It is no small irony that this year marks the 25th anniversary of charter schools in New York State as it also occurs within the same year the Supreme Court dismantled affirmative action for college admissions. As a result, the role of charter schools across the state–and the nation–has become even more critical to ensure students have the academic credentials to be competitive scholars.
To place the role of charter schools in context, these are public schools operated by independent organizations–that are traditionally nonprofit entities–which accept students from anywhere. Each year, they are reviewed by the state in regard to academic performance, ensuring their students are not just attending classes, but are excelling in their studies. Here in New York, the state’s Department of Education oversees these institutions after they receive charters from the Board of Regents.
The growth of charter schools is often found in disadvantaged communities where traditional public education has suffered for various reasons. With families recognizing that without a robust educational environment their children’s lives and livelihoods will languish, parents have sought an alternative. One solution was the creation of charter schools that provide programs meeting the unique needs of students from underserved communities.
The fact that many graduates have gone on to college based on academic excellence suggests that charter schools have become a crucial linchpin in securing a place within higher education. National research and data analytics company Mathematica reports that graduation rates at charter schools are between 7% and 11% higher than nearby public schools. In addition, it found that students who graduate from charter schools are 10% to 11% more likely to enroll in college (https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/charter-schools-produce-more-graduates-than-public-schools).
The loss of affirmative action has reset the equation for minorities throughout Long Island and across the nation. But educators have the potential to significantly impact students in those troubled public school districts where graduation might be problematic. With affirmative action now dismissed by the high court, the focus must fall on the criteria by which colleges and universities will accept students based on the academic achievement of the applicants. For public and charter schools alike, that translates to measuring success by student graduation rates.
In those communities where charter schools operate, the public school system receives a state stipend for each student who is attending a charter school, ensuring the financial viability of that district is unharmed. On the other side of the ledger, the value of charter schools was chronicled in a 2016 report by the Brookings Institute which noted, “Charter schools with strong academic focus and ‘no-excuses’ philosophy that serve poor black students in urban areas stand as contradictions to the general association between school-level poverty and academic achievement. These very high-poverty, high-minority schools produce achievement gains that are substantially greater than the traditional public schools in the same catchment areas.”
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, a coalition of downstate charter schools offered a cogent observation. “….our schools exist to make real the promise of not just equal education, but equal opportunity. While inequity and disparate outcomes often disproportionately impact students of color or students from low-income backgrounds, all of us in our country suffer the consequences” (https://www.achievementfirst.org/joint-statement-on-affirmative-action-ruling-by-the-supreme-court/).
As the charter school coalition eloquently observed, “As educators dedicated to equity, we know that ALL students benefit from being members of a diverse school community that welcomes and cultivates a variety of perspectives, knowledge, and interests.”
As we observe the 25th anniversary of charter schools opening their doors across New York, the results may be self-evident in the graduation rates, but perhaps more importantly, in the personal success stories of those who proudly wore their caps and gowns to their graduation ceremonies.
Nicholas Stapleton is the chief academic officer of Academy Charter School, Hempstead and Uniondale.