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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
- 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.
Copies of the report are available at the Institute's Albany office and on line at www.newyorkcharters.org.