Mayors’ Education Summit
HENRY OLSEN: As mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith is well known for his two terms of innovation across the entire spectrum of government activities. Perhaps he is most famous for introducing privatization and competitive contracting into more than 60 city services. But he is also noted for successes in reforming the criminal justice and the educational systems of Indianapolis.
He is departing at the end of the year, as he's chosen not to run for re-election. But he will be joining the Manhattan Institute as a Senior Fellow within the next couple of months, and he's currently serving as the domestic policy advisor for Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign. It is my pleasure to present Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.
MAYOR STEPHEN GOLDSMITH: I'm delighted about this event today and Manhattan's leadership for a substantial number of years in education reform and, in general, innovations in urban communities.
There is obviously a consensus, more so now I think than 10 years ago, around a range of educational reform issues. One obviously is that as cities have generally improved in terms of safety and welfare and jobs and infrastructure, there has been more and more focus on the most important piece, which is education. And obviously, as well, in a post-welfare reform economy, the issue of education takes on even more dominance because the path to the future and a good job is clearly through the door of a good education.
This issue of education is problematic for some of us who are mayors who have no authority, and it's therefore an issue of indirect management and advocacy. Some mayors have authority and can combine both.
I think I probably have had more failures in education reform than any mayor in America, which gives me some license, to kick off this conference, as we've tried all of these things. But maybe if I can pull together just a couple thoughts and say this:
I'm not particularly concerned about trying to figure out whether vouchers, tax credits, charters, decentralization, high standards, pay for performance, teacher testing or A, B, C and D that I didn't list is the answer to what's ailing inner-city schools. That argument, it seems to me, is an argument that doesn't need to have a clear winner. There are going to be parental choice, tax credit and voucher programs that have important effects in terms of producing competitive forces. There are going to be charter schools that have important effects in showing what decentralization and teacher authority can do. There are going to be efforts that reflect what high standards, no social promotion, holding teachers and principals accountable — the Chicago model, the Texas model — can do. This preoccupation to figure out whether when a charter school fails or a public school fails or a voucher program doesn't succeed to the extent it should have, whether that can be generalized to the whole reform effort seems to be counterproductive.
And, given the difficulties we face in urban school districts in particular, what is exciting about today's conference is it has a menu of reform options. My attitude is let's do all of them, and ultimately the situation will get better.
It will get better because, similar to my experience in Indianapolis where we have competed out 85 public services, we will be introducing competition and privatization. Every time we compete out a public service, the residual municipal workers group gets better. Regardless of whether they win or lose, the competition makes them better. It also makes them better because it tends to force the bureaucracy to give them more discretion.
So outside pressure is kind of a wakeup call to the bureaucracy. It is a wakeup call to look at the way the bureaucracy operates, to decentralize, to give more authority to the community, to remove government controls.
As we look at these issues, let me just close with a story or two. During one of my battles with the Indiana legislature over charters and tax credits, the teachers unions brought down a number of teachers to kind of encircle our lobbyists and make sure that they couldn't actually come in bodily contact with anybody while walking through the halls of the legislature. We viewed what we were doing as not anti-teacher, but as pro-parent. One of the leaders of the union made what to me was the most alarming and eye-opening statement of all, which is, “Education is too important an issue to trust parents with the decision about where their children go to school. It requires a professional to make that decision.”
Now, that attitude is one that I think has been called into question in many cities, which is that as we look at the range of reforms we can bring all these things together. We can create a supply of new schools, charters, decentralization and private schools. We can create a demand through vouchers and tax credits. We can give public schools the authority they need through dramatic decentralization and new reforms.
The results are quite exciting, and as we head into the next millennium I think what this conference can focus on is that, unlike 10 years ago, there's lots of hope and lots of good success stories. If we bring these threads together, we can indeed have a constructive approach in our city schools.
Interestingly, one party or ethnic group does not dominate the school reform movement. It's dominated by people committed to the fact that children need to have as a moral right, as well as an economic right, a good education, an opportunity for good education. That binds these reform efforts together and, I think, gives us a platform from which to start our day.
HENRY OLSEN: We'd like to start with our first panel, on charter schools, moderated by Bruno Manno, senior fellow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
BRUNO MANNO: I'd actually like to pick up on a point that Mayor Goldsmith made and talk about charter schools as one item on the menu of reform options that are available to people. Now, I'm not sure if they're the appetizer, the entree or the dessert, but over the course of the day I think it's useful to think of all the presentations as ways of really presenting folks with a menu of educational opportunities.
