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Challenge from New York to 'Race to the Top' promotion of charter schools... New York Teacher Union chief opposes expanding New York charter schools until New York charters end double standard,

Michael Mulgrew, the President of the largest local union of teachers in the USA, came out against the Obama administration's plans to expand charter schools in a strongly worded statement issued by the union on January 3, 2010. Mulgrew, who is the successor to United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, drew a line both in New York and natiionally when he announced that the union was opposing any lifting of the New York "cap" on charter schools until charters were mandated to operate with the same access to all children and the same transparency as other public schools. In a related matter, Mulgrew issued a study done by the union showing how New York City charter schools exacerbated the problems of "separate and unequal" for the city's poorest students.

New York City teachers and community leaders picketed outside PS 123 in Harlem on July 9, 2009 (above) after police had to be called to the school because a charter school inside the building was forcing public school teachers out of their classrooms. One of the most controversial aspects of New York City's charter school program, currently being promoted by NYC school chancellor Joel Klein and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is that charters are being allowed to take over existing public school buildings, while getting significantly more resources than the public schools because of outside foundations promoting privatization. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Both Mulgrew's statement and the text (without charts) of the report are published here because of their immediate importance to Chicago. Although the same fact exist in Chicago, the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union does not have a research team capable of anything like the critical analysis of Chicago charters that the New York union has done regarding New York charters. If anything, however, Chicago charters are worse than the charters criticized in New York City, especially in their exclusion of the most at risk students and in their deprival of access to education to the most at risk special education and English language learners population. One other interesting thing about the New York report and study is that the UFT has been sponsoring charter school in New York, while simultaneously taking the opportunity to study them coherently and in depth.

While far ahead of anything the current leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has produced regarding the failure of Chicago's charter schools, the UFT report has still come under criticism from members of the UFT. One criticism already circulating in New York is that there is no reason for the UFT to condone charter schools at all, since the problem is to fully fund and fix the city and state's real public schools. Mulgrew's statement to the UFT's 100,000 members follows:

MULGREW LETTER TO UFT MEMBERS:

January 3, 2010

Dear Colleagues,

On Sunday, I stood with a group of parents and elected officials to release a report on charter schools and outline a series of proposed changes to the state's charter school law. If adopted, our recommendations will ensure equal access to charters by all students, increase transparency in charter school finances and operations, and remove the ability of for-profit operators to use charters as profit centers.

New York's charter school experiment was based upon the promise of fairness for all students and real choice for parents, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education. The data clearly shows that charter schools enroll far fewer of the city's poorest students, English-language learners and special education pupils than the city's regular public schools.

Incoming United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (right) shakes hands with Norm Scott (who runs the ICE Website and blogs for the opposition groups within the UFT) following the announcement on July 8, 2009, that Mulgrew would succeed Randi Weingarten, who stepped down that day as UFT President to devote full time to her job as President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Washington, D.C. The photographs above was taken at the July 8 meeting of the UFT Executive Board at UFT headquarters on Broadway in New York City. Unlike the Chicago Teachers Union, which bars union members from its Executive Board meetings, the UFT not only welcomes non-Executive Board members (like Norm Scott) but had no objection to Substance attending the meeting and then photographing UFT officials with members of their opposition groups. Substance photography by George N. Schmidt. The current law also allows charter schools to operate without the transparency in their finances and operations that officials and the public need to judge their success. It also permits charters to become profit centers, paying inappropriate salaries and at times exorbitant management fees. Until all these issues are addressed, we are urging the Legislature not to consider any other action on charter schools, including the potential lifting of the charter school cap.

Our recommendations include:

Mandating that charter schools commit to serving at least the district-wide average of neediest students, including but not limited to English Language Learners and special education pupils. If necessary, the lottery process for charter attendance should be centralized and overseen by a neutral third party.

Banning for-profit firms from owning or operating charter schools, and capping management fees and charter school salaries at public sector levels. Insisting that for every improvement made in public school buildings (with public or private dollars) to accommodate a charter school, matching or comparable improvements be made for other district schools located in the same building.

Prohibiting the co-location of charter schools in New York City school buildings until New York City schools have reached their class size targets under the Department of Education's Contract for Excellence.

Mandating that city and state officials can audit both financial and operational data for charter schools, and that such data be made available under the state's Freedom of Information law. Charter school board members and employees should be subject to the same financial disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest prohibitions as other public officials and employees.

