Spent part of the day at The Equity Project charter school in New York City. They’re the school that is paying teachers $125,000 and trying to restructure how a school operates to make the model work because they want to do this entirely on the standard per-pupil funding in NYC.
Two thoughts. First, the margins they’re operating on are really tight, and they’re not alone. Look for an analysis from Bellwether about that issue soon. On average charters are getting about 20 percent less (pdf) than traditional public schools nationwide – that’s a challenge. You simply cannot look at charter finance and growth without accounting for this problem. You don’t hear this discussed much by the critics but cut traditional public school funding by 20 percent and see what happens…
Second, while this school is innovative (really at the ragged edge of work on productivity improvements), most charters are not. That’s OK from where I sit, innovation is in the eye of the beholder and I consider organizations that are at last providing a lot of good educational options in places like New York, Newark, Washington, Los Angeles, and elsewhere to be pretty innovative given the status quo. But if you define innovation as doing things radically differently rather than just doing them well, right now many of the best charters are triumphs of execution rather than innovation. So room for schools like The Equity Project and other ventures in the same vein is vital.
Update: Two good questions from the comments section. Their scores are not great, but it’s the first year for a school with almost 90 percent free/reduced price lunch students and they give priority admissions to students who are under-performing (more skimming!) so give it a year or two (and by the way I’ll save the nutters the time, I said the same thing about the UFT charter school after its first year). Lost in the CREDO hoopla was the data that students improve the longer their in charters. A couple of teachers have left or not been asked back but attrition is not a big problem. How they do it is by cutting out a lot of administrative functions and genuinely treating teachers as professionals in terms of expectations, norms, and responsibilities. That aspect of the school is the most promising part from where I sit. How their model plays out over time is an open question because most successful high-poverty schools end up wrapping a lot of support services around kids and that’s going to complicate their lean model. So my prediction is that this will end up being a good school, the school leader is very solid, but the model will look somewhat different than it does now.