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Charter schools: a skeptical look

This building on Baltic Street in Cobble Hill houses both Success Academy Cobble Hill, a charter school, and the School for International Studies, a more traditional public school. Eagle file photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In his third term, Mayor Bloomberg is increasingly showing his true colors. Nowhere is this more evident than in his advocacy of charter schools. Bloomberg has constantly pushed for more charter schools, and unsuccessfully lobbied for the state to raise the cap on the number of charter schools that are permitted.

On the surface, charter schools seem like a good idea. At least in most cases, they are established in areas where “regular” schools have performed poorly for years.. Charter schools are operated by many types of organizations with many different orientations. But many tend to espouse a “boot camp” type of ideology, offering long days, lots of homework, intense studying, and tests, tests, tests. Among some kids, this can produce results. But it may cause other kids and parents to transfer out.

Even if charter schools are the greatest thing in the world, there’s no excuse for the preferential treatment they get from the city. This newspaper has detailed how charter schools are shoehorned into buildings housing “regular” schools. In almost every case, the non-charter school loses something, whether a library, a lunchroom, or something else. In one example detailed by Eagle writer Mary Frost, one charter school paid to have its lighting ballasts, which contained dangerous compounds, removed from its portion of a school building– while the hazardous ballasts still remained in other parts of the building.

Indeed, the Bloomberg administration is so gung-ho for charter schools that one wonders whether the mayor’s successful push to do away with the independent Board of Education and replace it with a mayoral-controlled Department of Education was mainly done to make it easier to push charter schools.

Who is really behind the push for charter schools? Well, Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News pointed to the fact that under the federal New Markets tax Credits, investors in certain types of projects can make big profits, including charter schools. The bonds used to fund charter schools, according to this argument, have higher yields than the “regular” bonds issued by state and city government.

 Gonzalez also discussed this on the radio program, “Democracy Now.” “What happens,” said Gonzalez, “is the investors who put up the money to build charter schools get to basically or virtually double their money in seven years through a thirty-nine percent tax credit from the federal government.”

The Eagle, at one time, received emails from an organization called “Democrats for Education Reform,”  Well, who are these Democrats? When you click on “About Us,” you find out who they are: The members of their board of directors boast affiliations like “Eagle Capital Group,” “Columbus Hill Capital Management,” “T2Partners LLC,” and so on.

 It’s very difficult for me to believe that these people are in the charter school game just out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course, there is a place for Wall Street – offering stocks and securities to the public. But it makes no more sense to me for Wall Street to try to run schools than it would for a chemistry teacher to go to the Stock Exchange and start trading on the floor.

 I’m not the one to give the definitive answer on what’s going on. For all I know, Bloomberg’s trying to “pay back” his former colleagues in the financial industry for their support with these lucrative charter-school “plums.” But in general, it’s best to leave the management of schools to educational professionals – not to hedge fund managers, corporate counsels, investment bankers, real estate appraisers and so on.

 
May 6, 2013 - 4:30pm


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