BY NADINE HOFFMANN | Public schools, charter schools and parent/community-influenced schools all got lots of attention at the Village Independent Democrats’ Education Forum on Nov. 13.
A panel of four experts, all steeped in the ins and outs of school choice, presented sometimes-conflicting views on issues, such as funding levels, student selection, moral imperatives and inequality in the world of education.
All agreed, however, that Greenwich Village, with its two excellent public schools — P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 — is not where charter schools are needed.
Erik Joerss, deputy for governmental affairs for the New York City Charter School Center, the umbrella organization for all 197 charter schools citywide, gave an overview of the various types of charters already in existence. Most in the audience did not realize that there are several networks and individual schools all bunched under the “charter” banner. Success Academy, the most well-known network, is just one of many. Joerss pointed out that most charter schools are located in underserved, underfunded school districts.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and a vocal opponent of most charters, questioned the schools’ lack of accountability, their lower numbers of enrolled English Language Learners and Special Education students, high suspension and expulsion rates and the inequality of funding sources. She voiced concerns about how students feel when a more-favorably funded charter school, with its many extras, moves into an existing public school that lacks such amenities.
Dr. Barbara McKeon, the principal of Broome Street Academy Charter High School, painted a picture of a successful charter meeting specific needs. Fifty percent of the students enrolled at B.S.A. are homeless or in foster care. Her school actually pays rent (most charters do not) and must fundraise from a generally much less affluent community. Most of the panel agreed that this school is what a charter should be.
Tamara Rowe, a member of Community Education Council District 2, briefly explained the background of the parent movement and how it has influenced positive changes in the Department of Education. She also emphasized the difference between schools in Greenwich Village and in low-income, usually minority communities throughout the city. Citywide parent networks should be expanded to help all districts influence their schools, she said.
Discussions about public funding, parent/community involvement and D.O.E. bureaucracy (usually a detriment to quick action and cheaper materials) were enlightening. One of the most contentious issues was the inequality between charter and public schools, as far as additional funding and extra resources. Many in the room also argued that co-locating charter schools in the same building as existing district schools often leads to reduced space for noncharters and a sense of unfairness to students.
The evening’s uplifting conclusion was that the problems are not insurmountable. Education leaders have begun to work together, sharing what works and improving what is failing. It takes a huge leap of faith on all fronts, but the future of our students depends on it.
Hoffmann is a member of Village Independent Democrats