charter wars

Some Regents ask whether Success video calls for more state oversight

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

A roiling debate about charter school discipline reached New York’s top education officials Monday, as members of the Board of Regents indicated that a video of a Success Academy teacher sharply criticizing a young student calls for greater oversight of the charter sector.

A couple of Regents condemned the video, published by the New York Times, and Regent Judith Chin wondered aloud if it should prompt censure by the state education department. At the end of the discussion, five members abstained from a vote that included the expansion of four New York City charter schools.

“How do we hold SUNY accountable for the well-being of a child?”’ Chin asked, referring to the SUNY Charter Center, which oversees all of Success Academy’s schools. “Is there an obligation on our part as the State Ed. Department to follow up on incidents like this?”

Success Academy officials have called the teacher’s behavior in that video an anomaly. They have also defended their strict discipline policies, which they say helps students stay on task and contribute to impressive academic results. Some other charter schools have moved away from a similar “no excuses” philosophy in recent years, which critics argue can also encourage high-needs students to leave the school.

The charter schools with mergers and expansions before the board on Monday weren’t affiliated with Success Academy. One proposal shifted three Achievement First charter schools from the New York City’s oversight to SUNY’s, and second proposal did the same for one school in the Uncommon Schools network.

Four other New York City expansion proposals were related to independent charter schools.

Though the proposals were all approved, the abstentions by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, Roger Tilles, Judith Chin, Judith Johnson, and Catherine Collins — four of whom were recently elected — raise questions about whether the board will be tougher on charter schools in the future.

The Regents who abstained said they simply did not have enough information about the schools to OK the expansions and mergers. “I think there were some legitimate questions raised,” said Tilles, “and they didn’t have answers, which sort of surprised me.”

Collins said she wanted more information about the retention policies at the charter schools in question.

“We keep expanding, and I really don’t want kids to start when they’re 11 and then a few years later they’re somewhere else,” she said.

The most recent annual report for The Equity Project Charter School, which won approval to serve 720 more students at an elementary school, says the school beat the state’s targets for retaining high-needs students. DREAM Charter School, which won approval to open a high school, beat the state’s targets for two of the three high-needs groups, including English learners.

But John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island did worse, falling far short of its targets for retaining poor students and students with disabilities. It plans to add an elementary school. Retention information wasn’t available for Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which plans to add middle-school grades.

The Board of Regents has been slow to approve new charter schools this year, but its future treatment of charter schools will be determined by a remade board. Come March, the board will have three new members and a new leader after the departure of Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

Regent Chin, one of the new members, stressed that her abstention did not signal opposition to charter schools.

“It’s not a controversy in the sense of being against any of this happening,” Chin said. “That’s all it is, it’s a lack of information.”

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.