The first panel, as the program says, is on charter schools. From my perspective, charter schools are really the liveliest reform in American education. Before these unconventional public schools vaulted into the spotlight, education reform in the U.S. was nearing paralysis. It was stalemated by politics and hobbled by people's inability to imagine anything very different from the schools they had attended.
Enter charter schools in 1991, in the Minnesota city of St. Paul, under the name of City Academy, founded by a woman named Milo Cutter.
Today, 36 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws, though not all of these laws are created equal. There are nearly 1,700 of these independent public schools of choice, freed from rules but accountable for results, enrolling upwards of about 370,000 kids.
Here in the District of Columbia, as a specific case in point, charters now enroll nearly 10 percent of the kids who are enrolled in public schools, approximately 7,000 kids. It seems to me to be an absolutely amazing figure.
Why are charter schools interesting? I think there are a number of reasons, but let me focus on one for our purposes here. Charter schools are really helping the nation reinvent public education. Traditionally, Americans have defined a public school as any school run by government, managed by a superintendent and school board, staffed by public employees, and operated within a public sector bureaucracy. Public schools in that sense are not really very different from a public library, a public park, or a public housing project.
Now, let's consider for a moment a different definition that I think the charter movement points us toward. A public school is any school that's open to the public, that's paid for by the public, and that's accountable to public authorities for its results. So long as it satisfies those three criteria, it's a public school. Public schools do not have to be run by government. Indeed, it really doesn't matter, for purposes of being public, who runs it, how it is staffed, what kids do between 9:00 and 10:00 on Tuesday morning, et cetera.
From my perspective, one of the most interesting things about charters is that these schools are really part of a bigger idea, what a lot of people are calling reinvented public education, in which elected and appointed officials play a strategic role rather than a functional role. Charter schools mean public support of schooling without government provision of schools.
In our panel this morning we'll talk about the policy, the politics and the practice of charter schools. We have four distinguished panelists to help us understand the charter movement and what it means to families and kids, many of whom find themselves in our toughest neighborhoods without any chance of choosing a school that would meet their needs or affirm their aspirations for their kids.
Let me now introduce our panelists.
We'll start first with Norm Coleman, who is serving his second term as Mayor of St. Paul, re-elected by his city's voters in 1997. Mayor Coleman has made one of his priorities for his second term working with parents, teachers and businesses to create new partnerships to expand educational opportunities for all of St. Paul's kids.
The Mayor has been a strong supporter of charter schools in St. Paul, as I mentioned, the first city in the U.S. to have a charter school about seven years ago. Today there are more than 20 charters in St. Paul and prospects for more than a dozen additional charters.
Mayor Coleman has been especially instrumental in helping charter schools solve their facility problems. Anyone who's been involved in trying to open or start a charter knows the types of problems that are confronted, particularly on the facility side. The city is helping to finance charter facilities through bonding measures and what are called STAR loans.
He has a close working relationship with St. Paul's new superintendent, Pat Harvey. Both see charter schools as laboratories for modeling what's needed in public education. In his own words: entrepreneurship, innovation, flexibility, local control and a willingness to hold the school staff strictly accountable for student performance.
Through a new initiative called Capital Schools Partnership, he hopes to break down the barriers that have separated district, charter and private schools.
Let's start with Mayor Coleman.
MAYOR NORM COLEMAN: We are all here today, because I think we all believe in two things. First, to paraphrase Hirsch, the shortage of successful urban schools is the single biggest preventable cause of social injustice in the United States. Secondly, we would all agree that the future prospects for our cities and our cities' children depend upon the abilities of cities to innovate and become performance-based centers of excellence in education. We need it.
Mayors get this. Mayors understand this. We may not, as Mayor Goldsmith has said, have the ability to change it. But we get it. We understand it.
The question then is how can we significantly increase the number of schools that work. I think that's where charters can come into play.
I'd like to talk in the moments that I have about what mayors and cities can do to lead the way in growing quality charter schools that reach the critical mass. That's really the issue, how do we reach the critical mass?
In St. Paul, we're focusing on three things. One, improving state policy. We get involved at the state level. Two, we are creating synergy among city government resources. We have a role to play. And three, we provide overall improvement, overall leadership. We can do that.
