Mayor beats his own deadline to open 100 charter schools

As he gears up to run for a third term, Mayor Bloomberg announced today that he has made good on a 2005 campaign promise to double the number of charter schools in the city.

Bloomberg said in October 2005 that he would bring the number of charter schools in the city to 100 by the end of his second term this year. At the time, there were fewer than 50 charters open in the city, and state law allowed only 100 charters altogether. The law changed in 2007 and since then, the state, city Department of Education, and SUNY system have granted charters at breakneck speed. This fall, 100 charter schools will be open in the city.

Bloomberg’s vigorous lobbying influenced the legislature’s decision two years ago to permit more charters, and today, his support for the movement won him a “Champion for Charters” award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization that promotes the schools. The award ceremony took place at Brooklyn Charter School, a Bedford-Stuyvesant elementary school that was the first DOE-authorized charter school.

The number of charter schools operating in the city grew from 17 when Bloomberg first took office in 2002 to 78 this school year. This fall, there will be anywhere from 99 to 104 charters open, depending on the results of Bloomberg’s attempt to convert some shrinking Catholic schools to charters and on whether the State Education Department approves the first charter school for Staten Island. (That school would serve children with special needs.) A couple of low-performing charter schools have also closed. On average, charter schools outperform other city public schools on state tests and on the city’s progress reports.

The city’s full press release about Bloomberg’s award, and the rise in the number of charter schools, is after the jump. Also in the press release: a list of 25 charter schools that will open either in the fall or in 2010.


Authorization of 25 New Charter Schools Will Allow City to Pass its Goal of 100 Charters

Mayor Bloomberg Accepts “Champion for Charters” Award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that with 25 newly authorized charter schools, the total number of charter schools operating in New York City will surpass 100.  Today, 78 charter schools serve 24,000 students across the City, and an additional 30,000 students are on charter school waiting lists. When Mayor Bloomberg was elected, there were only 17 charter schools in New York City. In 2005, he committed to doubling the number of charters from 50 to 100.  The Mayor and Chancellor were joined at the Brooklyn Charter School by New York City Charter Schools Center Chief Executive Officer James Merriman, and Brooklyn Charter School founder Omigbade Escayg, as well as educators, parents, and other charter schools supporters. The Mayor was also presented with a “Champion for Charters” award by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools president Nelson Smith. Past recipients of this award include Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“New York City’s charter schools and their students are succeeding—so it’s no surprise that parents are demanding more seats in charters,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “With the support of charter school families, educators, and others, we were able to convince State Legislators in Albany to raise the cap limiting the number of charter schools in New York City. Now, more than 100 charter schools are authorized to operate in the City, and that means even greater opportunities for students throughout the five boroughs.”

“Charter school students’ achievements are proof that all students can succeed given the right opportunity,” said Chancellor Klein. “I am thrilled that these additional charter schools will enable even more families to choose the rigorous education that these schools provide.”

“I am pleased to call Mayor Bloomberg a champion for charters because of his forward-thinking leadership, and his work to provide parents and children with the high-quality education options they deserve,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools president Nelson Smith.

“Improving public education is often politically difficult, but Mayor Bloomberg has continually done the right thing for children by advocating for charter school growth in New York City.”

Last year, students in New York City charter schools outperformed students in other public schools around the City. More than 84 percent of charter school students met or exceeded grade-level standards in math, compared to 74 percent of students citywide. In English Language Arts, 67 percent of charter school students met or exceeded grade-level standards, compared to 58 percent of students citywide. Similarly, charter schools received higher marks on the City’s progress reports, especially at the middle-school level, where 69 percent of charter middle schools received an A, compared to 30 percent of middle schools citywide. Overall, half of the City’s 42 charter schools receiving progress report grades earned an A, compared to 38 percent of all elementary and middle schools citywide. KIPP Infinity, a charter middle school in Harlem, earned an A and received a score of 106 points, making it the top performer of the 1,043 elementary, middle, and K-8 schools that received progress report grades for their performance during the 2007-08 school year.

In April 2007, New York State lawmakers raised the cap limiting the number of charter schools. The new law allows for the creation of an additional 100 charter schools in New York State, 50 of which are reserved for schools in New York City. Since then, 18 charter schools have opened in New York City, and an additional 25 have been approved to open. Of the 25 newly approved charters, 21 are planning to enroll their first students in September 2009. The remaining schools plan to open in September 2010.  In addition, the State Education Department is expected to vote in March on an additional charter school, the John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School, which is proposed to open in Staten Island. Mayor Bloomberg also announced earlier this week that he and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio will explore turning four Brooklyn and Queens Catholic schools slated for closure into charter schools by fall 2009.

Charter schools are public schools governed by not-for-profit boards of trustees. They are subject to New York State educational standards, and can be closed if student performance or operational goals are not met. Charter schools admit students by lottery, with preference given to children who live in the community school district where the school is located. About 62 percent of the City’s public charter school students are black compared to 32 percent for the city; 30 percent are Hispanic compared to 39 percent for the city. More than 78 percent of charter school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, compared to 73 percent for the city.

The 25 newly approved charter schools are:

  1. Academic Leadership Charter School (Manhattan)
  2. Achievement First North Crown Heights (Brooklyn)
  3. Believe Northside Charter High School (Brooklyn)
  4. Believe Southside Charter High School (Brooklyn)
  5. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School (Brooklyn)
  6. Brooklyn Scholars Charter School (Brooklyn)
  7. Brownsville Ascend Charter School (Brooklyn)
  8. Carl C. Icahn Charter School Nine (Bronx)
  9. Coney Island Preparatory Charter School (Brooklyn)
  10. Crown Heights Collegiate Charter School (Brooklyn)
  11. East New York Collegiate Charter School (Brooklyn)
  12. Excellence Charter School for Girls (Brooklyn)
  13. Explore Charter School (Brooklyn)
  14. Fahari Academy Charter School (Brooklyn)
  15. Flatbush Collegiate Charter School (Brooklyn)
  16. Girls Preparatory Charter School of East Harlem (Manhattan)
  17. Growing Up Green Charter School (Queens)
  18. Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (Brooklyn)
  19. Leadership Preparatory Brownsville Charter School (Brooklyn)
  20. Leadership Preparatory East New York Charter School (Brooklyn)
  21. Leadership Preparatory Flatbush Charter School (Brooklyn)
  22. Summit Academy Charter School (Brooklyn)
  23. The Equality Charter School (Bronx)
  24. The Equity Project Charter School (Manhattan)
  25. The Ethical Community Charter School (Bronx)

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.