The number of families applying to city charter schools through an online system designed to ease the admissions process doubled this year, according to the New York City Charter School Center.
This was the second year that the Common Online Charter Application, which the charter center developed, was open to all charter schools for use. The application deadline was April 1.
The number of individual students who submitted the common application rose from 7,130 last year to 15,805 this year. Together, they submitted 58,117 applications, more than three times as many as last year, meaning that the average applicant applied to more schools this year. A total of 145 schools, up from 110 last year, accepted the common application. (Many schools also had their own applications, so the number of common applicants does not reflect all charter school applicants this year.)
In offering a common application, the charter center is responding to criticism that having to fill out multiple schools' applications discourages all but the most motivated parents and effectively screens out needy students. The common application also enables families to apply easily to multiple schools — a data point the charter sector points to as evidence that the public wants more charter schools.
Urban Dove's website features a clock that is counting down to the first day of classes at the nonprofit's new charter school.
For most of this spring, Urban Dove Team Charter School’s story followed a familiar trajectory.
When the Department of Education offered the charter school space in a public school building, the community erupted in opposition. Politicians stepped in, principals went to the press, and parents protested — all with the goal of keeping the charter school out. Then the city signed off on the co-location anyway, and tensions started to die down.
That’s when Urban Dove’s story took an unusual turn. Despite getting free public space — a hotly sought-after commodity — Urban Dove signed a lease this month to spend some of its scarce per-pupil funding on private space. Next month, the transfer high school will open on one floor of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Church.
It was a rare move for a charter school offered a public building. Most charter schools prefer to open in buildings owned by the city to save money and time spent negotiating with landlords, according to James Merriman, director of the New York City Charter School Center. Plus, money for real estate comes from charter schools' operating budget — meaning the more they spend on space, the less they have for teachers, supplies, and programming.
Urban Dove’s founder and principal each declined to share the terms of the lease. But they said undertaking the significant expense made perfect sense for the school, which will serve students who have already fallen behind before they turn 16.
A chart comparing district and charter schools' principal turnover rates, from today's "State of the Sector" report.
A sweeping look at who attends charter schools in New York City, and how they fare, shows that the sector excels at advancing academic achievement but struggles to enroll high-needs students and to retain staff.
For the past nine months the New York City Charter School Center and a team of charter school founders have collected and crunched data on 35 different topics, including test scores, demographics, attrition, and enrollment. Their findings are laid out in a much-anticipated — and much-delayed — 40-page "State of the Sector" report, released today.
The report represents an inaugural effort to be more transparent about how charter schools in New York City are doing. Coming from a group that more often celebrates charter schools' achievements, the report offers a blunt self-assessment of the sector, illuminating its shortcomings in student enrollment and staff retention while at the same making a case for it to continue to expand.
For instance, the report acknowledges "striking" staff attrition trends — nearly one-third of city charter school teachers leave annually — but points out the sector's ability to achieve high academic results anyway. And while the schools serve low rates of students with special education and English language learners, the report emphasizes that those who do enroll tend to do better than their counterparts in district schools.
The report was originally scheduled to be released nearly two months ago. But the center needed more time to verify the data, then held the report until it could be released along with "dashboards" showing individual schools' statistics, according to CEO James Merriman. Those dashboards were published on the center's website today, although they have withheld some data, including staff attrition.
Last week, I reported that the city's charter school sector was on the verge of releasing a trove of data about its schools. I began my reporting after I learned about the plan in February, and a week ago, I learned that the organization in charge of the report had big plans for the report's release.
The organization, the New York City Charter School Center, sent an advisory a week ago announcing Monday as the big day and inviting reporters to an 11 a.m. press conference to learn about the report, which would compile data about the schools' performance and their students. But those plans were scrapped over the weekend.
On Sunday afternoon a spokeswoman for the charter school center emailed to say that the "State of the Sector" report was being delayed because all of the data had not been verified.
Now, four days after the promised release, the report is still not out. The spokeswoman, Kerri Lyon, said the report would now come "within a few weeks" and that the center would release the overview report at the same time as it publishes individual school-level data online.
The delay is a surprise because a 12-person committee made up of charter school operators led by the center's policy director, Michael Regnier, was already charged with verifying the data in the report. Lyon said Thursday that charter schools were now validating some of the data about their own schools before the report's release.
The city's charter schools are preparing to release reams of data about themselves — some of which could make them uncomfortable.
The data, prepared for release on Monday by the New York City Charter School Center, will include measures that are often used to promote the schools, such as student test scores, as well as data points often used to criticize them, such as student demographic information and student and teacher attrition rates.
The new report, a 40-page document called "State of the Sector," will be followed by individual dashboards for all 136 city charter schools published on the center's website.