It's fascinating. I ran for governor a year ago and got hammered on the voucher issue. I actually stood up a couple years ago and said, choice is a good thing, competition is a good thing, and I supported a pilot project, a voucher project that would have brought $15 million into the St. Paul school system. The cost would have been three million for the voucher project, putting 12 million into education wherever we wanted it. I couldn't get a single elected official to raise their hand and say, "We'll take the $15 million." No one would step into that arena.
The reality with charter schools, as Bruno said, is that they are open to the public, paid for by the public, and accountable to the public. This is acceptable choice. Public charter schools are acceptable choice. They are an option for parents who believe in choice, and we have an opportunity here.
St. Paul was blessed to have actually the first charter school in the nation. Again as Bruno noted, in 1991. This was a result of a bipartisan effort. This is not a partisan effort. We had a Republican governor. We had a Democratic legislature. We had a couple of St. Paul-based policy mavens, Ted Koldery and Joe Nathan. In 1992 Milo Cutter opened America's first charter school, City Academy, in St. Paul. It was housed in a city recreation center.
Right now, we are looking at an opportunity for expanded growth in my city. 10 to 12, we believe, in the next couple of years. One of the single biggest issues that we face is the issue of adequate and affordable facilities. We went before the legislature — and again, we're talking about acceptable choice. This is a good thing. This is site-based management. This is parents and teachers being involved in the education of kids.
So we took the lead in lobbying at the state capitol for a very significant increase in state charter lease aid, extra money used solely for facilities. We got an increase from $425 per pupil to $1,500 per pupil. When you think about that, a typical school of 200 students would have $300,000 to use for rent, close to market rate. So we've got the opportunity now to put in $300,000 if you've got 200 kids, because the state came to the table.
That was a battle that wasn't that difficult. We were able to capture the attention of legislators. We weren't fighting with the teachers union, we weren't fighting with parents. We had everybody lined up. And we made that happen.
It's one of the little issues, but because this increase became law, I believe Minnesota is now the best place to finance a charter school.
The city has also taken a lead in providing city loans and bonding for charter school facility renovation. That's part of our community and economic development program. It's part of the city's basic economic development. Quality education is about economic development. Quality education is about community development.
We factor this into the planning and economic development decisions. We're exploring how our own marketing capacity can be used to provide families with the information they need to make school choices. We have a forum — public schools traditionally did — providing information to all parents. We're working now in partnership with my new superintendent, who came from Chicago, and originally worked with Mayor Daley. Two things are understood: one, competition is okay; and, second, it's a good thing to have the mayor on your side and not fighting with you. As a result we have a wonderful partnership, with a visionary school superintendent who understands accountability and competition. Now when we provide information to parents in the district system, we have both the charter and the private schools at those same forums, so parents can get all the information from one place.
City Academy, as I said, is housed in a recreation center. Two new charter schools opened this fall. Jonathan Bacall, who is here today, founded one of them. My former City Council President, Bill Wilson, founded the other one that is focusing on the African-American community, looking at core knowledge as the basis.
The school that Jonathan put together is probably the first charter school that has a majority of kids who are middle class, which is interesting. Charter schools started as schools for kids with special needs. City Academy had some kids with some special needs, however you define those. But we now have Twin Cities Academy, which is primarily middle class. Certainly there’s diversity and some kids with economic needs, but charter schools are no longer about just kids with special needs. They are for every kid.
Perhaps the most important thing that a mayor can do is to provide leadership by catalyzing the support of other key community stakeholders. I had the school superintendent in a meeting and I pulled together folks from the school district, the local universities, and business leaders. We’ve organized a group that we're launching called Capital Schools Partnership. So bringing together a broad cross-section of people concerned about education and education reform, with a mission of strengthening the education of all city children by encouraging the creation of new charter schools, we helped the St. Paul district learn from charter schools.
I think that's important. What we have to be careful about as we move forward is to make sure that within this system there's accountability. Frequently what happens is that if you have one failure the whole movement suffers. There has not yet been that measure of accountability. The Capital Schools Partnership provides a new level of screening. We say to folks interested in charter schools, we will work with you, but you've got to meet certain standards. We want to share knowledge.
At the same time, charter schools are becoming and have an opportunity to be the R&D, research and development, for the district system. If you really believe in site-based management, which is what our system is talking about, look at charter schools. You've got moms and dads in a specific community setting up a school, a public school. And that is R&D for our public schools.
