NYC Mayor’s Comments on Charter Cap a No-Confidence Vote in District Schools
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On February 15th, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City gave testimony before the New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees. He stated that if the state decides to raise the cap on charter schools as suggested, additional resources will be needed. According to him, it is estimated that the cost of establishing these schools and covering the required per-student tuition will amount to over one billion dollars.
While it is not clear where the mayor obtained the one billion dollar figure, or his plans for utilizing that money, his remarks raise important questions. Why does Adams assume that if more charter schools are opened, families will naturally choose to enroll in them instead of district schools? What does he believe is lacking in the city’s schools that makes them unappealing? And most importantly, how does he intend to address these issues?
After his testimony, Adams further explained his perspective. He stated, "I want to expand successful methods. By setting boundaries and only focusing on what is known to be successful based on labels, we neglect the opportunity to expand successful approaches. I don’t agree with that approach. I have visited district schools that have been excellent, and I have also seen charter schools that have been excellent. So why not analyze those schools that are effectively educating our children and aim to expand their successful methods?"
The definition of "what works" may vary among different parties. State test scores are one way to evaluate success. However, due to the disruptive nature of the pandemic, it is challenging to gain a clear understanding of the academic performance of NYC students and schools.
In 2018, before the onset of COVID-19, out of the top 25 elementary schools in NYC based on test scores, seven were traditional public schools with selective admission processes, two were traditional public schools without selective admission processes, 15 were charter schools from the Success Academy network, and one was the South Bronx Classical Charter School.
As a result, even the New York Times, which has historically not been supportive of the charter sector, acknowledged in 2018 that the Success Academy charter network consistently outperformed district schools on state tests. The network demonstrated exceptional test scores, especially considering its predominantly poor minority student population. The achievement gap in its diverse schools, such as Success Academy Cobble Hill, was remarkably small, with students performing equally well regardless of racial and socioeconomic differences.
This contrasted strongly with the performance of P.S. 8, the Robert Fulton school in Brooklyn Heights, which the Center for American Progress identified as having one of the most affluent Parent Teacher Associations in the country. Despite its relatively diverse student body, only 64% of its students passed the state math test in 2016, compared to the citywide average of 36%. Black students at the school were significantly behind their white peers in terms of proficiency levels, and they also had lower estimated incomes.
If Adams genuinely wishes to "scale up what works," it would be logical for him to seek guidance from Success Academy or consider allowing the network to open more schools.
The same principle applies to the gifted-and-talented programs in traditional public schools. In response to parents’ concerns about the availability of academically rigorous curricula after the pandemic, Adams established a Top Performs G&T pathway and expanded kindergarten G&T programs by adding 100 seats citywide. He emphasized that this decision was made based on careful listening to parents’ feedback.
At present, there are still insufficient charter school and G&T seats to accommodate all the families wishing to enroll. The majority of NYC students, totaling 903,000 as of 2022-23 (a decrease from 1.1 million in 2017-18), continue to attend their zoned public schools.
Adams assumes that these zoned public schools will lose students and funding if more charter schools are allowed to open. The question then becomes: What is he doing to enhance the quality of these zoned public schools to retain students and secure funding?
Some of his initiatives include the Dyslexia Initiative, which aims to identify and support struggling readers, the addition of 3,000 preschool seats for children with disabilities, the implementation of the Next Generation Community Schools K-8 Pilot Program, mentoring and internship programs for high schoolers, and a renewed focus on school safety.
If Adams truly has this mentality, then we must once again ponder what actions he plans to take in order to avert it.
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