Substance editor George N. Schmidt (left) takes a break at the world famous Union Square subway stop in New York City with friends from ICE on July 7, 2009. Along with New York's GEM, ICE has been challenging the school closing and charter school policies facing New York public schools and teachers since mayoral control (under New York City's billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg) began. By January 2010, closing proposed by New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein had reached proportions rivaling Chicago's, and protests in New York were growing. For the past couple of years, New York teachers have noticed that the attacks on teachers and public schools seem to be following the "Chicago plan" — a corporate school reform script. Ensuring workers' rights by applying prevailing wage laws to charter school construction/ renovation projects, and automatically recognizing local school district unions as the bargaining representatives for charter school employees (though new contracts would have to be negotiated "de novo" for each charter school).

[At that point in his e-mail version of the letter, Mulgrew advises readers to get a full copy of the study: Click here to read the UFT's full report, "Separate and Unequal: The Failure of New York City Charter Schools to Serve the City's Neediest Students."]

In all the back and forth about charter schools, many people lose sight of the bigger picture: If we as a city truly want what's best for children, we need to focus on making sure all children are getting the programs, services and support they need.

Yours Sincerely, Michael Mulgrew

Simultaneously, the United Federation of Teachers issued a comprehensive report showing that New York's charter schools, like Chicago's, systematically exclude the city's most at risk students, creating another level of "Separate and Unequal" (as the title of the report reads).

The full report in PDF format can be downloaded at: http://www.uft.org/news/issues/uft_report-separate_and_unequal.pdf

The report (without graphics for the present time) is reprinted below for substancenews.net:

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL: THE FAILURE OF NEW YORK CITY CHARTER SCHOOLS TO SERVE THE CITY’S NEEDIEST STUDENTS (JANUARY 2010) United Federation of Teachers study.

I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Despite the fact that New York’s charter school legislation prohibits discrimination in student admissions, it is now clear to even casual observers that New York City’s charter schools, as a group, are failing to serve a representative sample of the City’s public school children.

A review of data on file with the New York State Education Department and the City’s Department of Education shows that these schools, funded with public money, serve significantly fewer than the average of the City’s poorest children, and 10 to 25 percent fewer of such children in the charters’ own neighborhoods. Charters serve on average less than four percent of English Language Learners (“ELL”), rather than 14 percent of such children in the City’s district public schools (the “district schools”). Less than 10 percent of charter pupils are categorized as special education students versus a citywide average of more than 16 percent in the district public schools.

In addition, despite their concentrations in highly diverse neighborhoods, charters as a group admit substantially fewer Hispanic and/or immigrant students. As a result, charters contain a heavier concentration of African-American students than is true in the City as a whole or even in the neighborhoods charters are supposed to serve.

Some charter schools also indulge in a number of questionable financial practices, including outsize “management fees” to charter operating companies and inappropriate salaries for charter managers who oversee one school or at most a handful of institutions. These salaries far outstrip compensation to equivalent public officials, including the Chancellor of the City’s Department of Education, who oversees approximately 1,500 schools and more than 100,000 employees.

At the same time, charter schools ignore many critical “transparency” requirements of public institutions, despite the fact that most of their income is in public funds and they are mounting a public campaign for more funding. Current law exempts charters from oversight by the City and state comptrollers. Charters have fought Freedom of Information requirements, making it difficult for oversight bodies, including the public and the media, to track key indicators of both spending and student success.

Key recommendations:

In order to introduce more equity and outside oversight into charter operations, the state’s charter law should require the following:

• Charter schools must commit to serve, and state and City authorities must have the power to enroll, at least the district-wide average of neediest students, including but not limited to English Language Learners and special education pupils. If necessary, the lottery process for charter attendance should be centralized and overseen by a neutral third party. Charters that fail to enroll a representative sample of students should be penalized.

• For-profit firms should be banned from owning or operating charter schools. Management fees and salaries should be capped at public sector levels. Although charter operators may claim that outsize compensation is funded by outside sources rather than public funds, schools should not be profit centers, and additional funds should be mandated for additional student services rather than inappropriate managerial spending.

• Charter school information should be made available to the public by mandating that City and state officials can audit both financial and operational data and that such data become freely available under the state’s Freedom of Information law. Charter school board members and employees should be subject to the same financial disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest prohibitions as other public officials and employees.

Left unchecked, the growth of the charter sector will only exacerbate existing inequities. This report details and discusses the implications of these demographic findings and outlines the legislative and regulatory changes necessary to promote equity and opportunity for all of New York City’s public school students.

II. FINDINGS

1. Charter schools do not enroll enough students from the neediest families. Student eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch is a common measure of family need. On this combined measure, the percentage of eligible charter school students is about the same as in City public school. But as Chart 1 reveals, charters enroll, on average, about 10 percentage points fewer students eligible for free lunch.

