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Are Charter Schools Today’s Dot-Coms?

April 27, 2010

By Carol Boyd

It’s hard to imagine life without the internet yet it’s been about twenty years since the dot-com explosion. Internet companies that were the “next big thing” yesterday – and their get-rich-quick founders – are barely a memory today. The current proliferation of new charter schools is much like the bygone era of surging dot-coms. Right now the charter school movement is very “sexy”, and dot-com millionaires have given way to a new wave of millionaire charter kings and queens.

A word of caution here because today’s explosion often gives way to tomorrow’s erosion. Consider the current plight of the students at the East New York Preparatory Charter School (ENYP) in Brooklyn. Last week the Department of Education officially declared that the school will be closed (not phased out) this coming June. Although the charter has been long mired in parent allegations of nepotism, cronyism, illegal student force outs, and other blatant mismanagement issues, academically, ENYP is a stellar performer. It is no surprise that given such results many parents were angry and dismayed by the closing. Last year’s its third graders took standardized tests for the first time and the number of students performing at or above grade level in math and ELA were 100% and 85.8% respectively. Meanwhile, their local schools lag in comparison. In District 23 the average scores for third graders performing at or above grade level in math and ELA were 81.4% and 52.6%.

To some this might be an equitable tradeoff, but the parents of these students are now faced with having to seek alternative placements for their children and for several that will mean the return to the very unsexy district schools that they initially fled from – unless they are lucky entrants in another charter lottery. In the interim, for next year the DoE has offered students temporary seats in PS/IS323, the site that currently houses ENYP, to allow them sufficient time to find new schools for their children.

Although the DoE did finally take action, much of this could have been avoided had there been adequate mechanisms in place to monitor this school and other charters. Further, were adequate resources provided to district schools, parents might not feel the need to desperately seek alternative placements without considering all of the possibilities and ramifications.

A recent Daily News article cited that there are several other charters facing sanctions. Will students and families at these schools also find themselves facing similar predicaments? Across the city, state and nation, the aura of charters as viable alternatives to district schools continues to remain sexy and sex sells. But there are a multitude of regulations governing sex – and district schools. Why don’t we apply the same stringent governance to charter schools?

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