Our charter schools give us opportunities to import some national models. We're working now with the Edison Project. Others have come in and will serve as models. Our superintendent has put 10 of the public schools on probation, those that are not performing well. She is in the process of hooking them up with good national models. Within our own system charter schools afford an opportunity to create that kind of partnership, to provide the kind of R&D site-based management and other things that are needed.
There's another very important opportunity for charter schools, the choice of not spending $70, $80 and $90 million on new Columbine-type massive public schools. We face that decision in my city right now. The school district had been moving down the path toward saying, “We need another high school, and it's going to cost.” Anybody involved in construction, I presume your cities are like mine. Costs have skyrocketed. None of my union folks are on the bench anymore. I mean, we have no unemployment in the trades. The result is prices have skyrocketed, so the $70 million estimates to build public schools are now $90 million. We believe we’ve stemmed the tide moving in that direction.
Wouldn't children and taxpayers be better served by 10 small charter schools tailored to the diverse needs of teenagers instead of massive Columbines? The opportunity is real. In fact, the district system is looking at charter schools as a way to save them the cost of investing $70, $80 million in Columbine-type facilities. I can tell you, even for government, that's real money.
So we have real opportunities here — opportunities both to serve the needs of teachers and to serve the needs of parents, opportunities to come together in real reform, but to do it in an acceptable context. That's what charter schools offer, opportunities for the district system to have folks on the cutting edge, to have the R&D. The balance is making sure that you have a system of accountability in place, and that's what our Capital Schools Partnership is. Someone's going to fail and everyone's going to be dragged down.
My last message is this. We in St. Paul are looking for partners from around the country who can contribute financial resources and expertise to our effort to make St. Paul a reputable national model for urban school success. We don't have all the answers. We don't have all the resources. Many of the resources and answers are found in this room, so I view this as an opportunity not just to share what we have, but for you to share with us.
I'll end on this note — we know how to do quality education. It's not a matter of the child’s economics. It's not a matter of the child’s race. We know that every child has a capacity to learn. We've seen the models that work and we are on the verge of making them work in our urban centers. And when we do, we will have met the challenge of the single biggest preventable cause of social injustice, lack of quality education in our urban centers.
BRUNO MANNO: The next speaker is Steve Klinsky, who is a New York-based businessman who recently established New York's first public charter school in Harlem, Sisulu Children's Academy.
He's the president and founder of Victory Schools, a charter school management company that was awarded two of New York State's first eight charters. In 1993 he founded the Gary Klinsky Children's Center, which is a philanthropic after-school reform model for public schools. Today that program serves about 500 kids at three public schools in East New York.
Recently, Mr. Klinsky helped the Miami Heat NBA basketball team organize its own version of that program called the Heat Academy.
Mr. Klinsky is a long-term trustee of the Center for Educational Innovation and he serves on the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal publication committee.
STEPHEN KLINSKY: I'm a bit on the opposite end of the spectrum from Mayor Coleman. Where St. Paul was the first to have charter schools, New York was one of the most recent locations for charter schools. The law was just passed last spring. It was a bit of a surprise that it was passed at all. Governor Pataki was able to tie the charter law to a legislative pay raise and got it through. It was a great success. It was actually a bit of a surprise and a great success.
When that happened, as a trustee of the Center for Educational Innovation, I had been very involved in the idea of a charter law in New York for some time. I always thought it was a great policy idea and, as Bruno described, I've been involved in public education through public/private partnerships philanthropically. When the law passed, I took it upon myself to create a local, New York-based educational organization to help the charter school movement in New York.
So we set up something called Victory Schools, and most of the top New York public school reformers are part of it. Reverend Flake is actually one of the members of the board of advisers, as are Sy Fliegel, who wrote the book Miracle in East Harlem and turned around District 4 in New York City, Ted Forstmann, who established the Children's Scholarship Foundation, and a large number of local reformers.
What we are trying to do is help the charter movement get started in New York and potentially, eventually, help in other states. But what you find is that it's almost impossible for any group of local community citizens to just set up their own charter school. It's very, very difficult, at least in New York, to have the hundreds of thousands of dollars you need to get the school open, to have the curriculum developers, to have the business systems in place. So through Victory Schools, we team up with the best local groups in New York who want charter schools. We try to do what the Board of Education would do for other schools or what the central district support would do for other schools, but we do it at a lower and more affordable cost.
