A roiling debate about charter school discipline reached New York’s top education officials Monday, as members of the Board of Regents indicated that a video of a Success Academy teacher sharply criticizing a young student calls for greater oversight of the charter sector.
A couple of Regents condemned the video, published by the New York Times, and Regent Judith Chin wondered aloud if it should prompt censure by the state education department. At the end of the discussion, five members abstained from a vote that included the expansion of four New York City charter schools.
“How do we hold SUNY accountable for the well-being of a child?”’ Chin asked, referring to the SUNY Charter Center, which oversees all of Success Academy’s schools. “Is there an obligation on our part as the State Ed. Department to follow up on incidents like this?”
Success Academy officials have called the teacher’s behavior in that video an anomaly. They have also defended their strict discipline policies, which they say helps students stay on task and contribute to impressive academic results. Some other charter schools have moved away from a similar “no excuses” philosophy in recent years, which critics argue can also encourage high-needs students to leave the school.
The charter schools with mergers and expansions before the board on Monday weren’t affiliated with Success Academy. One proposal shifted three Achievement First charter schools from the New York City’s oversight to SUNY’s, and second proposal did the same for one school in the Uncommon Schools network.
Four other New York City expansion proposals were related to independent charter schools.
Though the proposals were all approved, the abstentions by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, Roger Tilles, Judith Chin, Judith Johnson, and Catherine Collins — four of whom were recently elected — raise questions about whether the board will be tougher on charter schools in the future.
The Regents who abstained said they simply did not have enough information about the schools to OK the expansions and mergers. “I think there were some legitimate questions raised,” said Tilles, “and they didn’t have answers, which sort of surprised me.”
Collins said she wanted more information about the retention policies at the charter schools in question.
“We keep expanding, and I really don’t want kids to start when they’re 11 and then a few years later they’re somewhere else,” she said.
The most recent annual report for The Equity Project Charter School, which won approval to serve 720 more students at an elementary school, says the school beat the state’s targets for retaining high-needs students. DREAM Charter School, which won approval to open a high school, beat the state’s targets for two of the three high-needs groups, including English learners.
But John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island did worse, falling far short of its targets for retaining poor students and students with disabilities. It plans to add an elementary school. Retention information wasn’t available for Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which plans to add middle-school grades.
The Board of Regents has been slow to approve new charter schools this year, but its future treatment of charter schools will be determined by a remade board. Come March, the board will have three new members and a new leader after the departure of Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
Regent Chin, one of the new members, stressed that her abstention did not signal opposition to charter schools.
“It’s not a controversy in the sense of being against any of this happening,” Chin said. “That’s all it is, it’s a lack of information.”