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The True North Preparatory Charter School program hopes to increase its capacity to serve nearly 20 percent of city students, according to a report in the Democrat and Chronicle.

This could have very serious consequences, both good and bad. The good news is the school has proven results and could benefit the students who attend. However, the school has no special needs students. It has a “boot camp” style of operating. It’s not a good fit for everyone. Perhaps the biggest factor is in its success is tremendous buy-in from students and parents. All of these things make the True North model difficult to scale across the entire district.

The expansion raises questions about the students would be left in the City School District, which has an enormous population of special education and English language learners. Charters insist they don’t cream the best students, counsel special needs students not to attend and kick problem kids out, but there’s lots of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, charter schools put the pinch on unions. True North officials say being able to fire teachers is the secret to success. But the school’s rigid structure and student population seem to be much bigger factors. Busting teachers unions will lead to a lower standard of living and no job security for huge numbers of education professionals. (Instead of comparing True North with poor-performing School #30, I would have liked to see the D&C choose a high-performing city school, such as School #58 or School #23.)

The charter expansion could further wipe out parochial schools.

There are also space implications. There’s no question the RCSD has to consolidate and the charter school expansion will hasten the need to close buildings. Meantime, the charter schools will need to acquire property. So far, the district and charter schools have not been working on shared space. Charter schools find themselves in former Catholic schools that lack adequate facilities or spending lots of money to retrofit spaces.

Finally, there are financial consequences. Charter schools siphoned off $33 million from the district this year. The district also must pay transportation costs for charters. Until there’s a critical mass of charter school students (there are about 2,600 across all grade levels), it becomes difficult to achieve economy of scale.

This expansion is so massive, the district and the charter schools must start working together now.

Links of the Day

– Can Ralph Wilson Stadium stand the test of time? Many observers think, no way.

– The NHL lockout has serious repercussions on downtown Buffalo businesses and workers.

– Rochester’s orchestra is mired in debt and infighting. Syracuse’s orchestra folded. Buffalo’s orchestra is doing great!

A plea to Monroe County to consider a smart growth plan.

A very skinny building in Syracuse is for sale.

12 Responses to Big Consequences in Charter Expansion

  1. October 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm lynn e responds:

    How is a boot camp environment good for education and high order thinking? Why do people think that poor people benefit tron being controlled and taking orders from authority? How is success defined in this environment? It still sounds like hatred and fear of the kids served to me. How can teachers actually teach higher order thinking and what comes with it, questioning authority in an environment where they can be fired at any time? Who is at the top of the school’s authority chain and what are they getting from this? Who is making money?

  2. Giving families educational choices is a great thing! This model is working, so why not duplicate it? If a family thinks this model works for their children, they can send their child there; if not, they can send their child elsewhere. If it leads to the closing of failing public schools, so be it! Why in the world would anyone want to keep kids in failing schools when they can go somewhere with better success. I don’t care who is getting the money — public, private, corporate, etc. — so long as they are getting the job done; that is, setting high standards for all kids without excuses, educating them properly, and helping to prepare them for success beyond high school.

  3. October 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm Michael Bloch responds:

    The Teacher’s Union is the single most detrimental reason why our schools do such a poor job. They benefit the union employees first and the teachers second. If the students paid union dues, there would be a better chance of the unions actually doing something good for them. The quality of our schools will never change until tenure is abolished so bad teachers can be fired and union rules are changed so teachers can be paid a bonus for top performance.

  4. It still sounds like hatred and fear of the kids served to me.

    I don’t know how anyone could take that away from reading the article.

    I’m not sure I’d heard of True North prior to reading this article (I now live in Buffalo, but we’re facing the same issues here), but clearly a substantial percentage of the students at True North are college-bound or at least on their way to having a life. Those at School #30? Judging from the results cited — which I read with a lump in my throat — many are on their way to doing life — or having a life cut short early. And that’s not just being glib: folks in the public safety & corrections look at these results to guide their capacity planning.

    It strikes me that, at its most basic, is what this is all about.

  5. “I don’t know what (Rochester Prep) is doing to get better results,” Urbanski said. “What I do know is their teachers are not better qualified and not better credentialed and not harder working than the teachers in the city schools. There must be some other reasons. I’ll continue to wait patiently for an invitation to see what the secret to their success is.”

    I have read dozens of articles, seen films, and attended panel discussions on issues of charters and school reform. I know a number of people in Buffalo who are involved in this issue, and have had conversations with several Rochester school board members. Despite all that, I’ve never read any single paragraph on this issue that was more telling than the quote above from Urbanski. The fact that he makes a statement like that without a trace of shame is maddening, saddening, and profoundly telling.

  6. October 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm cityresident responds:

    Something needs to be done in the city about schools. City schools whether perception or fact are driving those that can afford to leave out of the city. Many of the people leaving the middle class neighborhoods of the city are moving out because their kids are reaching school age. Rochester will never see a sustained recovery until this issue is addressed. It seems charter schools are the first step in giving parents who can’t or won’t pay for private school another choice for their children’s education. I don’t think the teachers union is to blame. Is there any school district in the county that has anywhere near the percentage of students living in poverty or English second language?

  7. October 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    i thought kids hated school already. Now boot camp? U try pulling that at other schools..see how far u get, Mooohaha

  8. October 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    Has there ever been a fight at one Rochester prep schools? Hmm. The same cannot be said for every other city school. Hmm. Must be the kids.

  9. This article was interesting. I live in the suburbs now, but I am a graduate of a city high school. I really could care less about the city school system, but since I am a reader of the D&C, I am bombarded by article after article identifying the reason for the low grades in city schools as being poverty. I never bought into that theory. Now this article states that these same poor kids are succeeding in a charter school. What a surprise….NOT. So it seems if you take the troublemakers out of the classes, put in a group of kids that want to learn and apparently have parents that want them to succeed, you actually do learn. Add a management team that will insure all employees are engaged (teachers that care about teaching), and this equates to success. It is a old and proven model. Of course, the children left in the city schools will still fail. That will never change. There will always be people that fail for one reason or another. All that society can do is provide the means and opportunity to succeed. If the person chooses a different path, that is their choice.

  10. I wonder what you meant by “cream” the best students.

  11. October 8, 2012 at 2:24 pm Orielly responds:

    I don’t believe “the RCSD” has to provide transportation to these charter students. I think its the TAXPAYER who provides it and the RCSD make a profit delivering that service.

    Taking the Cream of the top students away? Who cares about them in the RCSD today? We subject these good kids to go to schools where they are threatened, made to use metal detectors to gain entrance, teachers spend all their time solving problems the good kids did not create and they forced to be around numerous fights per day.

    The good students deserve far better than the RCSD delivers today. Let them go and prosper.

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