First Person

Charter School Lottery Statistics

Mid-April marks the beginning of the charter school lottery season, and with it, news reports of staggering numbers of applications to schools with limited slots. Already, the Post reported that 3,800 students applied for 588 spots in the Achievement First charter schools. In order to review the results for past lotteries, I submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the State Education department, who provided us with the Basic Education Data System (BEDS) data that all charters file with the state. I found that applications to charter schools have increased by 50% since 2007, with over 50,000 applications submitted last year. By comparison, enrollment in charters has only increased by 40% to just shy of 40,000 students last year. The chances of getting admitted to a charter school in New York City have declined from an average acceptance rate of 36% in 2008-2009 to a rate of 28% in 2009-2010. A full spreadsheet of the admissions data, with statistics for individual schools, is available here.

Charter School Applications, 2007 - 2009

To be clear, these numbers only tell part of the story. They do not, for instance, take into account double counting-i.e. the fact that many parents apply to multiple lotteries.  Nor do they offer detailed information about where these applicants live, so it is hard to say if charters get many applicants from far away districts or from close to the school. In fact, charter operators are instructed NOT to list the district numbers of their students on the BEDS form, despite the fact that the information could be easily collected. Despite the drawbacks, this data does offer insights into where applications are the most numerous-and how the number of applications correlates to things like age of the school and its Progress Report score. The 11 schools that had admissions percentages of less than 10% last year were*:

  1. Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
  2. Bronx Charter School for Children
  3. Bronx Charter School for Excellence
  4. Community Partnership Charter School
  5. Community Roots Charter School
  6. Future Leaders Institute Charter School
  7. Grand Concourse Academy Charter School
  8. Icahn Charter School 1
  9. Merrick Academy/Queens Public Charter School
  10. Renaissance Charter School
  11. The UFT Charter School

I found that schools that have been in operation longer generally have lower admissions percentages-and this is a trend that has increased in recent years. Schools such as the Sisulu-Walker Charter School, Renaissance Charter School, and Grand Concourse Academy, all of whom have been open since at least 2004, have had admissions percentages below 15% for the past three years. There appears to be no correlation between Progress Report scores and admission numbers in the following year. Indeed, out of the 19 new charter schools opened in 2009-2010 (for which no scores yet exist) 15 had admissions percentages of less than 50%.

Charter School Admissions Compared to Years Opened, 2009
Charter School Admissions Compared to Years Opened, 2009

I also looked at admissions to charter schools based on neighborhood. I focused on Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and the South Bronx, as they are the areas that have the most charter schools. It has actually gotten easier to be admitted to a charter school in the South Bronx, where approximately 1 in 3 applicants is offered a spot. In Harlem, however, the chances of admittance have plummeted: in 2007-2008, the rate was 40%. Last year, it was 18%.

Charter School Admissions in Harlem, 2007-2009
Charter School Admissions in Harlem, 2007-2009

In future posts, I will be looking at the BEDS data related to suspensions, class size, and pupil retention. As always, I welcome comments and suggestions for ways to improve my calculations.

*I am leaving out the four Harlem Success Academy schools that were open in 2009-2010 because it is unclear whether the numbers refer to each individual school or all four schools. I will update when I have better information.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

PHOTO: Karla Ann Cote/flickr
A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville surrounds a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Debates about monuments honoring Confederate icons and what they represent often come down to one’s view of Civil War history.

Last weekend’s violent gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one protester dead, was started as a rally against removing a statue of Robert E. Lee. It’s one of about 700 Confederate monuments scattered across the eastern half of the country, with a large cluster in Virginia.

It’s no accident that white supremacists chose the site of a Confederate monument to amplify their racial hatred. For them, the statue is a symbol of white superiority over African Americans, who were enslaved in this country until the middle of the Civil War.

In a disturbing irony, these white supremacists understand an aspect of history that I wish my peers understood from their time spent in school. But many casual onlookers don’t grasp the connection between slavery and the Civil War, and the racism rooted in America’s history.

I know because, in my own education in a small town near Charlottesville, teachers rarely connected slavery and racism to the root of the Civil War. In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.

Those who grew up with me mostly see states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War, according to a 2011 survey by Pew Research Center. The national fact tank found that two-thirds of people younger than 30 think slavery was not the impetus. Only a third of people 65 and older shared that view.

The survey suggests that today’s students and young adults do not have full knowledge about the complicated relationship between the Confederacy, states’ rights, and slavery. Teachers have a unique opportunity to give a fuller picture of a painful past so that students can counter white supremacy and its inherent racism today.

As famed black writer and social critic James Baldwin put it: “If you don’t know what happened behind you, you’ve no idea what is happening around you.”

Tim Huebner, a Civil War researcher at Rhodes College in Memphis, said his own children’s textbooks accurately describe a complex economy that relied on enslaved people for labor. But in a state like Tennessee, where more classroom resources are spent on math and reading than social studies and history, a lot can get overlooked.

“If we’re not teaching students about the history of our country and the conflicts and struggles we’ve been dealing with, we don’t have the intellectual tools or the culture tools or ethical tools we need in order to deal with the issues that are coming to the surface now,” he told me.

Meanwhile, one look at the constitution of the Confederate States, or a speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens a few days after that constitution was written, would tell you states’ rights were meant to keep black people enslaved for economic gain.

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. (Thomas) Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right.”

Richard Spencer, the Charlottesville march organizer and a University of Virginia graduate, and James Alex Fields, who is charged with killing a woman by driving into a crowd of anti-Nazi demonstrators last weekend, understood too well the connection between slavery, racism and the Civil War.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher who taught the 20-year-old driver at a high school in Kentucky, said he noticed Fields’ fascination with Nazism. Even though teachers are one of several influential voices in a student’s life, he also implied educators have a role to play in shaping worldviews.

“I admit I failed. I tried my best. But this is definitely a teachable moment and something we need to be vigilant about, because this stuff is tearing up our country,” Weimer told The Washington Post.

Growing up in a state thick with Civil War history still left me with a misleading education, and it was years before I investigated it for myself. America’s most divisive and deadly war still has ramifications today — and students deserve better history lessons to help interpret the world around them.

Laura Faith Kebede is a reporter for Chalkbeat in Memphis.