As Bruno said, the movement has just started. New York State gave out three charters in '99. We won one of those three for the Sisulu School in Harlem, which is named after Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela's ally in South Africa. Five charters have been given out so far for the year 2000, including one we won with a group from Roosevelt, Long Island, which is a town on Long Island where 99 percent of the kids have failed the high school graduation standards every year for many, many years.
With such clear failure, the question is what do you do? I believe, and I think, hopefully, a lot of people in this room believe that charter schools are one major answer.
I would like to make just three points about the charter school movement.
The first thing that's been striking to me is how strong community support for charter schools really is. We had about six weeks to get our school ready during the summer, to try to get the word out. A lot of people still don't understand what charter schools are. They think there must be tuition and so forth. It's hard for people to imagine that it's actually tuition free. But we had a waiting list of more than 150 people within a few short weeks of time. And frankly, you find that a lot of people won't tell their friends about the opportunity to enroll because it's a lottery process in New York, and if they tell their friends about it, it lowers their chances.
But the community support is very strong and the politics of it all, the political alignment of it all, is also very striking. I come from, for example, a free-market, Republican background. My strongest community partner is Reverend Wyatt T. Walker, who was Martin Luther King's chief of staff. It's totally bipartisan, with all ends of the spectrum supporting these schools, and it's absolutely terrific and unique.
So, for example, when George Bush made his campaign visit to New York 10 days or so ago, he was welcomed in Harlem along with Governor Pataki. I think he's the first Republican who's been to Harlem in quite some time. He spent the morning at our school and then gave his educational policy speech. It was a great day, because all ends of the political spectrum were coming together to try to solve a concrete and long-lasting problem.
The second point I would make would be to reiterate Mayor Coleman's point about charter schools being the research and development sites for education. Charter schools have a real chance to try new curriculums, to try new techniques. Every one is different. So if one charter school goes bad somewhere in New York or in Texas, it's not the charter movement going bad. Each is independent.
For example, at Sisulu, we're putting three different curricula together in kind of a unique way. We're using Direct Instruction in the morning, which has had great results for teaching reading and math. Our school is kindergarten, first and second grades. We're starting with the younger children, then adding a grade every year. We use Direct Instruction in the morning. We use Core Knowledge in the middle of the day. We use the sort of clubhouse that I've been doing in after-school programs for an extended day part. There's a lot of thematic hands-on play, and it's a unique combination. Initially, we seem to in a position where we can measure the results and be a test site for that idea.
There are 1,700 other charter schools who are test sites for their own ideas, and as those charter schools mature I think there will be some great educational innovation coming out of it for all public schools.
The third point I'd like to make is that there is an appropriate place for for-profit or educational professional management organizations and companies in this charter movement. The Sisulu School is a 501C(3) not-for-profit school run by a board of local community leaders. We have the Harlem Councilman, we have the Harlem Child Welfare Services. It's a whole mix of communication and leaders. But, again, the practical reality is that it is extremely difficult for a group of well-meaning citizens to bring together the financial resources, the curriculum developers and business resources to really go from an idea to the completed product. It's also, frankly, uneconomical to do it for just one school.
If we were just going to be involved with the Sisulu School, as we are now, it's absolutely a bankruptcy proposition for the manager. What happens with schools is that the curriculum you develop for one school, and the systems you develop also can work for other schools, so there's a definite economy of scale. The key is for the management organization to be able to deliver those services at a lower cost than the community leaders could for themselves or that the board of education could.
I think, in fact, we will be able to do that. Even though the capitalization, the revenue per child in New York, is much less for a charter school than it is for a traditional public school, we pay our teachers more than union wages, we offer a longer day, we have smaller class sizes. I think it's clearly a stronger educational product. I think where the savings come in is in the amount that goes for central overhead, which is less in our school than it is in many other schools.
So I think there is a place for a good management organization. There's almost nothing more important in our society than the education system, but that does not mean that there should not be private resources put into it or private innovation put into it.
I think the best analogy is the pharmaceutical companies, who are also trying to solve major social problems. Clearly, Merck and Pfizer and the people who are developing the medicines we all take couldn't really do it as charities. They need to be professional companies that can raise capital, hire people, build an organization. I think you might see the same thing in the education sector.
