in the middle

In the polarized charter school debate, one study offers a ‘balanced’ picture

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Charter school teachers, principals and staff members gather at a rally organized by Families for Excellent Schools.

In the debate over charter schools, it often feels like there’s no middle ground.

Supporters say charters target under-served children and do a better job educating them. Detractors say charters actually cream the best students and get rid of others with harsh discipline policies.

The reality, according to a new report released by the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, is not nearly as clear-cut. Charter schools in New York state and across the country vary widely in who they serve, how well their students perform and how often they suspend students.

“The main thing that I want to push people to deal with is to deal with the charters that we have, and not the pictures or portraits of charters that are useful to the argument we’re making,” said AEI research fellow Nat Malkus, who authored the report. “Charters are not one thing.”

Using 2011-12 federal data, Malkus compared charter schools to their five closest traditional public school neighbors that serve the same grades. Compared to other states, Malkus said New York presented a much more “balanced” picture than others.

Though Malkus hopes to bring nuance to a polarized debate, the study could just as easily be used to fuel either side of the charter school argument.

Who attends charter schools?

In New York state, large swaths of charter schools (often around 50 percent) served roughly similar populations as their neighboring traditional public schools.

But there were some differences. For example, 77 percent of charter schools enrolled more black students than neighboring schools.

Yet, almost half the state’s charter schools served fewer English Language Learners than neighboring schools and only 3 percent served more. Similarly, 41 percent of New York’s charter schools served fewer students with special needs than neighboring schools and only 15 percent served more.

How do charter school students perform?

When compared with their nearest traditional public schools, 62 percent of charters in New York state had higher proficiency rates and only 17 percent had lower proficiency rates.

Malkus cautioned against drawing any quick conclusions from those numbers.

“I don’t know whether that’s because charters are more effective at educating students, or charters are more effective at attracting high-achieving students — or both. And my guess would be both,” Malkus said. “The truth is you can’t separate those two things.”

Do charters suspend more students?

Malkus found that 43 percent of charter schools had higher suspension rates than their neighboring traditional public schools and only four percent had a lower rate.

Malkus said suspensions are “part of the model” for some New York City charters. “They don’t take discipline lightly,” he said.

But again, he pointed out that the picture was far more complicated, with 53 percent of charter schools showing similar suspension rates as traditional public schools.

“Anyone who would say this is how charters operate — all suspend a lot more kids — that is not the case.”

moving forward

New York City officials: Large-scale school desegregation plan likely coming by June

PHOTO: BRIC TV
Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack, third from left, discussing the city's integration efforts.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised a “bigger vision” to address segregation in New York City schools, but officials have thus far kept details under wraps.

But they’ve been dribbling out some details, most notably a timeline for when a large-scale plan could be released. Officials at a town hall discussion in Brooklyn Thursday night reiterated that a plan would likely be released by June.

We’re “going to propose some new thinking that we have, both about some of the systems that we run and about ways that we can work together locally to make change,” said Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack, who is heading the department’s diversity efforts. “We expect it to come out by the end of the school year.”

BRIC TV host Brian Vines, who moderated the panel co-produced with WNYC, pushed for details. “Is there any one thing that you can at least give us a hint at that’s a concrete measure?” he asked.

But Wallack didn’t take the bait. “What I will say is that we are actually still engaged in conversations like this one, trying to get good ideas about how to move forward,” he said, adding that the education department is talking with educators, parents and schools interested in the issue.

New York City officials have been under pressure to address school segregation after a 2014 report called its schools some of the most racially divided in the country. More recently, debates over how best to change zone lines around schools on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn have grown heated.

“We have a lot of hard work to do,” Wallack said. “But the mayor and chancellor are deeply committed to that work and to working with all of you to make that happen.”

Correction (Dec. 2, 2016): This story has been corrected to reflect that the town hall event was not the first time officials had described a timeline for releasing a plan.

data points

Six stats that show how black and Latino students in New York City are subjected to disproportionate policing

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Advocates protest school suspension policy.

Arrests, summonses, and serious crimes are all trending downward in city schools, but a new analysis shows black and Latino students continue to be disproportionately subjected to police interventions and handcuffing, even during incidents that aren’t considered criminal.

Those findings come from a New York Civil Liberties Union review of new NYPD statistics on student interactions with regular precinct officers, in addition to their contact with school safety agents posted in schools. Thanks to a city law passed in 2015, this year is the first time those numbers have been publicly released (in previous years, the NYPD only released data on incidents involving school safety agents).

The new statistics add second-quarter data to first-quarter numbers released in July, revealing the persistence of troubling racial disparities over the first half of 2016. Here are six key data points from the NYCLU analysis:

  • In the first six months of the yearabout 91 percent of school-based arrests, and nearly 93 percent of summonses, were issued to black or Latino students (a population that represents nearly 70 percent of the school population).
  • More than 60 percent of all arrests and summonses during the same period were carried out by precinct officers, not school safety agents. “That means precinct-based officers with no specialized training enter schools and arrest children without regard for the impact on school climate,” according to the NYCLU.
  • There have been 1,210 school-related incidents where children were handcuffed in the first half of 2016. Nearly 93 percent involved students who were black or Latino.
  • Between April and July there were 94 incidents where a student showed “signs of emotional distress” and was handcuffed and taken to a hospital for further evaluation. Ninety-seven percent involved students who were black or Hispanic.
  • Over the same period, the city issued 255 “juvenile reports” — which are taken for students who are under 16 and involved in incidents that, if the students were adults, could count as crimes. Ninety-two percent of the reports were issued to black and Latino students. And though only 20 percent of students issued juvenile reports were handcuffed, 100 percent of those restrained were black or Latino.
  • There were 44 “mitigation” incidents, in which a student committed an offense and was handcuffed, but then released by the NYPD to school officials for discipline. All of those students were black or Latino.

You can find the NYCLU’s annual roundup of suspension data here.