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Chancellor Fariña: Charters that emphasize testing should be an ‘option’ for parents

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña weighed in on the mayor’s recent dust-up with charter schools, offering a more measured take on the question of whether some of the schools over-emphasize test prep.

“Look, I think parents have to have options, and if that’s an option that parents take, that’s fine,” she told Chalkbeat Wednesday in her first public comments on the clash. Charter schools “have their own process and their own way of teaching and making decisions. But parents chose those schools for that purpose.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio found himself at odds with charter school advocates last week, when he was asked at a press conference why charters outperformed district schools on recent state tests. According to an analysis by the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, the city’s charter school students improved at almost almost double the rate in English and triple the rate in math as their counterparts in district schools.

“If that’s where they put a lot of their time and energy, of course it could yield better test scores. But we don’t think that’s good educational policy,” the mayor said. “So we have a different approach, but we think that approach is yielding better results in terms of actually teaching kids.” The next day, in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, he reiterated his position. In both cases, he referenced the chancellor by name, implying that Fariña shared his views.

Yet the chancellor seemed reluctant to cast the same aspersions on charter schools’ test scores or to question how they achieved them. “Their process is their process,” she said.

She did raise the question, as did the mayor, of whether the schools shoulder their fair share of the city’s lower-performing students. “It has to be equitable,” she said. “They need to service the kids that we service and vice versa.”

But she was quick to mention the $18 million collaboration now underway between the city’s district and charter schools.

“We’re particularly close with Uncommon Schools,” she said, a reference to a two-year-old program that links that network of charter schools and the district schools in Brooklyn’s District 23. She also mentioned working with KIPP, which operates 11 charter schools in New York City. Both networks focus more on testing and discipline than some of the small, independent charter schools Fariña has previously endorsed.

“I think we need to learn from each other,” Fariña said, regarding the broader collaboration between district and charter schools. “They need to learn some things from us, and us from them.”

Stay tuned for Chalkbeat’s full interview with the chancellor.