Mulgrew joins charter leaders’ calls for city to release school enrollment data

Transparency, it turns out, has united the city’s charter school sector and the teachers union.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew joined calls from New York City Charter School Center James Merriman on Friday for the city to provide student discharge data for district and charter schools. The request came in response to comments made by Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s a day earlier that implied some charter schools were recruiting and pushing students to leave the schools inappropriately.

“The UFT completely agrees with Mr. Merriman, and I would love for a completely transparent audit of all of these enrollments, including public schools and charter schools,” Mulgrew said in an interview on Friday.

Fariña’s comments came after she was asked to clarify remarks she made at a conference, where she said charter schools needed “better transparency.”

Charter schools need to serve larger populations of English language learners and students with disabilities, Fariña said, and she knew of some schools where there was a “whole movement out of charters the month before the test.” She also suggested that charter schools were circumventing state law by recruiting and enrolling students based on their test scores.

A spokeswoman for Fariña backed away from those claims on Friday. The chancellor’s comments, she said, “did not refer to the majority of charter schools where staff are working hard to support and educate all students.”

Mulgrew threw some cold water on Fariña’s concern that students were being pushed out of charter schools just before state tests. Though complaints of attrition at that time of year used to be common, that is no longer the case, he said. In fact, it’s this time of year when the union most often hears from members whose schools get students who have left charter schools.

“It’s gotten louder and louder,” Mulgrew said.

(One Chalkbeat commenter offered an explanation for the October timing: School funding is largely determined by enrollment after Oct. 31. Merriman pointed out that charter school funding is adjusted during the year as enrollment changes. District school funding is adjusted for enrollment just once, in the spring.)

The back-and-forth prompted many teachers to share their personal experiences with student churn at their own schools.

Paula Richardson, a special education teacher at a district elementary school in Brownsville, said her school was “like a revolving door.” Some students come to the school after brief stints at a charter school, while others come after moving into one of the neighborhood’s homeless shelters. Two students recently left the school just a few days apart because they moved out of their shelter, she said.

“We are mandated to take in every kid,” said Richardson. “Whatever challenges come with them.”

Mulgrew wasn’t the only education official to call for more information about charter school enrollment. Kathleen Cashin, a former regional superintendent who now serves on the state’s Board of Regents, said she has been asking the State Education Department for more than a year to release data showing district and charter school attrition trends.

“I think it’s very important to know and we still don’t have it yet,” Cashin said. “Let’s not just make up numbers and spin things to make one or another side look good.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Fariña’s remarks on Friday, though he only referred to her statements about special-education students and English language learners. Charter schools vary widely in how they serve those high-needs students, he noted.

“I don’t think anyone should see that as a negative, that she’s acknowledging a reality that is something we’re going to have to work on, just like we have to work on a lot of issues in traditional public schools,” de Blasio said.

“There’s charter schools that have work to do. We should talk about that openly,” de Blasio added.