Charter School Lessons for the Youngkin Administration from the New York Times

by James C. Sherlock

Probably surprising to many of my readers, one of the newspapers to which I subscribe is The New York Times. Another is The Washington Post.

Of the two, the Times demonstrates far more balance in its reporting. Not opinion – reporting.

Times education writers, direct witnesses to the astonishing achievements of New York City charter schools and their huge waiting lists, can be counted on to investigate and report stories that openly disregard progressive orthodoxy on such schools.

They reported on May 13 (adjacent picture) that opposition to charter schools disadvantages primarily poor minority children and is driving the support of poor and minority parents away from the Democratic party.

That is the message I have been trying to bring to the Youngkin administration.

The New York Times. This is not the Times’ first foray into the subject. See another headline from 2019.

Minority Voters Chafe as Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter School

The front-runners for the presidential nomination are moving away from the charter school movement, and black and Latino families ask why their concerns are lost.

From that 2019 article:

At issue is the delicate politics of race and education. For more than two decades, Democrats have largely backed public charter schools as part of a compromise to deliver black and Latino families a way out of failing district schools. Charters were embraced as an alternative to the taxpayer-funded vouchers for private-school tuition supported by Republicans, who were using the issue to woo minority voters.

But this year, in a major shift, the leading Democratic candidates are backing away from charter schools, and siding with the teachers’ unions that oppose their expansion. And that has left some black and Latino families feeling betrayed.

The race and poverty industries.

It is not only the Democratic Party that opposes charters, but also organizations whose entire focus is supposed to be minorities and the poor.

The NAACP and Southern Poverty Law Center oppose charter schools.

Beholden to the teachers’ unions more than to minorities and the poor, they oppose even charters designed to help the populations they claim to support, and they likely will in Virginia.

NAACP. In 2016, the board of the NAACP, citing concerns that charter schools contribute to racial segregation and deny public schools necessary funding, formally opposed charter schools. See the story on the United Federation of Teachers website.

Let’s look. In New York City, Success Academy, the most accomplished charter management organization in the nation, “contributes to segregation” as follows:

Across all 46 schools in the Success Academy Charter Schools network, which collectively rank in the top 1 percent in the state for academic performance, 94 percent of students are minority and 74 percent are low-income.

As for denying public schools necessary funding, charter schools are public schools. See an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by a Georgetown University professor that deconstructs that argument in detail.

Southern Poverty Law Center. As for the Southern Poverty Law Center, it supports changing Alabama’s current charter law to adopt Virginia’s current poison pill:

Charter schools should be authorized by local school boards with elected members accountable to the students, parents, and communities they serve—not appointed state officials.

To achieve such goals, Alabama should amend its charter law to require local school boards to authorize any charter schools operating in their district.”  (emphasis added)

They know that there is not a single urban school board in the country that, given the choice, will authorize charters they do not control and against which they must compete.

The lab schools mistake. The Youngkin administration is riding the wrong horse in its university lab school initiative, for which it is asking $150 million.

That honey pot certainly gets support from Virginia colleges, but promises nothing to poor and minority kids, much less those trapped in failed urban schools. They will turn into woke schools for the children of faculty and grad students.

What to do.

Focus efforts to increase charter schools in Virginia on the charter management organizations proven to educate poor minority children to the highest standards and you will have a winner. Connect demonstrable needs to proven problem solvers.

It is past time to bring that debate to Virginia.

I recommend that the administration follow the advice of The New York Times and change the focus of its charter schools program with legislation to:

  • designate the state as a charter authority with a mission to provide quality education as required under the Virginia constitution to poor and minority children;
  • design state charter divisions under state school boards in our worst-performing urban areas to be funded by the state, again to comply with Article VII of the constitution. Local divisions and school boards in those same areas will continue to run their systems with state support;
  • invite the most successful charter management organizations to run the state charter divisions under the state school boards.

Dare Democrats and the professional race and poverty industry to oppose the legislation. It will prove their worst nightmare. They oppose charters now and likely will oppose the bill, but if so will be exposed as hypocrites.

I think it will pass.

Is Joe Morrissey going to vote against it? Chap Petersen? How about the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus? The current published agenda of that group:

the VLBC will fight efforts that undermine public schools in the name of school choice.

What if the choice is between existing bad schools and new excellent schools for Black children? Let’s find out.

Either way, it will be instructive to watch.

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15 responses to “Charter School Lessons for the Youngkin Administration from the New York Times”

  1. to paraphrase Bug Out Biden — without competition you have exploitation . . . and that CERTAINLY applies to education.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      And baby formula…

  2. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Dismissal of the concerns of the “race and poverty industries” should not be disparaged so blithely. Up to the point that “separate but equal” was the rule to sustain very unequal public education that further sustained racial and educational inequity, Virginia was similar to many states. Then, unequal was replaced by “massive resistance.” The wreckage from separate but equal persisted through massive resistance. This phase was only several decades ago within the lifetime of many.

