Late last month, the New York State Legislature struck a deal ensuring that charter schools in New York City would have access to space, either in already crowded public school buildings or in rented spaces largely paid for by the city. Over the next few years, charters are expected to serve an increasing proportion of city students. Which brings up the question: Is there a point at which fostering charter schools undermines traditional public schools and the children they serve?
In this OpEd for the New York Times, I explore the experience of Harlem, where nearly a quarter of students are enrolled in charter schools and where here is a marked disparity between the special-needs populations in charter and traditional public schools, according to the city education department’s annual progress reports. In East Harlem, data for the 2012-13 school year shows that most of the public open-enrollment elementary and middle schools have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools. The charter schools also often serve fewer poorer students.
My OpEd argues that if charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly. We should not allow policy makers to enshrine a two-tier system in which the neediest children are left behind.