The project was modeled after an effort by the national KIPP charter school network to hold schools accountable for more than the most-often-used metric, how their students perform on tests, by tracking other measures deemed important for what the network calls "healthy schools." These include the percentage of students and teachers who stay in the schools year after year.
In advance of Monday's release, KIPP C.E.O. Richard Barth was invited to the charter center to brief a room full of charter school leaders and share his insights from KIPP's initiative.
Dania Reid, of the Charter Parent Action Network, speaks at a town hall event with elected officials.
If charter school advocates had any concern that Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries wasn't on their side, he lay their worries to rest last night.
Jeffries, a U.S. House of Representatives hopeful who has not always supported charter schools in his district, pledged his full-fledged support to charter school parents and backers at a town hall event hosted by the New York City Charter Center.
"The aspirations of parents such as yourself, who just want to find a vehicle to provide young children with the opportunity to get the best possible education ... is one that I will always support, notwithstanding the consequences from those who may want to defend the status quo," Jeffries said.
The event reflected a move among supporters of the city's policy of closing struggling schools and replacing them with new options, including charter schools, to preempt the heated fights over co-location that engulfed the city last year. Nineteen new charter schools are slated to open in the city next year, and the city is hoping to house many of them in public school buildings.
Thursday's event took place in Bedford-Stuyvesant's New Beginnings Charter School, a second-year school located in a private facility owned by the Archdiocese of New York. It was the first such event organized by the center's parent advocacy group, the Charter Parent Action Network. According to David Golovner, a vice president for the center, the network is working with parents in dozens of charter schools this year to help mobilize support in areas where charter schools are more densely located and where more are likely to open in the future.
On a recent afternoon, dozens of teachers, social workers, and non-profit administrators, pored over the academic calendars of several charter schools. They were studying how a school can express its mission in the way it builds its calendar.
“There’s a lot to think about: Summer school — would that be mandatory?” asked Simeon Stolzberg, a former charter school authorizer who was leading the exercise. “You could have a year-round school, and maybe every eight weeks there would be a two-week vacation. Think about whether or not there is time in a day for teachers to plan and prep and grade — and eat lunch.”
Some of the teachers laughed, but Stolzberg was completely serious.
“Your calendar is one of the things that will set you a part from a district school,” he told the group, participants in a new program, Apply Right, that is helping prospective charter school leaders by taking them through the most minute details of school planning.
The program and two others, projects of the nonprofit New York City Charter School Center, reflect a growing sense that charter school leaders need more support than they have been getting.
"There were a number of schools that were approved in the last five years that frankly probably should not have been approved,” said James Merriman, the center’s director. “What I think we are seeing is that the bar of entry is being appropriately raised. … We want to see more charter schools, but we’re only really interested in seeing high-quality schools.”
An initiative designed to ease tension between district and charter schools in the city has moved slowly and largely under the radar this spring.
In December, then-Chancellor Joel Klein joined 88 of the city’s charter schools in signing on to a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, which mandates that charter schools “fulfill their role as laboratories of innovation” and requires the Department of Education to support city charter schools. The compact, which the Gates Foundation urged and is funding, emphasizes collaboration around issues of enrollment, space allocation, and instruction.
But after more than six months — which were bookended by Klein’s sudden departure and a contentious lawsuit over charter school co-location — little progress has been made toward fulfilling the compact’s requirements. In June, the New York City Charter School Center took a first step by hiring Cara Volpe, a former Teach for America employee, to be the city’s first district-charter collaboration manager.
Later, a not-yet-formed advisory council of district and charter school employees will help Volpe set priorities, according to city and charter school officials.
Volpe “will be expected to implement the council’s vision for identifying, establishing and implementing the partnerships, policies and programs that will help tear down the boundaries between great district and charter schools,” according to advertisement for the position, which the charter center posted online at GothamSchools’ jobs board, Idealist, and elsewhere.
Volpe’s work will come at a time when tensions around charter schools are at an all-time high.
Flier faxed today to City Councilman Robert Jackson
The main purpose of a charter school parent rally tomorrow is to demand that the NAACP withdraw from a lawsuit that threatens some charter schools. But not everyone being recruited to the rally is being told that the NAACP is its intended target.
The office of City Councilman Robert Jackson received a fax at 3:33 p.m. that asks elected officials to "support us and come speak at the rally tomorrow." The fax, whose origin was not identified, says the rally is "to save our schools from the lawsuit" and is signed "Harlem Parents."
Jackson, who chairs the council's education committee, is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the UFT and NAACP to stop 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding.
In fact, more than 1,600 parents have signed on to a letter to the NAACP, according to Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the New York City Charter School Center, which is supporting the rally. "They clearly know who is standing in their way," Lyon said.