Charter Schools: A Public Hearing and a Public Forum
The first event was a public hearing for two proposed charter schools in the Rochester City School District, the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School of Rochester and the Rochester Career Mentoring Charter School. The purpose of the public hearing was to gather and relay “community input” to one of the two NY State Charter authorizing bodies, in this case the NYS Board of Regents. We raised many of the questions we’re seeing across the nation in regards to equity, student selection (and de-selection) processes, staff turnover often based on an arbitrary basis, continued over-reliance on standardized testing, as well as lack of consensus and dialogue with affected communities.
Interestingly, Brooke Stafford-Brizard, the wife of Rochester’s former superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, co-founded and is deeply involved with the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School of Rochester. This still has not passed by the community as much other than a conflict of interest, despite Brizard and others’ arguments otherwise.
The other question in the air was the issue of co-location, in which the Rochester Career Mentoring Charter School or another privately managed charter school waiting in the wings would be located in a public school building with a free lease (contradictory and crazy, right?) Many signs and policy decisions made by the Rochester City School District pointed towards the deck being rigged in this fashion, including former-superintendent Brizard stating that this was a reform goal he intended to implement.
One interesting portion of the charter hearing occurred while parent members of the Community Education Task Force were interrogating the usual “choice” and “equity” rhetoric. There were two Rochester School Board commissioners present, Malik Evans and Jose Cruz. Commissioner Evans responded to our questions and concerns by stating that the charter hearing process and decision-making process occurs independent of the local School Board commissioners (In New York State, there are two charter authorizing bodies, the NYS Board of Regents and the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute. These two entities authorize all charters in New York outside of Buffalo and New York City, which both have their own charter authorizing process). The main point in this statement has been made by several other occasions by other commissioners in an attempt to “stay neutral” and not take a stance on the issues presented by various charter schools.
At the public hearing, we raised the question of a possible co-location to the School Board President Malik Evans, who responded saying “No, this will not happen at this time”. Just to be sure I followed up with the following email later that night:
I was hoping to follow-up and gain more clarity on the question I asked last night regarding either the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School and/or the Rochester Career Mentoring Charter being co-located in any Rochester City School District public facility, such as Franklin High School. You stated in response to my question, and correct me if I’m wrong, that neither the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School nor the Rochester Career Mentoring Charter will be located within a public school facility in a co-location model. If this is true for these two charter schools, does that mean that the idea of co-location for any charters is “off the table” for the foreseeable future?
Commissioner Evans responded to this inquiry in one word, “Yes”. In my view, we can take that for what’s it worth while continuing the pressure in order to make sure that statement is upheld.
Immediately following the charter hearing, we traveled to Public Forum on Charter Schools that we at the Community Education Task Force, the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change and the School Without Walls Community Board had organized. The intention was to discuss, inform and gain understanding of the many issues presented by charter schools together with parents, teachers, students, and community members, especially given how much misunderstanding and confusion there is surrounding charter schools.
The two guest scholars at the forum were Dr. Shawgi Tell and Dr. Mark Garrison.
Dr. Shawgi Tell received his Ph.D. in Social Foundations of Education from the University at Buffalo in 1997. His main research interests include education reform, specifically charter schools; education governance; urban education; and the political economy of schooling. His forthcoming book, “Charter School Report Card,” will be released in 2012.
Dr. Mark Garrison is Associate Professor of Education Policy and Research, and Director of Doctoral Programs at D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY. His work focuses on the politics of education reform, and the need for a new definition of public education. He is the author of A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing (SUNY Press).
Dr. Tell and Dr. Garrison both interrogated commonly held assumptions about charter schools and presented the “charter school movement” in the context of neoliberal shifts in governance, control, and broad changes in power over education in America. Dr. Tell framed the challenges in both traditional public schools and charter schools, stating, “We now have two systems of education both plagued by problems”.
Dr. Tell used a revealing analogy to illustrate the problems associated with our government’s expenditure on charter schools in comparison with expenditure on oversight of said charter schools, pronouncing, “It’s as if the federal government spent billions for new highway construction but spent nothing to put up guard rails along the sides of the highways.”
Later in the discussion, Dr. Garrison examined the frequent proclamation that “charters are public schools!” by corporate ed reformers by saying, “You often hear charter schools are public schools. Well first off, why does one need to say such a strange thing? Bananas are yellow. Why do we have to affirm that?”
After having viewed yet another attempt by local Board of Education Commissioners to artificially remain neutral and independent of the whole charter school process, I asked this question of Dr. Tell and Dr. Garrison. They responses were interesting and educative.
Dr. Tell responded by interrogating the logic of the School Board Commissioners’ reasoning, asking,
I’m not sure if I quite understand….the city school board is saying we have nothing to do with the establishment of charter schools?…Where are the charter schools supposed to be housed and located? If the schools are being authorized by someone other than the school district they may be technically right and say ‘we have nothing to do with it the Board of Regents is authorizing it and like the other charter schools they operate independently’. If, on the other hand, the ground work is being laid to have these charter schools encroach upon the school district and seize facilities and seize services, it sounds like, of course they have nothing to say about it…because this would be co-location assistance
Dr. Garrison responded by problematizing this political reality, stating, “What kind of system that claims to be in favor of kids and families does not allow them to have any direct say in the authorization and control of schools in their neighborhood?”
Dr. Garrison later commented poignantly on the problems in the debate of school reform in regards to issues like charter schools and merit pay, asserting,
One side says we’re going to go for it with Irrational Plan A. Then we all, the rest of us say, ‘No the facts don’t support irrational Plan A all the facts support we don’t do that’ then this side says ‘We’re going to go ahead with Irrational Side A anyway’ What does that suggest is the problem: The facts or who holds power? It suggests the problem is who holds power. We know that in the United States the question of who holds power has been related to who gets schooled and who doesn’t get schooled
Overall, it was an instructive night with fruitful consideration on crucial issues we all collectively face. I look forward to engaging and bringing both Dr. Tell and Dr. Garrison’s insightful analysis into our discussions and organizing.