Chart 1 shows the Percentage of Students Eligible for Free- and Reduced-Price Lunch and can be found at the PDF of the full report:

http://www.uft.org/news/issues/uft_report-separate_and_unequal.pdf

Note: comparisons are of elementary and middle schools only. Free lunch mean difference is statistically significant (p < .001).

This discrepancy increases when we look at the three areas of the City with the most charter schools. In Harlem, the South Bronx, and North-Central Brooklyn, charters are not educating the neediest families. As Chart 2 details, the rate of free lunch eligibility in the City’s charters is, on average, 10 to 25 percentage points lower than other elementary and middle schools in those areas.

Chart 2. Percentage of Free Lunch Students at District and Charter Schools by Neighborhood/Area. Harlem South Bronx North-Central Brooklyn Source: 2007/2008 NYS

All charts and the full report are available at http://www.uft.org/news/issues/uft_report-separate_and_unequal.pdf

UFT Press Release explains stories: A press release issued on Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. is reprinted below:

Elected officials and UFT call for changes to state charter school law

Jan 3, 2010 5:15 PM Urge amendments to ensure charter schools are open to all, including special ed and non-English speaking students

Proposed changes would make finances transparent, ban profiteering in publicly financed charters

A photograph on the UFT Web site shows New York State Senate Majority Leader John Sampson talks about FACT - Fairness, Accountability, Choice and Transparency - at the UFT's press conference on Jan. 3.

Citing evidence that New York City charter schools enroll far fewer of the city’s poorest students, English-language learners and special education pupils, a group of elected officials, parents and the UFT proposed on Jan. 3 a set of wide-ranging changes to New York State’s charter school law.

The changes are designed to ensure equal access to charters by all students, to increase transparency in charter school finances and operations, and to remove the ability of for-profit operators to use charters as profit centers.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “New York’s charter school experiment has led to some promising innovations, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education, working with a far smaller proportion of our neediest students than the average public school.”

“The current law allows charter schools to operate without the transparency in their finances and operations that officials and the public need to judge their success; it also permits charters to become profit centers, paying inappropriate salaries and outsize management fees. Until all these issues are addressed, we are urging the Legislature not to consider any other action on charter schools, including the potential lifting of the charter school cap.”

Mr. Mulgrew added, “Race to the Top guidelines specifically state that charter schools should ‘serve student populations that are similar to local district student populations, especially relative to high-need students.’ How can New York move forward with its Race to the Top application until these inequities are addressed?”

Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said, “Charter schools represent an experiment in pursuit of excellence, and we all applaud that intention. But in these tough economic times, those of us in government must demand and extract greater accountability and transparency from every dollar we invest, especially in support of our great asset — the education of our children.”

Assembly Member Darryl Towns said, “I support the UFT’s charter school revisions because they improve balance and equity for students and teachers of the state, as well as better transparency into the finances of these schools, allowing for better oversight by the public.”

New York City Comptroller John C. Liu said, “We have more limited resources than ever before — we have to make sure those resources are in the classrooms and not lining corporate pockets. Charter schools are meant to help make improvements for all students, not a small percentage. As Comptroller, I will insist on the facts, not spin.”

The UFT on Jan. 3 released a report, Separate and Unequal: The Failure of New York City Charter Schools to Serve the City’s Neediest Students.

The report’s recommendations include:

mandating that charter schools commit to serving at least the district-wide average of neediest students, including but not limited to English Language Learners and special education pupils. If necessary, the lottery process for charter attendance should be centralized and overseen by a neutral third party.

banning for-profit firms from owning or operating charter schools, and capping management fees and charter school salaries at public sector levels.

insisting that for every improvement made in public school buildings (with public or private dollars) to accommodate a charter school, matching or comparable improvements be made for other district schools located in the same building.

prohibiting the co-location of charter schools in New York City school buildings until New York City schools have reached their class size targets under the Department of Education’s Contract for Excellence.

mandating that city and state officials can audit both financial and operational data for charter schools, and that such data be made available under the state’s Freedom of Information law.

Charter school board members and employees should be subject to the same financial disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest prohibitions as other public officials and employees.

ensuring workers’ rights by applying prevailing wage laws to charter school construction/ renovation projects, and automatically recognizing local school district unions as the bargaining representatives for charter school employees (though new contracts would have to be negotiated “de novo” for each charter school).

The report and recommendations come as the Legislature has been urged to change the state’s current cap of 200 on charter schools as part of its application for federal Race to the Top funds.



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