New York State Of Mind

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.

6 Replies to “New York State Of Mind”

  1. Andy, tell us about the innovations that TEP is making in terms of productivity improvements? I know they have teachers managing a lot of the operations work that normally falls to administrators. Speaking as a teacher at a high performing charter school, I wonder how they’re doing and still teaching well.

  2. They’re not teaching well, are they? Their scores are horrendous. Andy, do you have a sense of what their teacher attrition is?

  3. Curious – whichadmin functions are cut out and how is the way they treat teachers as professionals different than in other charter schools?

    “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. “

  4. As a Catholic School Board Member doing more with less has been a way of life for us. Our teachers are very good but they are all on 1 year renewable contracts. We do not have fancy VA formulas but we keep track of all test scores, use parent evaluations, and the principal has complete say. Turnover with our teachers is low but if you do not perform you are out.

    Our cost to educate a child is around $7,000 per student. Our test scores are far superior to the public schools. We accept all students but if behavior problems continue the student is dismissed. We actively pursue “best practices” not just from education but from business. We have quality assurance committees, service excellence, branding, life skills, and leadership initiatives.

    Nothing we do is by itself unique, taken in total the school is very unique to our public school counterparts. We do not have legions of administrators which is the reason our cost are much lower.

    It frustrates me to read how everyone keeps waiting for superman or some silver bullet to solve everything. We know a lot about what works and does not but the current bureaucratic monstrosity, which mandates attendance at set schools, coupled with unions not interested in results only power and profit keeps us in the status quo.

  5. Taxpayer: You make one statement of extreme importance: “We accept all students but if behavior problems continue the student is dismissed.” In my experience as a former teacher (in both public and private schools) one of the biggest obstacles to successful education is student classroom misbehavior. However, public schools are hamstrung from appropriately disciplining (and certainly from expelling) students who present chronic behavior problems. This creates problems for two reasons: (1) The misbehaving students remain in the school to continue disrupting classes; and (2) Other students, who might have chosen to behave, realize that they, too, can misbehave without any real consequences.

    For example, under federal special education law (IDEA), students cannot be disciplined for any behavior stemming from a recognized disability. As a practical matter, this means that mainstreamed emotionally disturbed students (“ED”) cannot be disciplined for any aggressive or disruptive behavior, because it likely correlates to their disability. How do you think this affects the school? In another example, at a school where I taught in California, students were not allowed to be assigned detention unless their parents could be located and advised of the fact beforehand. Many of the disruptive students came from low-income and/or immigrant homes and frequently had parents who didn’t speak English, had disconnected phones, or other such obstacles. As a result, staff was prohibited from disciplining these students.

    In a Catholic school, you have the double advantage of only receiving applications from children whose parents are motivated and educated enough to apply to your school, AND have the ability to expel students who cannot follow the rules and maintain appropriate behavior. If and when traditional public schools are given the power to maintain order and discipline among their students in this manner, I believe many of the problems associated with public schools will disappear.

  6. Bruce Baker pretty much de-bunked the myth that NYC charters outperform public schools. Once you control for student demographics, charters are a mixed bag and certainly no better than regular public schools in the same neighborhood serving the same students.

    See http://www.schoolfinance101

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