Charter schools enjoy uneven playing field

By Bob Harris

As the 2017-18 school year starts, the supporters of public schools are saying nice things while the enemies say negative things.

If one read the TimesLedger carefully, he or she would have found numerous positive stories about our schools in Queens, colorful photos in the Borough Beat page and wonderful tales about great students in different high schools on the Students of Distinction page. A current press release from the Department of Education tells us that reading and math scores have increased 2-3 percent, citywide.

Another story conveys that, due to an innovative program to improve teaching in public schools, 17 more school have been accepted into the Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence Program (PROSE). This raised the number of schools permitted in this 3-year-old program to make changes approved by at least 65 percent of the staff to 155. Thus, teachers and the administration can opt out of contract rules to do things in the school which they feel will help the students learn better.

On the other side of the page, charter school advocates keep saying they are doing a better job because reading scores at those schools are higher. Critics of charter schools respond that charter schools are cheating because they keep out low-functioning special need children, seriously emotionally disturbed children and poor English-reading ESL students. They say charter schools deter these kinds of students by providing the more expensive services they require, or require the parents to come to school so often that the parents withdraw their children.

Tactics used by charter schools would not be permitted by the authorities in public schools. Public schools are required to educate all children. There are complaints that discipline in many charter schools is too severe and students are expelled too quickly. Naturally, those students must then attend public schools.

When charter schools first began, they were envisioned as places where new ideas could be practiced and then shared with other schools. Today, charter schools often seem to be for-profit operations often supported by hedge funds or wealthy donors. The money for these schools is mostly public money, yet there is no oversight as to how the money is used and why. Unlike public schools, there is no website on charter schools one can go on to find out how they are spending the money they receive.

Recent articles say that about 30 percent of our public school students are in homeless shelters. How many of the students in charter schools are in homeless shelters or are in foster care? Homeless shelters are not set up to really be places where students can study and have recreation facilities. They are supposed to have services for the families.There was an article I read on July 2 about a charter school in the Bronx which fired 11 of 15 teachers who had voted to join the United Federation of Teachers and bargained for a contract.

It seems that charter schools have a hard time keeping teachers due to the long hours they are required to teach, and that these teachers are under terrible pressure for their children to do well. If not, they are summarily fired.

More from Around New York