recent history

Emails illuminate SUNY's 2010 bid to keep authorizing charters

A chart from a 2010 analysis that compared charter schools' performance by authorizer.

When a researcher with a penchant for crunching charter school data sat down to compare New York State’s charter authorizers in 2010, her impetus wasn’t merely academic.

For Jonas Chartock, then the director of one of three authorizers, who requested an analysis, the data was a matter of survival.

“At the time there was a real push by some politicians to eliminate SUNY as an authorizer,” said Chartock, who headed SUNY’s Charter School Institute until early 2011.

Chartock asked Macke Raymond, a Stanford researcher who had just wrapped up a broad study of New York City’s charter sector, to examine her school performance data based on which office had authorized it. Her comparison showed up as an attachment to one of several hundred Department of Education emails released last week in response to a teachers union’s Freedom of Information Law request.

Raymond found that students at SUNY-authorized charter schools improved at a quicker pace than students at schools authorized by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. At schools authorized by SED, she found, students actually lost ground over time.

At the time, the Board of Regents, which decides which schools get SED approval, was attempting also to strip SUNY of its authorizing power and give itself more control over which schools are allowed to open. Under the Regents’ previous leadership, the board had symbolically rejected about 70 percent of SUNY’s charter approvals between 2007 and 2009.

Led by Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the Regents’ power grab took place at a time when charter school advocates were pushing legislation to allow more charters to be handed out. If SUNY exited the scene, they feared, fewer charter schools would open.

In the end, after a bruising legislative session, SUNY retained its authorizing responsibilities, but legislators stripped the city of its authorizing rights.

The data turned up in redacted emails circulated between Chartock and Michael Duffy, who headed the city education department’s charter school office at the time.

The authorizer comparison analysis was limited and is now years out of date. While more than 30 SUNY-authorized elementary and middle charter schools were open during the years covered in Raymond’s data, just five schools authorized by SED were open during that time.

The state’s education department has since bolstered its charter school office. It brought on new leadership and has now issued charters to a total of 44 schools, including 11 that are set to open in the next two years. SED officials did not respond to requests for comment but SUNY’s interim director, Susan Miller Barker, said the relationship between the two authorizing bodies had become “much more partnership-focused than in the past.”

Alex Medler, a Vice President at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which pushes authorizers to follow a common set of guidelines when authorizing charter schools, said that New York State’s authorizers were among the highest quality in the country.

“Based on the strength of both authorizers’ work, I would note that is not appropriate to use the sort of analysis offered … to justify any head-to-head comparison of those two authorizing shops today,” Medler said.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, agreed that it would be wrong to make basic conclusions based on Raymond’s data and said the topic required a more extensive look. A recent analysis of the city’s charter sector conducted by the center did not compare schools by authorizer.

But Chartock, who left SUNY in 2011, said the data report served its purpose, which was to convince lawmakers that SUNY should remain as an authorizing body.

“Essentially, those data allowed us to show the strong work of the Charter School Institute over the course of its authorizing history,” Chartock said.

CREDO Data by Authorizer

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.