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Ernest Logan

Fighting Stealth Attacks on Children and Educators

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Welcome to the new school year, which follows one of the most dramatic summers in recent memory:  We narrowly averted a massive teacher layoff and a default on our nation’s debt and, as the summer drew to a close, an earthquake frightened us on a beautiful day, and a hurricane whipped across Long Island and pummeled counties to the north and our neighboring states. We enter the year shaken by punishing school cuts, a lowered national credit rating and images of stricken flood victims. My prayers are with those who suffered injuries or lost homes due to the recent storm.

I also want to express my admiration for those who served in evacuation shelters, including school buildings. They provided food, transportation and comfort to those who were temporarily displaced.

In times of crisis, we know New Yorkers are at their best. With the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 upon us, we vividly recall the calm heroism of our public employees, including our school leaders, as they shielded children from harm.  During Hurricane Irene we watched the same people once again put aside their own safety to protect fellow New Yorkers. The NYPD, the FDNY, EMS, and many other unionized public workers, including our school leaders and teachers, were in the forefront of the mobilization. Hopefully now, those special interests that begrudge public employees their salaries and benefits will cease their rhetoric and show a little gratitude. At CSA, we couldn’t be prouder of our public workers and our public school educators.

Still, with the nation in upheaval, we must remain vigilant about the rights of our educators and our children. Stealth attacks occur during turbulent times; over the last year or so, unprecedented assaults have been launched against public school teachers and administrators along with an insidious campaign to privatize public schools, a move I believe will ultimately offer fewer opportunities to students. But one thing I know for sure: We will ignore the epithets hurled at us as we once again focus on our work heeding the needs of students who inspire us to meet the challenges ahead.

Educators, parents and elected officials must stand together to fight those who would, in the name of smaller government, eliminate the proven ladder to success – a quality public school education – for all children and to make sure the middle class remains the middle class.

Put Children First in Charter School Debate

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The charter school conversation that intelligent adults were having has turned into a shouting match that doesn't put children first. It's time to modulate our voices and communicate as grown-ups. We have some anti-charter people screaming about how charter school advocates are profiteers who want to leech all the money from traditional public schools, bust unions and privatize all education. We have some pro-charter people crowing that charter schools are a panacea for all our educational woes and have a divine right to run roughshod over traditional public schools.

None of these extreme views are helpful. Voices have risen to a hysterical pitch as states compete for Race to the Top funds. But in New York state, we have a thoughtful Board of Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch, who advocates raising the charter school cap even though New York already has more than any other state. On the federal level, we have Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who supports charter schools while carefully scrutinizing the mixed data and pledging to shut those that fail.

These public officials are hardly running off the rails. CSA welcomes charter schools as a supplement to traditional public schools, a sound way of increasing choice, and an additional spur to innovation and competition. Charter schools are public schools that are relieved of some constraints so that innovative methods may be tested to reach specific academic goals. Because they receive public money, they are prohibited from charging tuition and from rejecting students on the basis of academic achievement, special needs, or English language proficiency. The best of these schools often grow from community roots, nurtured by devoted school leaders, teachers and parents who want to try new ways of educating their youngsters. All charter schools may be unionized so that administrators and teachers enjoy fair wages and benefits. So far, CSA represents school leaders at nine New York City charter schools, most of which sprang from the community. Schools that are not community-based, started by for-profit companies, are sometimes in the game to grab easy money from the public till. For-profit charter schools are a contradiction in terms and should be discouraged.

Charter schools that honor the spirit of the New York State Charter Schools Act of 1998 and have student populations that mirror the demographics of their communities should have financial parity with traditional public schools in the same district. Several analyses indicate that charters in New York City, and perhaps in the rest of the state, do not enjoy this parity. The charter school funding formula is complex and flawed, and the state should correct it. Charter schools receive less money per student than traditional district schools; they receive no facilities aid. 
Because of how the formula works, which is based on what district schools spent two years prior, charter schools face a time lag in terms of funding. This is especially problematic for unionized schools, where pension and salaries are based on current contracts. Another funding freeze will financially cripple the ability of successful charter schools to meet the promise of the 1998 act to "increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at risk of academic failure."

At the same time, some charter schools enjoy outrageously unfair advantages. Some districts, including New York City, provide favorable treatment to some charters even though they break rules and make a charade of accepting students unconditionally. These charters actively recruit promising students, skimming them from traditional public schools. When the time comes for city and state tests, special needs, ELL and underachieving students who "slipped in" are forcefully steered back to traditional neighborhood schools, often too late for per-pupil funding to accompany them. Such charter schools enjoy artificially inflated test scores, whereas the traditional schools that take in the more challenging students at the last moment suffer artificially lower scores. Because charter schools are a hot trend, critics suspect that they receive preferential treatment in terms of facilities and accountability measures. Even though research indicates disappointingly mixed results for charter schools, a school system like New York's occasionally seems more than willing to lace public schools with boutique charters and provide them with the best space in the building, the bulk of supplies, and a ton of favorable publicity. This trend leaves whole communities fearing that the city will close some of their traditional schools to make way for unproven charters. According to The New York Times, quoting data from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education outcomes, "37 percent of charter schools [offer] a worse education than children would have received had they remained in traditional schools." In the end, the charter school mania that presupposes superiority undermines the reputation of all charters.

High-quality charter schools are playing an important role in improving our nation's education system. Toxic rhetoric and partisan tactics, both pro and con, hurt everyone. Harping on the high-handed or shady practices of a few charter school organizations encourages some public officials to treat all charters unfairly. And presuming that charters are superior encourages other public officials to overestimate their abilities to the detriment of all other schools. The only absolute truism is that we owe our children all the good schools we can give them.

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