BRUNO MANNO: Roger Harris is headmaster of the Boston Renaissance Charter School. It's the largest charter school in Massachusetts and the largest single-site charter school in the nation. I had the opportunity to visit there on about half a dozen occasions.
Prior to coming to Renaissance Charter School, Roger worked for 25 years in the Boston public system as a teacher, a dean of discipline, an athletic coach, and an administrator. He also served as assistant headmaster of West Roxbury High School, principal of Robert Goodshaw Middle School and the principal of the nationally recognized James P. Timmelty Middle School.
He grew up in Roxbury. He's received numerous awards for his commitment to public education and recently served as a member of the Massachusetts Education Transition Team.
ROGER HARRIS: As was mentioned, after returning from Vietnam with the Marines, I dedicated my professional career to helping children in the city of Boston. I worked for 15 years in the Boston public schools. The last eight of those years were at the Timmelty Middle School, which was recognized nationally and internationally as an outstanding institution. We were a Blue Ribbon School. In fact, we're the only urban secondary school in New England to ever win a Blue Ribbon award, and we did it twice.
What's interesting about that is it is a school in the heart of Roxbury. For those who know Boston, Roxbury is the African-American community in Boston. Normally when you hear about Roxbury, it's usually about something negative. There are programs in Boston, Metco programs and others, that take black and Latino kids and bus them out of their neighborhoods into suburban neighborhoods to receive quality instruction.
What we did at Timmelty was reverse this trend. Because of our unique program, when the 28 buses pulled up in the morning, you saw Caucasians and Asians being bused into Roxbury to attend our school. We felt pretty good about that because we reversed the trend. We had a waiting list of over 1,000 students at Timmelty School. For the last seven years we had the highest reading and math scores in the city of Boston. We were considered the beacon of the Boston public school system. When visitors came to Boston and wanted to visit the Boston public school system, the Mayor and the Superintendent would send them to Timmelty School.
But I left the Timmelty School. I left the Timmelty School to take over the Boston Renaissance Charter School. I left for a number of different reasons. But what I wanted to talk about was the opportunities that charter schools provide for kids.
A number of folks have already said the things that I was planning to say. But I have to say some things and identify what appealed to me about charter schools. What appealed to me was the initiative or the opportunity that it gives an individual or groups to create a public learning institution that meets the needs of families in a particular community. There are many different types of charter schools, but they all have what I consider to be one common purpose, and that is to provide an educational choice for families who traditionally have had no choice where to send their children to school.
I'll say that again. Charter schools provide an opportunity for families who traditionally have never had a choice. Those folks with money have always had a choice to send their kids to different schools, but economically disadvantaged folks have not. So that was one of the things that appealed to me.
There are many myths about charter schools. I want to try to dispel some of them. I won't go into all of them, but there are four primary myths.
The first is that charter schools are private schools funded by public dollars. The second is charter schools “cream” the best and the brightest. The third is that charter schools discriminate and are selective of students. The fourth is that charter schools hurt districts because of the funding formulas.
The real facts are, charter schools are public schools and are serving tax-paying families. Second, charter schools are a viable alternative for families who are not satisfied with the service provided by the local system. Therefore, the students or families who sought to leave or transfer out of the local system are not the high scoring honor students, but tend to be the students who are academically unsuccessful and/or behaviorally inappropriate. In fact, what tends to happen too often is that principals of local systems convince parents that they should send their children to that new charter school down the street that would best accommodate their children. And they do not do that because they're honor roll students.
The third is charter schools in Massachusetts must select students randomly by public lottery. Charter schools cannot interview parents and students and then pick and choose the most impressive candidates.
Fourth, charter schools receive the same — and this is real important and it connects with everything that was said prior to my coming up here — charter schools receive the same per capita allocation that local systems receive. However, unlike local public schools, charter schools have to pay their overhead and/or building maintenance out of that same allotment. In a traditional model, the mayor's office pays maintenance out of the capital-planning budget, at least in Massachusetts. So charter schools are financially at a disadvantage and expected to service the more challenging students with less available funds.
I need to talk about Renaissance. Renaissance, as was mentioned, is the largest single-site charter school in the nation. It's the largest charter school in Massachusetts. But most charter schools tend to average about 300 to 400 students. The Renaissance School houses 1,140 students, and it's a unique situation. We're in a 13-story high rise in downtown Boston in the theater district, but we draw students from every neighborhood in the city of Boston. That was done deliberately by the Board of Trustees. What they wanted to do, in an effort to prove that charter schools can be effective, was to replicate, as much as possible, traditional public schools.
