New York City

Charter School Enrollment Hits 10% But That’s No Remedy for NYC’s Educational Woes

Charter school enrollment just hit a milestone in New York City: these public independent schools now enroll 10% of all city students. An additional 15 charter schools will open this year in all boroughs except Staten Island.

Today the New York Post celebrates this “charter school revolution.” The editors’ word choice is a bit hyperbolic — after all, most of the city’s 1.2 million students attend traditional public schools and always will — but the 10% benchmark highlights parents’ sense of urgency about equitable educational opportunities. Currently 45,000 city students sit on wait lists, 4% more than last year. In other words, if parents had their druthers — particularly parents of color whose children comprise 91% of charter school students — enrollment would be much higher.

In fact, according to the NYC Charter School Center, there are four applicants for every charter school seat in Harlem and the South Bronx.

Remarkably, this growth is occurring despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s distaste for school choice, as well as his continuing disparagement of charter student achievement that often outstrips students in traditional schools.

Now, let’s be fair: De Blasio, who told a reporter upon his inauguration that he wanted to be known as “the education mayor,” has few friends in Albany and was recently rebuffed by the Legislature, who extended his control of the city schools for only one year.  Yet this education underdog initiated a “renewal schools” program aimed at improving student outcomes in the city’s 94 worst schools and he has added several tweaks around the edges.

But parents aren’t satisfied. A Quinnipiac poll  (as reiterated in this editorial today in the Daily News) found that “only 23% favor his maintaining unilateral control of city schools, 46% disapprove of his handling of the schools, and only 33% approve of his appointee Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s job performance.”

And let’s be real: The Big Apple needs a real “revolution” that involves more than adding charter seats. As Andy Rotherham recently pointed out in the Washington Post, school choice is “not a panacea” for struggling school systems. He writes,

There is some evidence that choice helps spur the overall school system to improve, but not as much as free market adherents might think. In other words, the zealots on all sides are wrong: If you want to see a more equitable American education system, choice is a key ingredient but not by itself transformative.

If nothing else, we can agree that New York City needs an educational transformation. This calls for responsible expansion of our best charters but, even more importantly, bold changes in traditional schools, particularly those that serve low-income New Yorkers. Now that would be cause for a real celebration.

What do you think?

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