    Ascribing nefarious motivations to those who oppose charter schools is myopic and reactionary. The advocacy for poor and minority children, ostensibly espoused in this article, is shortsighted. New York’s history with its public schools system is entirely different from that of Virginia’s. Its success as an experiment may not translate so easily to the Commonwealth.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Thanks for the history lesson on Massive Resistance. I lived through it. I taught in the first year of the first integrated middle school in Fairfax County in 1966-67.

      Some oppose charters because they do not understand how good they can be if managed properly. I recommend that only proven charter management organizations be invited to Virginia.

      I absolutely do assign motivations other than the welfare of the children to the school board of, say, Richmond.

      Reactionary and myopic? Try something else.

      I have watched and reported on the work of the Richmond School Board including online access to their meetings for a decade. What is best for the children seldom if ever comes up. It is a school division run for its adult employees. If you think differently, review the tapes.

      You are correct that New York City’s history with its public school system is different than Virginia’s. It is in many respects far better than the urban school systems in Richmond, Portsmouth, Danville and Petersburg.

      New York City has:
      1. high performing selective public schools to which admission is gained by testing; and
      2. high performing public charters whose entrance is by lottery.

      No Virginia school division has either.

      The Governor’s School programs are administered by the Virginia Department of Education, and the best of them are falling victim to a new system that targets Asian-American kids because of their success.

      No applicant to the NYC public charters is refused. But many of the applicants are not selected in the blind lotteries because of lack of capacity. Those charters have more than their demographic share of poor, minority and learning disabled children.

      There are tens of thousands of kids on the waiting lists.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        1966-7? Yeah, nothing’s changed.

        1. James McCarthy Avatar
          James McCarthy

          Richmond ain’t NYC. I lived in NYC for many decades. Successful transference of NYC’s miniature experiment to VA requires deep considerations. NYC’s 5 boroughs are each the equivalent of any of VA’s largest counties in population. The dense urban center has an extensive cultural architecture including museums, zoos, botanical gardens, several pro sports teams, among some. All within a short subway ride. In proportion, NYC is equal to the entire K-12 system of the Commonwealth

          While it is a tantalizing intellectual exercise to imagine such transference, the reality is far different. That’s myopia.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Had a buddy who was an NYC Regents(?) grad, or something like that. He’d have been class of 63. In those years NYC had the best in the nation, which meant the world. If we hadn’t been drinking so much when he explained why NYC was so superior, I’d be able to remember why.

            BTW, he scored perfect 1600s on his SATs. Totally obnoxious though to make up for it.

          2. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            All NYS HS graduates are Regent designated. It is the standard for graduation. Not terribly selective.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Ah, apparently they’re proficiency exams. Okay, that makes sense. In the 60s and 70s, Virginia didn’t have any kind of proficiency exams. None here had to do anything more than convince teachers.

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Not to mention NYC spends at least half again per student than any Virginia school system. Now, one of the best K-12 is the military, but at $50K/year/student it better be.

          5. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            The ideological advocates will not nor cannot conceive of the depth of the differences that exist between NYC, the city, and VA the state.

      2. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        You have made my point in part. NYC’s environment is the village that it takes to nurture a solid education. VA does not possess the depth of cultural institutions within a subway ride of virtually every school.

        The thousands on the waiting list for charter schools reflects more the commitment of parents than the lack of capacity.

        NYC has had its share of issues surrounding ethnic and racial limitations on admissions to special schools as TJ here. Whatever your first hand experience here in VA and research cannot imagine the NYC village’s environment in a single urban center.

        See my reply to NN.

  3. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    Good, warfighting thinking.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    As in the past, I agree with you on the concept of authorizing charter schools. The tradition of local school boards in Virginia and the the state constitution vesting them with oversight of public schools in their districts will make drafting legislation tricky.

    If Youngkin is serious about establishing charter schools and not just using them as a campaign slogan, his administration is going to have to put some effort toward that goal before the next session. A detailed plan needs to be developed, not just some legislative template, complete with buy-in from all interested parties.

    One method of accomplishing this is the time-honored task force. The Governor could convene such a group, consisting of education experts and legislators from both parties (including Louise Lucas). I would also recommend that the VEA, the NAACP, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center be represented. Get everybody at the table. Folks from the Virginia DOE would provide staff support–briefings, data, etc. At one of the meetings, representatives of Success Academy could make a major presentation on how they go about running charter schools and the results they have seen. The administration could bring in leading advocates from around the country, just so long as they have more credibility than Betsy DeVos. All the concerns and objections could be aired, addressed, hashed out.

    Public hearings could show support from low-income groups and there would be the opportunity to develop compromises to address the concerns of traditional opponents.

    Such an undertaking would go a long way to developing a plan and legislation that Republicans and Democrats could agree on. (It would also enhance Youngkin’s national image, as well.) But, this would be a major undertaking and, as such, it needs to begin now. January 2023 and the convening of the next session of the General Assembly may seem a long way off, but it is not.

    By the way, Chap Petersen did vote against Obenshain’s bill last session to create regional school divisions for charter schools. But that bill was a blunt instrument whose implementation had not been thought out.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I agree entirely.

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