City Council should drop disdain for charter schools

Several thousand charter school supporters gathered near the Several thousand charter school supporters gathered near the steps of the Capitol in Albany on March 4, 2014. Photo Credit: Philip Kamrass

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There's no shortage of indignant questions the City Council Education Committee might have asked in a fit of exasperation this week.

As a watchdog for city schools, the committee might have ordered education honchos to explain why the state rated a mere 22 percent of the Apple's high school grads as prepared for college or careers.

Or the committee might have demanded to know why -- at a time when a high-school diploma is a fundamental credential for success -- the city's graduation rate hovers disastrously around 60 percent.

But no. Led by Councilman Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, the committee reserved its indignation for Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, an effective chain of 22 charter schools -- public institutions allowed to work beyond United Federation of Teachers rules.

"Where's Eva?" Dromm kept asking on Tuesday.

She'd wisely chosen to avoid the show -- given that the hearing was scheduled to question her about taking kids out of class to attend a pro-charter rally in Albany.

So committee members turned instead to allegations that city charters create high student-attrition rates while shunning kids who show little promise of success. Some worried that the schools promote "educational apartheid."

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The truth?

Charter students stay in their schools at a higher rate on average than students enrolled in nearby district schools, according to the city's Independent Budget Office.

Chosen by lottery, charter kids are not hand-picked by test-obsessed educators. While most charter students do have parents who actively sought their admission, that's a practical necessity in a town with a waiting list of 50,000.

Quality does run the gamut, but strict state rules help make most schools effective. Students at Moskowitz's schools have a 77 percent overall poverty rate, but they often score near the top on standardized tests.

Success stories are all too rare in the annals of education in high-poverty districts. Charters are a happy exception. Why beat up on them? Why not study their methods and apply them citywide? The council is ignoring reality.

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