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Charter Schools Born Out of Frustration
By Dr. Jerry Cammarata


Dr. Jerry Cammarata The controversy over charter schools was born out of frustration at the turn of the century. The New York City Board of Education could not get its hands around student achievement. The school system (as it still is) was a vast institution of haves and have nots and leaving more kids behind than ever before. Graduation rates were dismal and something needed to be done. The public school students were the losers.

The Central Board hired Rudy Crew as Chancellor and we thought he and Mayor Giuliani would make ground breaking strides to reverse the educational disparity in the nation’s largest school system. Mayor Giuliani and I met with Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee, to see his Charter Schools in action. We thought it would be a good idea for New York City.

Mayor Giuliani did not take his pilot idea of charter schools lightly. It was not a program concept to replace public education, and it was not a union-breaking vehicle placed on high speed. Rather, Mayor Giuliani wanted charter schools to be a beacon of experimentation to show what could be done, require those charter schools to share their success with the public school system and for the public school system to glean areas of value. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy of the Board of Education was so entrenched that the charter schools came into being, and they never shared their successes (or failures) because there was no mandatory requirement to do so.

And what about those school buildings, which house charter and public schools together today? The charter schools often get new construction for their classrooms while the public school classrooms must wait for long periods of time. What message does this send to the public school students—the have and the have nots? The public school students are losers again.

Even with the UFT in the game of charter schools, you would think it would employ the best of its collective competencies, rather, it has struggled with its East New York charter school, producing students with poor grades. The UFT should not be a loser.

Charter schools are like trickle-down economics. Charter schools have done little to change the landscape of the public school system as we thought it would. There has been no substantive collaboration during the Bloomberg Administration that has transformed our public schools of New York City into temples of teaching and learning. Are the public school students second rate citizens? The public school students are the losers.

We are in a mess. A ten-fold proliferation of charter schools and nothing to show for it at the Department of Education; nationally, in 2010, Margaret Raymond, a Stanford economist indicated only 17 percent of charter schools achieved higher examination scores compared to the public schools. Let’s call it what it has become—A Charter School cottage industry growing out of a seed of good intention and cannibalized by self-serving interests. Yet, I concede there are a few charter schools producing great results, as witnessed by the Harlem Success Academy 4. It is one of New York State’s highest performing schools. However, what is its influence on the surrounding low performing public schools in Harlem—that’s the issue! To see one lucky parent cry because the charter school her child is in may be taken away pales in comparison to the thousands of parents who cry every day because their children are not getting a good education in the surrounding public schools—and cannot do anything about it. The public school parents are the losers.

So that leads us to the UFT. The UFT should be calling the existing charter schools to task. The UFT IS the New York City Department of Education and as a partner it should demand that the performance indicators of every charter school (as well as their own charter schools and every public school) be provided to the Department of Education as part of an improvement standards program and that the superintendents of school districts conduct staff development around new and innovative teaching methods achieved. I bet that, in the hands of our competent UFT teachers, we can produce valued innovative teaching methods, leading to success in our public schools across the five boroughs. The UFT should stand alongside the Mayor on this issue.  The UFT can be the Winner!

I have come to regret my decision to support charter schools when I was a member of the Central Board of Education.

Mayor de Blasio is not only right for trying to amend the proliferation of charter schools, he is on firm educational ground—even if harsh rhetoric gets articulated and a step back might need to be taken. The movement toward further privatization of education is wrong. Parents deserve a voice in their public schools once again, they must not fear that a poor performing neighbor school exists, they must be assured that our school system has an extraordinary portfolio of value from Harlem to Port Richmond, and there is a cooperative hand extended from the Mayor’s office, to the teachers, administrators, parents and the prize of the system, the students. This must be a Win-Win situation. If we are talking about this a decade from now, WE are the losers!

More Charter schools is not the answer. If public schools are broke, we must fix them. Our New York City universities are educating some magnificent future teachers and I am sure they are ready to get the job done. Let’s be more careful when we apply a principle—let’s ask a principal first.#

Dr. Jerry Cammarata is currently the Chief Operating Officer and Dean of Student Affairs at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine - Middletown. He is the Former Member of the Central Board of Education & Commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development.



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