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Mar-22-2014 18:01printcomments

Why is New York's Mayor - A Self-Proclaimed ''Progressive'' - Challenging School Choice for Minorities and the Poor?

Giving poor and minority students a choice of where to go to school----a choice which more affluent students already have---should be a natural cause for a "progressive" like Bill de Blasio to embrace.

Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio - Wikipedia photo: it.wikipedia.org

(WASHINGTON DC) - New York City's mayor, William De Blasio, repeatedly tells us that he is a "progressive," committed to making life better for minorities and the poor. Yet, ever since coming to office in January, he has launched a crusade against a vehicle which has the ability to rescue poor and minority children from failing public schools. That vehicle is Charter schools, which are elementary or secondary schools that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, requirements and regulations that apply to other public schools.

Last year, 82 per cent of the students at a charter school called Success Academy,in Harlem, passed citywide mathematics exams, compared with 30 per cent of the students in the city as a whole.

The first Success Academy opened in 2006, and the network, which is supported by both private and public funds, is now the largest charter-school group in New York City, with a thousand employees and 22 schools. Last fall, Mayor Bloomberg approved 45 proposals for 2014, including eight for Success Academy schools that wanted to "co-locate" --that is, move to underused space in public school buildings. Now, Mayor De Blasio has reversed nine of those decisions.

Andrew Malone, the principal of Success Academy Harlem Central, points out that on state tests, Success Academy students score far above average. "And yet, no one from the Mayor's office is asking us, 'How do you do it?'"

Charter schools around the country, argues Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, "have given thousands of low-income minority children their only shot at a decent education, which often means their only chance at a decent life...Why would anybody who has any concern about minority young people---or even common decency---want to destroy what progress has already been made?"

Dr. Sowell, who is black, notes that, "One big reason is the teachers union, one of Mr. De Blasio's biggest supporters...The teacher unions see charter schools as a threat to their members' jobs, and politicians respond to the money and the votes the teachers unions can provide. The net result is that public schools are often run as though their main function is to provide jobs for teachers. Whether the children get a decent education is secondary, at best....Not all charter schools are successful, of course, but the ones that are completely undermine the excuses for failure in the public school system as a whole....Charter schools take power from politicians and bureaucrats, letting parents decide where their children will go to school."

The fact is that in an era of more enlightened teacher union leaders, charter schools were welcomed. When Albert Shanker headed the New York teachers union, he viewed himself as an education reformer, not an advocate of a status quo that was failing poor and minority students. He believed that charter schools were to be viewed as "laboratories" of success---models for traditional public schools to emulate.

Paul Hoss, a retired public school teacher and author of "Common Sense: The Missing Link in Education Reform," asks: "If Success Academy charter schools have proved to be so helpful to so many poor minority youngsters across New York City, why has neither the Bloomberg or De Blasio administration ever attempted to take this model to scale so more youngsters could benefit?...How about putting politics aside and doing what's best for the children of your great city?"

Even many liberals have expressed dismay with Mayor De Blasio's hostility to charter schools. WASHINGTON POST columnist Richard Cohen writes: "De Blasio seems cool on charter schools. He has said they have a 'destructive impact' on the school system and in his campaign, demanded that they pay rent for using public school facilities. As a result, charters have become emblematic of the 'two cities' mantra---one really rich, the other disproportionately poor. The rich are characterized as having their way with the school system for their own benefit. The hostility is so illogical it has to be based on raw resentment. Pardon me for suspecting that some charter school critics would rather hurt the rich than help the poor."

Under Mayor De Blasio, in Cohen's view, "New York is witnessing progressivism run amok. So far the damage has been minimal and the pushback has been fierce, but charters are in a real fight. Say what you will about New York or Washington charters, but by the usual measurements---test scores,etc.---they are succeeding, some of them stunningly so. Maybe in time the gains will prove ephemeral and failure is just over the horizon. Still, that's better than the old system. With it, failure was a certainty."

Consider the record of the Eagle Academy schools, a consortium of five schools, four of them in New York and one in Newark. The schools educate boys, mostly black and poor. The schools operate in conjunction with their own foundation, which raises about $1 million annually to help pay for the staff required to hold longer school days, offer intensive college counseling, and provide mentoring programs. Last year, on standardized tests for students in the sixth to eighth grades, only about 13 per cent of black boys scored as proficient as opposed to just under 30 per cent for students citywide. Across its network of schools, Eagle sent 82 per cent of last year's graduating class to college, a rate significantly higher than college enrollment for black male students across the country.

The founder of New York's Success Academy, Eve Moskowitz, says that, "I have some sympathy for the view that says, 'Why can't we have one system that works for everyone?' But, speaking empirically, our system is broken...I've offered to speak with the Mayor many times. We disagree on some things, but I take him at his word when he says he wants to work on inequality. Although a little humility in his part would help."

Giving poor and minority students a choice of where to go to school----a choice which more affluent students already have---should be a natural cause for a "progressive" like Bill de Blasio to embrace. Why he finds himself on the opposite side, is something he will have to explain if he continues his campaign against New York's charter schools. The same is true for the Obama administration, which has cut spending for charter schools in the District of Columbia, and whose Justice Department has intervened to try to stop the state of Louisiana from expanding its charter schools. Charter schools and other forms of school choice----such as vouchers----may not be a panacea, but they do appear to be an important step in the right direction.

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Salem-News.com contributor Allan C. Brownfeld received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary, his J.D. degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary and his M.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. He has served on the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the University College of the University of Maryland.

The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, Mr. Brownfeld has written for such newspapers as THE HOUSTON PRESS, THE RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, THE WASHINGTON EVENING STAR and THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. For many years he wrote three columns a week for such newspapers as THE PHOENIX GAZETTE, THE MANCHESTER UNION LEADER, and THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. His weekly column appeared for more than a decade in ROLL CALL, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in such journals as THE YALE REVIEW, THE TEXAS QUARTERLY, THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, ORBIS and MODERN AGE.

Mr. Brownfeld served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and was the author of that committee's 250-page study of the New Left. He has also served as Assistant to the Research Director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to such members of Congress as Reps. Phil Crane (R-Il) and Jack Kemp (R-NY) and to the Vice President of the United States.

He is a former editor of THE NEW GUARD and PRIVATE PRACTICE, the journal of the Congress of County Medical Societies and has served as a Contributing Editor AMERICA'S FUTURE and HUMAN EVENTS. He served as Washington correspondent for the London-based publications, JANE'S ISLAMIC AFFAIRS ANALYST and JANE'S TERRORISM REPORT. His articles regularly appear in newspapers and magazines in England, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries. You can write to Allan at abrownfeld@gmail.com

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