#266 March 2002 - The Charter School Mess


The Charter School Mess

It was inevitable that someone in authority would eventually challenge the existence of charter schools in New York. In this case, two state legislators have called for a two-year moratorium on the issuance of charters for new schools. In December 1999, the New York State legislature reluctantly agreed to allow the creation of up to 200 charter schools (32 have actually materialized) if the Governor would sign a bill raising members’ salaries. The usual groups, of course, opposed the establishment of charter schools, and raising legislative salaries is always a hard sell. Aside from the virtues of either issue, however, the whole episode was another lovely example of how state government works in New York.

The chances of charter schools succeeding in New York State are slim at best for a number of reasons. First, they are detested by the public school establishment, viz. superintendents and other administrators, boards of education and the unions, primarily because they consume public funds without being subject to the establishment’s direct control. The whole point of charter schools, notwithstanding, is to provide alternatives to families who are not being served by the monolith, something private school people understand. Theoretically, as children switch from a public school to a charter school, the cost of educating them goes with them. For example, if there were a charter school educating 300 of a district’s students, the local system schools should be able to cut expenses accordingly while the charter gets the dollars thus saved. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Or does it?

Second, the legislation allowing charter schools failed (some think intentionally) to include funds for physical facilities. Thus, schools are forced to beg, scrounge or conduct fundraising campaigns while trying to get an embryonic institution to start breathing. Third, while charter schools enjoy a degree of independence in their governance, hiring practices etc., they are required to choose their student applicants by lot. The result is that a school with a specialized mission has to deal with students ranging from seriously disabled to gifted. And as with all “public” schools, charters cannot easily dismiss students who are disruptive or simply unable to cope academically.

Finally, charters tend to be theme schools in the sense that they are founded by groups of people who wish to promote certain educational philosophies or methodologies. E.g. a charter school may emphasize the arts, or sciences, or commit to a highly regimented style etc. In the beginning there is enormous enthusiasm and energy as a new idea takes hold and hope outpaces reality. After a few years or less, exhaustion sets in as the founders discover that running a school under any circumstances, but especially those of the charters, is a prodigiously hard job. Without the freedom, the resources, the management skills and at least the neutrality of the establishment, the prospects for survival are bleak. Already, some charter schools have closed around the country and until the environment and other conditions change, more probably will.

Sadly, the story of charter schools is the story of the politicization of American public education. The concept of charter schools is a noble one. Let small aggregations of people invent and control their schools for the benefit of their children. Let their schools be accountable to their patrons, not to bureaucracy and democratic politics. And let them be funded disinterestedly by the state with monies saved by attrition from the public system. Is this a joke, or just a modest proposal doomed to suffer and expire? Whatever it is, we mourn for the children who stay stuck by the tens of thousands in the politics of education in America. And we work even harder to preserve and protect the idea and practice of independent schooling as we know it.

Diversity Conference Opening Dinner


25 April, 2002

Diversity Conference


26 April, 2002

Athletic Directors Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

28-30 April, 2002

Admissions Directors Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

1-3 May, 2002

NYSAIS/CAIS Business Affairs Conference

Mohonk Mountain House

1-3 May, 2002

Contact Barbara Swanson for further information.

( (615) 297-7859 email:

Contact Jeanne Ryan to register.

( (518) 346-5662 email:

page tools :


12 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305
Telephone: 518/346-5662 ♦ Fax: 518/346-7390

All Rights Reserved
Copyright NYSAIS
Questions & Comments -

email page print page small type large type
powered by finalsite