charter authority figures

City’s charter-school oversight again questioned by Regents, who raise eyebrows themselves

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Regents members on Monday voted to approve a new round of city charter schools for renewal.

Updated — After a month-long battle over charter-school oversight, the state found common ground with the city’s education department this January.

The consensus didn’t last long.

A Board of Regents subcommittee on Monday voted to approve renewals for 10 charter schools, including seven from New York City. But for a third straight month, the meeting also featured a larger debate over the enrollment, discipline policies, and academic achievement of schools under the city’s supervision.

Long Island’s Roger Tilles voted against renewing the charters because some had produced test score averages below their districts’. The Bronx’s Betty Rosa voted for the renewals, but said too many of the charter schools seemed to be out of compliance with a state law that requires them to make efforts to serve high-needs students.

The Regents’ skepticism offers an example of the heightened scrutiny charter schools are facing this year as supporters lobby the legislature to allow more schools to open, citing high demand from parents and superior results on state tests. Critics, including some within the charter sector, say increases should be paired with tighter regulations to push schools to serve a larger share of needy students.

But criticism of the city education department under Chancellor Carmen Fariña has centered on its untraditional approach charter school authorizing. In line with her strategy for struggling district schools, Fariña has asked to give low-performing charter schools more time to improve before considering closure. (That approach earned a rebuke from the Regents last December.)

Tension among the 17-member board over how best to deal with struggling schools was evident Monday. At one point, Brooklyn’s Kathleen Cashin told the board that Fariña deserved a chance to execute her strategy.

“When the chancellor of the New York City schools, which is one-third of the state, requests that this is the methodology she wants to apply, I think we should honor her request,” Cashin said.

“For how long?” replied Charles Bendit, who represents Manhattan.

“I’m not saying forever, but I think we should honor her request,” Cashin said.

The academic records of the six city-authorized schools up for renewal vary. While two schools received full-term renewals, three received probationary renewals that last only until 2017, including Staten Island Community Charter School, one of the schools that Regents refused to vote on in December because of low test scores.

The city also took fire over issues it’s begun to address.

The city has made a point of highlighting in its renewal reports which of its charter schools do not have clear student discipline policies, a federal compliance issue. But Chancellor Merryl Tisch said on Monday that she wanted to “send a very strong letter to the city” to let officials know that discipline policies will be considered in future renewal decisions.

Meanwhile, the Regents’ own actions raised questions about their authorizing power.

Buffalo-based Regent Robert Bennett, who preceded Tisch as chancellor, pushed his colleagues to overturn short-term renewals the State Education Department had recommended for three Buffalo charter schools. Bennett said he vouched for the schools, which deserved full, five-year renewals, and the board went along with his request — an unusual move that the Senior Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner and some Regents advised against.

James Tallon, a Regent who voted against the extensions, said he was “very wary of us overriding a nuanced” decision made by one of the state’s charter authorizers.

The renewals still must be approved by the full Board of Regents, which is set to vote on Tuesday.

A list of the schools and the length of their renewals is below and all changes proposed by the department are here.

  • Staten Island Community Charter School: 1.5 years
  • Cultural Arts Academy Charter School at Spring Creek: 2.5 years
  • New Heights Academy Charter School: 2.5 years
  • Achievement First Crown Heights Charter School: 3.5 years
  • Achievement First East New York Charter School: 4.5 years
  • Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy II Charter School: 4.5 years

Correction: A previous version incorrectly said that Rosa voted against the New York City renewals. 

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

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

“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.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”