So what they did was done by design. It's a unique challenge as the headmaster because, again, it's a school located in downtown Boston. No grass, no fields or playgrounds, 13-stories with four slow elevators. Just logistically trying to move 1,140 students up and down is a challenge.
It's very unique, but we've been very successful and I'd like to extend an open invitation to anyone who's in Boston: please come and visit us.
Most charter schools have impressive waiting lists, which indicate to me that parents and families are eager for change and often unhappy with the services provided for their children at traditional systems and are then willing to chance the new opportunity that charter schools provide. At Renaissance, as I mentioned, we presently are serving 1,140 students and that will soon increase, when the renovations are completed, to accommodate 1,500 students. We have 1,100 parents, 1,100 families on a waiting list for our places alone.
I'm also the founder of a newly opened charter school in Roxbury. It is called Roxbury Prep. Roxbury Prep opened its doors in September and has a waiting list of 200 students.
So it's clear to me that parents are looking for an alternative, and charter schools provide that. Charter schools are not the silver bullet for educational reform, but an important lever for change in our system.
BRUNO MANNO: Many of you have heard the Reverend Dr. Flake before. He's a passionate and eloquent spokesman for education reform and for providing poor kids in tough neighborhoods with new and different kinds of educational opportunities.
REVEREND FLOYD FLAKE: Since the Manhattan Institute is sponsoring the conference, I think it should be stated that I am a Fellow with the Institute.
Having just heard the other speakers, let me give some confirmation to what Roger just said and others have said before him. This morning, if you read the “National Report” page of The New York Times, there is an article that is entitled "In Michigan, School Choice Weeds Out Costlier Students." Let me read some of what it says.
"A University of Michigan study of the state's school choice programs found that the spread of charter schools and inter-district transfers has created new educational opportunities for many of the neediest families and serious problems for only a few of the state's school districts. But it said that most of the programs were designed to attract only the students who cost the least to educate.”
“Over the last five years, as school choice programs have grown, many experts worried that charters, publicly funded schools that are not required to follow teacher union or local school board rules; vouchers, public money that can be taken to any private school, and programs that allow students to transfer to neighboring school districts, would attract the brightest students and those of the most involved parents. The result would be that the neighborhood schools would be left with the least motivated and most difficult students.”
“That has not been the case in Michigan, the study found. But many of the choice programs have taken the students who comprise the cream of the crop financially. ‘We did not find the academic creaming, so many people worried about early on,’ said David Arsen, one of the three University of Michigan professors who wrote the report. ‘What we found instead is creaming on the basis of cost. Charter schools generally are taking the students who are cheapest to educate and leaving behind those who are more expensive.’”
And then he concludes by saying, “We've gone past the time when we can put the genie back in the bottle.”
For all of us who have been involved in this process, this is good news. And I think it is important for us to understand it and put it into some context.
In 1982, when we opened the Allen Christian School at the church where I am pastor, having left my job as dean of students at Boston University, I realized that we were at a critical stage even then. Many of our public school students who came into both Boston University and Lincoln University, where I was an associate dean, were not really at the competitive level to be in those environments. We provided remedial and other necessary services to try to bring them to that level, but in many instances they had been so crippled, so paralyzed by the school systems, that they were not able to overcome those historical barriers. Therefore, regardless of what we did, many of them wound up drifting out of those institutions.
The challenge for me has been moving to a natural progression that allows for the kind of educational opportunity that we provide at Allen School for other students in the community. At all times, we have a waiting list of more than 150 students. What we have discovered, as recent studies in New York have indicated, is that drawing from the same pool that the public schools draw from, our students are testing differently. They are scoring 86 to 96 percent in reading and math and science. This is in a community where the majority of the students test at about 40 percent or less.
The reality is there is a necessity for choice. But there are more reasons than that. As a part of my ministry, we do a myriad of various kinds of social programs. We provide for senior citizens, we buy up all the vacated, boarded up properties around us, we actually provide for the building of new homes. We built 166 new homes. One of the greatest challenges that we face is that in building these first-time homes we discover that many of the people who move into them are looking forward to the day when they are able to buy their next home.
The problem for us is, as we look back in history, we realize that changing the community structure has created opportunities for African-Americans to move out of the inner-city. A second flight of middle class African-Americans has followed the wave of white flight, leaving devastated inner-city communities behind.
