Monday, June 08, 2015

Charter Schools: Is the Class Half Full or Half Empty?

There are more than a couple thousand charter seats supposedly sitting vacant in NYC.  And this, at the same time as the public schools suffer severe overcrowding.  Some of the most successful charter schools apparently fail to adequately "backfill."   As students leave, they are not replaced.  NYC's charter schools left 2500 available seats empty last year.   And, all this, while some charters agitate for lifting the cap, claiming seemingly endless waiting lists (which the U.F.T. would like audited).  Since the City must pay rent for these schools, shouldn't their facilities be fully utilized?   So, is the class half full or half empty?

If you love charter schools, the class must be half full.  Student attrition occurs.  In some schools, the attrition occurs disproportionately at the expense of the behavioral problems and the low scorers.  The remaining students stand academically stronger.  There is none of the disruption that occurs with the arrival of new students, with varying levels of skill, continually, throughout the school year.  If you teach in a public school, you are used to welcoming new kids into your classroom as late as June.  It may not be convenient, but it's a necessary disruption.

If you believe in public education the class must be half empty.  Read Leonie Haimson's "Fact Sheet on School Overcrowding and the Capital Plan."  A third of NYC's elementary schools are 138% (or more) above capacity.  Some schools have long had trailers, many now decrepit and rotting.

Why must there be so much overcrowding in City schools when the problem could be easily eased if some charters would take on more students, truly serving the public?  Overcrowding brings problems.  Kids cram the hallways. Libraries are lost.  Kids are stuffed in closets to receive special services.  School lose their gyms.  Lunch periods may begin before people have had their breakfast.  Teachers face too many students with too many needs.  Too many obstacles to success.  Most recently, the arbitrator's solution to over-sized high-school classes has been relieving teachers of their Circular 6 duty during their free period; teachers need no longer tutor or run a club.   But how does this solve the crisis of overcrowding?  Just how does this help students?

Let all charter schools backfill.  Let them open up their 2500 seats to help reduce the overcrowding in the system.  Let them serve the public rather than exist as places of special privilege.  Let them not claim superiority when in effect they operate as a system outside the system.  Instead of offering a solution for public schools, some of the most "successful" charters turn their backs on the real problems that plague public education, overcrowding, lack of resources and, in some cases, kids who can't keep up.  By straining and sorting students as they eat up public funds, some charters actually make the situation for public-school students far worse.

So, we could sit around and debate whether the class is half full or half empty, but why don't we just fill it up!
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