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NYSED Again rejects application for ELL Charter School in Queens

18 Aug

The NY State Education Department declined to authorize the charter of a school geared towards ELL students in Queens. The school, Dignitas Academy Charter (DACS), applied for authorization last year with the name Phoenix Academy Charter.

Advocates of DACS cite the low and decreasing scores by ELL students on statewide English Language Arts exams as evidencing a need for a school with a focus on English Language Learners. With widespread community support, many are unhappy to see the school’s application fail a second time.

For NYC charter consultant, Vander Ark City Prep mess is like deja-vu

15 Jul

The former executive director of the Gates Foundation, Tom Vander Ark has decided to simply walk away from a project to open a school in Brooklyn and two in Newark after over three years and over $1.5 million. The story appears in today’s NY Times.

Because the charter process was so far along, hundreds of eighth graders had submitted applications to the schools. The story does not delve into details about whether an when the students and their families were informed and what they will do now.

Vander Ark had hired Joshua Morales, a former NYC Department of Education staffer to assist with the execution and management of the charter schools. Morales seems to have been completely taken aback by the complete dissolution of the plan. He is quoted in the article as saying Vander Ark is “flying 30,000 feet on the air but can’t do it on the ground.”

Morales has had a streak of misfortune with over zealous but dysfunctional charter school visionaries who clash with his by-the-book ethics. In September of 2009, Morales was let go by Eddie Calderon Menendez, the Chief Executive Officer of another troubled Brooklyn CMO, Believe High Schools Network.

Believe High School management has been embroiled in sandal since shortly after the establishment of its flagship school, Williamsburg Charter High School in 2004. It was the target of local coverage for allegedly retaliating against a teacher who was attempting to unionize. Last summer surveillance photos emerged showing Williamsburg students walking to classes at an industrial office space not approved by the NYC DOE for student instruction for art classes and counseling sessions.

Believe is now under investigation for possible mismanagement of public funds and also because the schools it manages violate their charter by engaging in an administrative contract with Believe.

Why I (generally) believe in charter schools

17 Sep

Reason #1: They give parents, even those who cannot afford private-schools, a choice.

What’s the big deal about choice? A school is a school. Sure, lets assume all academic considerations are equal. The school environment themselves will always be different. Whether its school size, class size, extra-curricular activities offered, elective courses offered, length of school day, length of academic calendar year, enrichment programs available, etc. We don’t have to engage in a discussion about facts and figures, graduation rates, proficiency scores, any of that. A child might do better in one environment than they would in another, and that is just choice.

Reason #2: They allow people who are not educators to educate.

This might seem wrong, but if we stop and think we would all agree (at times, emphatically) that not all trained educators are good educators. If given a classroom to lead, many professionals trained in other areas would prove to be at least as smart, imaginative, resourceful, committed, and engaging, as their Masters-in-Education plus New-York-State-Certification counterparts. Some people simply decide later in life that they want to work in education. Not only do most of my 20-something peers not have a clue as to what they want to do for the rest of their lives but I have known many folks in their 30s and 40s who are also still wondering. So… is it in the best interest of our children to foreclose experienced committed individuals from teaching because they didn’t decide to major in English Education when they were 18? Probs not.

Under the NYS charter schools law, up to 5 or 30% of teachers in a charter school may be uncertified. This would allow say writers, scientists and engineers, who have decided they want to teach, the opportunity to do so while they work on obtaining their certification. To become a principal at a NYD DOE public school, one must first procure a “Building Leadership Certificate.” One of the threshold requirements for this certification is three years of experience in teaching or otherwise working directly with students. Another, is the completion of a 24-credit Building Leader program. Those requirements would deter most people in mid-life who might be otherwise capable of executing the operational functions of a school from even considering the possibility.

Reason #3 They can be much more flexible and responsive than traditional public schools.

The NYC DOE dictates the structure of schools. Under the UFT-negotiated teacher’s contract, public school teachers may generally work only six hours and 20 minutes a day. Their day can begin no earlier than 8 am and end no later than 3:45 pm. Additionally, under the the DOE teacher’s contract, no teacher can be fired for incompetence or even impropriety without a hearing. These policies have led to situations such as this, where a teacher removed from his teaching post continues to earn a six-figure salary to make photocopies (even worse, the teacher claims in the comments that he has actually already been cleared of all charges).

Teachers are considered exempt employees under federal employment laws, just like lawyers, doctors, managers, and other professionals. Charter schools can extend their school day or year because they are not bogged down by time limitations or over-time or per session pay considerations. If a charter school finds a teacher to be ineffective or had committed some act in violation of school policies, they can be terminated on the spot.

But…

they’re not perfect…