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Charter Schools in NY: A New Choice in Public Education


74 No. Pearl Street – 4th Floor One Penn
Plaza, Suite 735
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Contact: For Immediate Release:
Jeff Perez, 518-433-8277
Monday, March 11, 2002

Parent demand is high; districts taking notice

New York’s public charter schools are attracting large numbers of urban children who are among the most at risk of academic failure, according to a new report released today by the Charter Schools Institute.

Charter Schools in New York: A New Choice in Public Education examines the progress achieved in the three years since Governor Pataki enacted the Charter Schools Act in December 1998. The report examined the Institute’s implementation of the law, particularly provisions aimed at moving from compliance-based accountability to performance-based accountability; the law’s impact so far; and results to date.

The report concludes that the charter initiative, as implemented, is largely achieving the goals spelled
out in the law. “Public charter schools have proven themselves to be educational havens, particularly in urban areas across the state, offering new educational opportunities to children and families who could not afford to opt out of their local public schools,” the report states.

“The law is largely working as intended,” said Institute President Robert J. Bellafiore. “New innovative public schools are being created in high-need urban areas and are serving families that would otherwise never have a choice, and parents are voting for these schools with their feet.”

“What’s more, these public schools are leading the way for all public education to focus more on teaching and learning instead of paperwork and bureaucracy,” Bellafiore said. “Charter school founders have not only accepted academic accountability, but they have embraced it.”

Among the report’s major findings:

• Schools are located in high-need areas. Nineteen of the 22 SUNY-authorized schools open this year are in communities with existing public schools on the State Education Commissioner’s list of failing schools.
• Schools are serving at-risk students. Student test data contradict the assertion that charter schools “cream” the highest achieving student from district-run schools. Rather, students who enroll in public charter schools are among the most at-risk of academic failure and large numbers of these students live in poverty.
• Children start far behind. Students come to charter schools with reading skills in the 31st national percentile and the 30th percentile in math, on average. Baseline scores on the state-mandated English and Math assessments are generally well below district levels. Learning deficits are even greater for older students just entering charter schools in upper grades.
• Early performance data is promising. While it is too early to make broad conclusions, early student performance data indicate that even after a short time, students are showing signs of academic progress in the charter school setting. In some specific cases, the improvement has been dramatic.
• Parent demand is high. Each University-authorized charter public school has a waiting list and several have waiting lists that equal or exceed enrollment. One Harlem school last year received 240 applications for nine seats. Demand in New York exceeds national levels, where 7 of 10 charter schools have waiting lists.
• Parent involvement is great. Each charter public school has its own board of trustees, creating new opportunities for hundreds of parents – mostly in urban areas – to participate actively in the governance of their children's schools.
Competitive effect:
• Replicating successes. School district leaders in Buffalo, where four SUNY-authorized charters are located, say they must replicate charter school features to win students
• Conversion schools. Rochester and Buffalo school district officials are considering converting significant numbers of existing district-run schools to take advantage of the charter law’s flexibility and autonomy provisions.
• Treating parents and students as customers. The New York State School Boards Association has advised its members to view themselves as competing for students, even if they have no charter schools on the horizon. The Buffalo School Board president says his city’s schools
must replicate charter school offerings to compete with charter schools. School leaders in Buffalo and Rochester are seriously considering converting existing district schools to charter status.
Furthermore, the report found that charter public schools are taking advantage of their flexibility and independence by offering longer school days, longer school years and educational plans tailored to their students. They are also deploying staff and resources as building principals see fit, based on student needs, and are making staff decisions based on staff performance. All this is designed to increase time devoted to teaching and learning instead of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Charter schools are innovative public schools of choice created by parents, educators, civic leaders and other community leaders, open to all students and designed to improve learning and provide public school choice. Operating under a five-year performance contract, these schools are freed from red tape and top-down educational bureaucracy in exchange for rigorous accountability for student achievement. Public charter schools must adhere to all health, safety and civil rights laws.

The Charter Schools Institute was created in February 1999 by the University Trustees to administer their day-to-day responsibilities under the Charter Schools Act. The law permits the Trustees and the Board of Regents to each authorize up to 50 new schools, for a total of 100 new public charter schools. Additionally, the law allows an unlimited number of existing public schools to convert to charter status.

The report provides thumbnail sketches of each charter public school approved by the State University Trustees and operating this year.

New York’s first public charter schools opened in September 1999. That number has grown to 32 this year – 27 new schools and five converted district-run schools in New York City – serving 9,000 children. The State University has authorized 22 of the 27 start-up schools operating this year.

Even with the promising start to the program, charter public schools face significant challenges, including but not limited to funding, securing adequate and affordable facilities, and meeting the test of meaningful accountability based on student performance instead of rules

Copies of the report are available at the Institute's Albany office and on line at

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