Op-Ed: Allow charters to offer pre-K classes

Mayor Bill de Blasio should embrace NYC high-performing public charter schools.

NYC charters have delivered success, regardless of students’ ZIP codes. Success Academy Charter Schools — with campuses in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the Bronx — rank in the top 1 percent of all schools statewide in math and the top 7 percent in English.

If Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to improve education, why not embrace NYC high-performing public charter schools, rather than cut their funding? And, why not try to change New York law that forbids charters from offering much-needed prekindergarten classes (one of his policy priorities)? He should work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on State Senate legislation to allow charters to add pre-K classes to their programs.

Instead, under the mayor’s plan, the 73,000 proposed new pre-K seats are to be created in traditional public schools. Today, there are more than 50 city elementary and middle schools where not a single African-American student passed this year’s state math tests, according to the state Education Department. And there are 69 such public schools where the share of students proficient in English is 5 percent or less.

It doesn’t make sense to roll out pre-K without charters. The mayor’s goal should be to prepare all children to enter kindergarten ready to thrive — in traditional and charter schools.

Research, such as the groundbreaking Hart and Risley study at Rice University, shows that by age 3 children from low-income families hear roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers, creating a deficit. If unaddressed, the deficit widens the achievement gap that plagues public education.

Charter schools could add pre-K programs aimed at narrowing the gap before kindergarten, giving thousands of students a much better chance at success. Charters can make quality teaching and learning much more accessible. Cutting their funds, preventing them from acquiring space, and keeping them out of pre-K expansion is misguided.

The mayor has an opportunity to do something transformative for NYC children. He should use every tool available to provide effective prekindergarten to more students. Charters could play a big role in his plan.

Jack McCarthy is president and chief executive of the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation.

AMNY Newsletter

Eat it. Drink it. Do it. Tackle the city, with our help.