of their teachers and administrators. To my mind, the kids have to come first. Do the mayor and City Council feel the same way?
“Charter schools” — like “animals” — are not the answer.
Methods that some charter schools have proven to work surely would seem to be.
(Since 1982 there has been a thing called the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program that last year named 349 “exemplary high performing schools” out of more than 132,000 public and private schools nationally — roughly 1 in 400 made the cut, just 9 of them in New York City. Two were Success Academy public schools.)
(And no, it’s not true that once the Success students are chosen by lottery, all but the really smart ones are kicked out. In a recent year, about 150 kids who transferred into Success public schools from the traditional NYC public schools saw their grade-level reading and math ability rise from 40% or so to 85% or so. In a single year. Can that REALLY be the result of cherry-picking? How?)
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