Memo to NYC: Apply strong standards, not double standards

Andy Smarick recently wrote about the paradox of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s position on private money in public education.

I’m writing about a second troubling paradox:

Under de Blasio’s leadership, charter schools may have little place in the city. The new mayor’s stance on charters is based largely on the fact that, although non-profit public institutions, they are privately managed and often subsidized by private funding. Yet his plan to add 29,000 pre-kindergarten seats relies on contracting with community-based organizations, which are privately funded non-profits, to manage the seats.

This approach is inconsistent; where it becomes truly problematic is around the issue of quality.

Authorization, oversight and accountability: Lessons from charter schools

Mayor de Blasio and his team are preparing to slow the growth of a well-regulated sector of non-profit K-12 school operators and, at the same time, significantly increase the size of a weakly regulated set of non-profit pre-K school operators. That’s a bad trade. Quality depends on quality control.

Charter schools in New York are well-regulated. New entrants into the space are subject to rigorous vetting prior to opening, are regularly assessed against a set of clear performance standards, grow only when they prove their ability to serve kids well, and are subject to accountability measures—up to and including closure—if they do not perform well. Charter school authorizers, and the New York City Department of Education’s Portfolio Office, have done a solid job of regulating the sector and, as a result, there have been significant benefits to charter school students, most of whom come from poor and minority neighborhoods.

The new mayor’s pre-kindergarten plan, on the other hand, seems to lack mechanisms for thoughtful oversight.  As the New York Times reported “the minimum requirements for community organizations were set relatively low: They need just one year of experience with early childhood education, or absent that, they must have a leader with early childhood certification and at least two years’ experience.” More significant is that there so far hasn’t been any mention of whether and how these contracted service providers would be evaluated.

The good news is that as the new administration evolves its education policies, it has a big opportunity to step up and push for reforms that increase quality and equity.

Opportunities ahead

The good news is that as the new administration evolves its education policies, it has a big opportunity to step up and push for reforms that increase quality and equity.

Some thoughts:

  • He and his team could further strengthen New York’s charter school process by requiring equity reports as part of the evaluation and authorization process.
  • They could mitigate concerns about charter school ‘creaming’ by requiring all public schools of choice to participate in a unified enrollment process.
  • They could focus on growing high-performing schools and closing poorly performing charter schools.
  • And if the pre-K plan gets funded, they could apply a similar approach to pre-K operators, vetting them prior to authorization, regularly evaluating their performance against a clearly defined measurement framework, and replacing those that do not perform well with those who do.

Underserved kids deserve quality options at every stage of education. We hope that the new administration revises its current stance and takes pragmatic steps toward creating (not dismantling) good schools for all.