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The Big Lie About Mayor de Blasio and Charter Schools

Diane Ravitch Mar 6, 2014

The New York City tabloids–whose owners are zealous about charter schools–have whipped up a frenzy against Mayor Bill de Blasio because he did not approve every single charter application rushed through the Bloomberg board at its last meeting in October 2013. That board, which never said no to Mayor Bloomberg, approved an unprecedented 49 charter applications, some of which are co-locations.

A co-location means that a charter, which is operated by a private board of directors, gets public space in a public school. The public school has to surrender “empty” rooms that were previously used for art, music, resource rooms for special education, and any other space that is not considered a classroom. The regular public schools–attended by 94% of all public school children, must be overcrowded to make room for the charters. Because the charters are heavily subsidized by private funding, they typically renovate the space (not good enough for them), and their students have the latest and best of everything. In New York City, the term “academic apartheid” is becoming a reality, in the very same building. In some co-located spaces, the children in the charters have separate entrances, to keep the others out of their space.

De Blasio had to decide what to do with so many co-locations. The city already has 183 charters.

He approved 39 of the 49. He turned down 9, and one is under review.

Let me say that again. He approved 39 of 49. That is hardly anti-charter. In fact, many public school parents are outraged that their schools will now be forced to give up space to a charter that operates under different ownership (private).

Of the 9 that were denied, three were destined for Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain called Success Academy.

But of the 39 that were approved, Eva won three.

Instead of celebrating the addition of three new charter schools to her growing chain (the largest in the city), Eva has gone on the warpath, claiming that de Blasio is anti-charter and wants to hurt the poor black and brown children she serves.

The media do not know that her schools do not serve the same demographic as the children in the public schools. She enrolls fewer children with special needs and fewer English language learners. Her schools have a high suspension and attrition rate.

Her logic seems to be that since she gets high test scores (note the above sentence as one does tend to get high scores by keeping out low-scoring students), she deserves to get whatever space she wants, rent-free.

By that logic, the city should give extra privileges to students with high scores, and should take away space and privileges and programs from those with low scores.

This makes no sense.

Public schools must serve all children, not just those who can get high scores on standardized tests. Public schools must serve children who don’t speak any English. They must serve children who have severe disabilities. They must serve those who have emotional and social problems. They must serve those who have all kinds of problems and who are unwilling or unable to walk in a straight line.

It is sad that Governor Andrew Cuomo threw his political weight on Eva Moskowitz’s side. As governor of the state, he is responsible for all children, not just the precious few in charter schools.

Everyone understands that the hedge fund managers and equity investors are supporting Eva’s fight against de Blasio. He has already annoyed them by saying he wants them to pay a slightly higher tax rate to fund universal pre-kindergarten. The charter school fight gives them a chance to strike back at him, while pretending “it’s all about the kids.” They would like nothing better than to take down New York City’s first progressive mayor in at least 20 years (some one say even longer).

De Blasio has not declared war on charters. He has made a judgment. Many public school parents are angry that he approved 39 out of 49 charter co-locations. Eva and the tabloids think she should have whatever she wants.

The question before the Mayor is whether he will continue to fund a dual school system–one sector able to choose the students it wants–and the other sector serving all. He is trying to have it both ways, and it doesn’t work. He gave the charter lobby almost everything it wanted, and they still came after him as if he had given them nothing at all.

This article originally appeared at

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