December 1st, 2009

Charter schools find a home in New York

Though charter schools have been a buzzword in education reform for years now, the past months have seen them gain even more traction and hype. Thanks to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s vocal support for charters, and the regulation that denies Race to the Top funds to states that block their creation, it looks as if the future of public education will have to accommodate them.

0219_1And so, it seems, will New York City. According to the New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made it a priority to encourage the growth of New York’s charter schools in his third term. Not only has he committed to opening twenty-four charter schools next fall and one hundred over the next four years, he has offered many of the city’s charters space to operate within existing public school buildings. In most other cities, charter schools are required to buy or rent their own spaces–this is in part what distinguishes them from traditional public schools and makes it more difficult for them to exist in the first place.

In an article for Counterpunch, David Wolff does a thorough job of explaining how the business behind charter schools–the investments that support them, and why it’s lucrative for companies to invest in them at all. According to Wolff, when charter schools use portions of their (public) funding to buy real estate, it often means that cutbacks are made in other areas:

In the case of the 100 Academy of Excellence, the principal told a state official that money was saved by letting go veteran (read expensive) teachers and increasing class size (read cost saving).

By Wolff’s reasoning, Bloomberg’s decision to house more charter schools in public school buildings may improve the quality of the education they provide. But, as Jennifer Medina notes in her piece for the New York Times, students in traditional public schools will still have to walk past their charter neighbors and wonder why their facilities are newer and better. Joel Klein, New York City’s schools chancellor, has said about charters:

“There are so many talented people out there, and I want them to come to New York…[w]hy would we want to put up barriers to that?”

His emphasis on importing talent begs the question: when charter schools move in, what will happen to what’s already here?

City’s Schools Share Their Space, and Bitterness [The New York Times, 11/29/09]
Speculating on Education [Counterpunch, 9/29/09]
Tracking the Charter Movement [Taking Note, 12/01/09]

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