First Person

Charter Organizations Need Philanthropy, TFA, Report Says

A recent national study on Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs, by non-partisan Mathematica Policy Research, sheds some light on the role that these organizations play in the national educational landscape.

According to my own measures, CMOs ran 37 of the 77 charter schools in New York City during the 2008-2009 school year — and they have plans to open dozens more in the next decade. While CMOs attract large amounts of philanthropic support, anti-charter critics charge that they are opaque and run their schools more like for-profit institutions. This interim report offers fodder for both supporters and detractors. I found five points to be particularly interesting:

  • CMOs need philanthropy to exist: All 44 CMOs in the study relied on philanthropic dollars to support operations. The average CMO relied on philanthropy for 13 percent of total operating revenues. CMOs funded by NewSchools Venture Fund report that 64 percent of their central office revenues come from philanthropy. The report concludes: “At least for now, these CMOs are unable to support their central offices (which often comprise 20% or more of total CMO spending) and facilities costs on per pupil revenues alone.”
  • CMOs rely on alternate certification programs, like Teach For America, for talent: According to the report, almost 20 percent of teachers at CMO schools come from alternative certification programs like TFA. In addition, many of the people in managerial and leadership positions are TFA alumni. CMOs claim that teachers trained in the TFA mode are accustomed to longer hours and “No Excuses” approaches and therefore require less training in the culture of the CMO. The authors question the ability of CMOs to expand if they rely so heavily on one source of talent.
  • CMOs have had problems expanding to high schools: Across the country, CMOs operate a disproportionate number of elementary and middle schools. CMO leaders say that expanding to high schools has proven difficult, both because the students arrive with an array of problems that the schools are ill-equipped to deal with and because “a highly prescriptive education model that works for middle school students may become a liability in high school… [S]tudents accustomed to highly structured courses can become too dependent on their instructors. If that happens, these students are unlikely to acquire the skills needed to navigate the more independent educational environment they will encounter in college.”

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  • CMO growth alone will not be able to improve entire school districts: Although CMOs have expanded rapidly, the recent pace of new CMO creation has slowed dramatically. The report notes that Arne Duncan’s goal of turning around the lowest performing 5,000 schools by 2014 can’t be reached by the current CMO crop alone, since these CMOs only plan on opening 336 new schools in that timeframe. Furthermore, the report points out that expanding often puts CMOs into shaky financial terrain: “Expansion may not equal sustainability: According to our survey, CMOs with two to six schools draw an average of 9.6% of their operating budgets from private funds. That proportion increases to an average of 14% for CMOs with seven to ten schools, and to 16.3% for CMOs with more than ten schools.”

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  • The majority of CMOs are clustered in five states and a handful of cities in those states: More than 80 percent of CMOs are clustered in a handful of places: California, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, New York, and the District of Columbia. They make up a large share of big charter markets, but are relatively sparse in smaller markets. Furthermore, CMOs tend to open schools in regional markets—that is, there are very few CMOs that have national ambitions.

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List of NYC CMOs counted in study:

Achievement First
Beginning with Children Foundation – not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
Green Dot
Harlem Children’s Zone – not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
Harlem Village Academies – not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
Lighthouse Academies Inc
KIPP NYC
St. Hope
Uncommon Schools

Not included in study but included in my list (Most were not included in the Mathematica study because they had only one school open in 2008-2009):

Ascend Learning Inc
Believe High School Network
Boys and Girls Harbor Inc
Explore Schools Inc
Hyde Foundation
Icahn Associates Corporation
Public Prep
Ross Institute
Success Charter Network

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

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk