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Researcher says city's charter schools aren't pushing students out, though other cities' are

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Richard Kahlenberg discusses charter schools at the Hunter College's Roosevelt House in Manhattan on Tuesday.

A charter school researcher says an upcoming study will clear New York City charter schools from criticism that they systematically “push out” high-needs students.

“I can say there is definitive evidence of some cities in the U.S. of ‘pushout’ and that New York City is not one of them,” said Macke Raymond, director of Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

That takeaway was offered by Raymond on Tuesday night as she spoke about a CREDO study that she is overseeing. Raymond said the research, comparing the performance of charter schools in 45 cities, would likely be released in October. (Raymond also warned the audience that she hadn’t verified all of the data with the New York State Education Department.)

Raymond, speaking at a panel discussion about charter schools hosted by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, didn’t offer other details about the study or mention the cities where charter schools were found to be the worst offenders. But the finding could become another significant data point in an ongoing debate about charter schools, which have long faced criticism for serving lower percentages of students with special needs.

As director of CREDO, Raymond has been researching charter school results for more than five years. Her work includes an influential 2009 study that found a majority of charter school students in 15 states and Washington, D.C. performed as well as or worse than their peers in traditional schools.

That study also found that New York City charter schools were an exception to that trend. An update to that study, in 2013, upheld that finding and found charter schools had surpassed traditional public schools in reading gains and pulled even in math, progress that Raymond attributed in part to charter management organizations.

Raymond let the detail about her latest comparisons slip toward the end of the 90-minute discussion on Tuesday night, which included Century Foundation fellow Richard Kahlenberg, Hunter College Professor Joseph Viteritti, the state’s former charter school chief Sally Bachofer, and John Witte, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

More broadly, panelists agreed that the city’s charter sector would continue to grow in the short term. A new state law virtually ensures that the sector will continue to add schools without past restraints around funding for space, and dozens of new schools are in the pipeline to open in the next several years.

Where there was less certainty was how Mayor Bill de Blasio will confront that growth. Viteritti said that however de Blasio has felt about charter schools in the past, he won’t be able to ignore the specifics for much longer.

In particular, Viteritti said, de Blasio needs to offer a clear plan for tackling controversial issues like how charter schools share space with traditional schools. The department has announced small changes to the way the school building space is allotted, but city officials have promised more sweeping changes to the way decisions are made about dramatic school-space changes.

“If Bill de Blasio has a better policy on co-location, which he seems to have, he needs to say what it is,” Viteritti said.

The panelists agreed that charter schools had come up short in acting as laboratories for new ideas that could be spread to other schools, as former union chief Albert Shanker first imagined charter schools. (De Blasio has spoken frequently of that vision for charter schools, too.)

But they disagreed on whether that was a bad thing. Bachofer, who reviewed hundreds of charter applications as head of the State Education Department’s charter schools office, said she was never impressed when school leaders said they prioritized intraschool partnership.

“I’d rather have a great school than a school that collaborates” but whose students aren’t being well-served, Bachofer said.

Viteritti said public schools haven’t proven to be much better at learning from one another, but he hoped that de Blasio could change that. Kahlenberg said one way they could work together is to do a better job of diversifying the city’s charter school student population, which is mostly made up of low-income black and Hispanic students. The ability to set aside seats for certain student populations in admissions lotteries, Kahlenberg said, offers “great opportunity.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”