March 12, 2002
Report: New York's public charter schools are meeting formidable challenges
Serving many high-risk children in mostly high-need areas, New York State's public charter schools are largely achieving the goals set for them in the 1998 state law that created the schools, according to a new report from the Charter Schools Institute of the State University of New York (SUNY).
"Public charter schools have proven themselves to be educational havens, particularly in urban areas across the state, offering new educational opportunities to children and families who could not afford to opt out of their local public schools," according to the report, Charter Schools in New York: A New Choice in Public Education.
"The law is largely working as intended," said Robert J. Bellafiore, president of the Charter Schools Institute. "New innovative public schools are being created in high-need urban areas and are serving families that would otherwise never have a choice, and parents are voting for these schools with their feet."
"What's more, these public schools are leading the way for all public education to focus more on teaching and learning instead of paperwork and bureaucracy," Bellafiore said. "Charter school founders have not only accepted academic accountability, but they have embraced it."
The report also showed that:
- The schools are located in high-need areas. Nineteen of the 22 Institute-authorized schools open this year are in communities with existing public schools on the State Education Commissioner's list of failing schools.
- Charter schools are serving at-risk students. Student test data contradict the assertion that charter schools "cream" the highest achieving student from district-run schools. Rather, students who enroll in public charter schools are among the most at-risk of academic failure and large numbers of these students live in poverty.
- Children in charter schools start far behind New York's average student. Students come to charter schools with reading skills averaging in the 31st national percentile and math skills averaging in the 30th percentile in math. Baseline scores on the state-mandated English and math assessments are generally well below district levels. Learning deficits are even greater for older students just entering charter schools in upper grades.
- Early performance data is promising. While it is too early to make broad conclusions, early student performance data indicate that even after a short time, students are showing signs of academic progress in charter schools.
- Parent demand is high. Each University-authorized charter public school has a waiting list, and several have waiting lists that equal or exceed enrollment. One Harlem school last year received 240 applications for nine seats. Demand in New York exceeds national levels, where 7 of 10 charter schools have waiting lists.
- Parent involvement is high. Each charter public school has its own board of trustees, creating new opportunities for hundreds of parents mostly in urban areas to participate actively in the governance of their children's schools.
- Conventional schools are taking note of charter schools' successes. School district leaders in Buffalo, where four SUNY-authorized charters are located, say they must replicate charter school features to win students back. And Rochester and Buffalo school district officials are considering converting significant numbers of existing district-run schools to take advantage of the charter law's flexibility and autonomy provisions.
- Public charter schools are taking advantage of their flexibility and independence by offering longer school days, longer school years, and educational plans tailored to their students.
Charter schools are innovative public schools of choice created by parents, educators, civic leaders and other community leaders, open to all students and designed to improve learning and provide public school choice. Operating under a five-year performance contract, these schools are freed from red tape and top-down educational bureaucracy in exchange for rigorous accountability for student achievement. Public charter schools must adhere to all health, safety and civil rights laws.
New York's first public charter schools opened in September 1999. That number has grown to 32 this year 27 new schools and five converted district-run schools in New York City serving 9,000 children. SUNY has authorized 22 of the 27 start-up schools operating this year.