Over the past few months, I have had several confidential conversations with people who work in some of the major charter school chains in New York City. Here is what I have come away with from those conversations.
1)There is a systematic effort to drive away families of children who pose discipline problems in the schools. One method is suspensions, but a more common method is constant harassment of the parents of children identified as troublesome through phone calls whenever those children “act out.”
2)The burnout rate of teachers is enormous. It is very rare for a teacher to remain in their job for more than five years and most of the best teachers would leave if they could get a position in a good New York City public school.
3)There is tremendous waste of materials, with basements filled with extra laptops and books that could be donated to resource-starved organizations, including public schools which often occupy the same school buildings
4)The only subjects which get taught, especially in elementary schools and middle schools, are those which are tested — English language skills and Math. Science, social studies and the arts are not given any weight in the curriculum. The schools become test prep factories in the weeks before State Exams, with students drilled relentlessly to make sure their scores are as high as possible.
5)There is a great emphasis, at all levels of the institution, on pleasing those who fund the schools — some of the wealthiest individuals in New York City.
If you examine these comments carefully, you will see why charter schools are not a credible substitute for public schools in New York City, which are designed, at least in theory, to serve all students and families. If they have a role to play, it is comparable to what Catholic schools once did for upwardly mobile families living in the city’s working class, immigrant neighborhoods.