The great challenge we face today is that if you cannot attract those people back or maintain the middle class that is a part of the community, we will never be able to solve our social problems in this country.
The reality for me becomes what to do when you’ve helped first-time homebuyers get started in the urban community where the land is relatively cheap, property is cheaper than in the suburbs. But then the minute they can move to that next level economically, they find their way out of that community. We cannot hope to be able to solve our problems, because it means that we are further widening the gap between the various classes of people.
So my great challenge becomes one of trying to rebuild the urban community while sustaining suburban communities and making sure that every child has opportunity. We must rebuild our community until the day comes when we can actually do what I see done in the Sunday New York Times, where communities in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester counties that surround New York City, can actually advertise a property based on the school district that property is located in.
I've traveled to most of the major cities in this country over the last year and a half. I've not yet found a single urban district that can actually advertise its school as an attraction for middle-class people to live in that city. Until that day comes, it becomes necessary for us to wage the battle to try to assure that every town has a right and an access to quality education.
Last week I participated in two debates. One of them was at the ADL meeting at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The other was at Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical corporation. I talked to my antagonist before the debate, who happened to be Dr. Evelyn Jones-Rich, who once was the principal of a high school in my district. She pulled me over into a corner and said, “Floyd, I don't understand you. We've known each other over the years. I cannot understand why you would be on the other side of this issue. Why are you against public education?”
I said to her, “I am not against public education. I am against inferior education. I am especially against education delivered that is not of the quality that all children believe they have opportunities to participate in a competitive environment without worrying about affirmative action, but going forward because they know they have the competency and the skills for competition. I must fight for the right of those people.”
“I cannot understand how we can sit on the sidelines idly as more and more of our children are being destroyed by a system that paralyzes them when they are in the regular classes. Then this system does even more damage to them when it cannot make a decision about how to educate them and puts them in special education.”
She said, “But don't you understand that the difference between what you're trying to do with charter schools and what you're trying to do with voucher schools is that we must take every child. We have to take the special need students.”
I said, “Let me make you understand that I've taken some of your diagnosed special education students. They walked into the door of Allen Christian School, put on a uniform, understood the rules of the school, and knew that we have high expectations. We don't lower the standards. There are no social promotions. And every one of those children has graduated from that school. Our challenge becomes to make the public system accountable by creating a parallel system.”
I will close with the following. I had a debate recently, and one of the debaters was a representative of the ACLU. The ACLU representative said, “Reverend, I don't understand why you cannot accept that we have a public system. This is where education ought to be delivered, and therefore you ought to be accommodating to this idea because not to accommodate it means that you are not in favor of the Constitution.”
I asked a question. Doesn’t the Constitution say that if a person is paying for goods and services through his or her taxes, and these service are not being delivered by the government, which that person has a right to, that the government has a responsibility to create a parallel system that will allow for the delivery of those particular services?
I live in the highest median income African-American community in the City of New York, greater than the surrounding white communities in terms of median income. My people are not getting the services they are paying for. This is not a poor community. These are people who work every day. These are people who pay their taxes. And yet they are not getting that benefit.
Would you agree with me that there is nothing Constitutional that says that you cannot create a parallel system? All I'm saying is that we need a parallel system to challenge the existing system, because the monolith that we have is totally out of control, and the only way it will come to order is if there is a competitive system, as the Mayor has already said.
And so my great challenge becomes one of continuing to wage the fight. This is a fight that I believe we must win. And as this news article says, the genie is out of the bottle. Let's work together to make for greater education.
BRUNO MANNO: We've got 10 to 15 minutes to talk a little bit about the many, many different issues that have been raised, about the policy, politics and practice of charter schools.
I'm happy to start, then. Roger, you told me a couple of interesting things in a private conversation we had about the kids that are in the school in your special ed program. One of the objections to these institutions oftentimes is, as you said, the “creaming” thing. But give us the statistics about where your kids tested out a couple of levels below grade level, and talk a little about your special ed program.
ROGER HARRIS: The Boston Renaissance charter school has been in existence now for five years. I just came on board last year, so this is my second year. There have been discussions in Boston about things that I mentioned, how charter schools “cream” and charter schools select. Also that there's a disproportionate number of special ed kids that are in local systems, that charter schools don't deal with.
Well, one of the things that we did in October of my first year was we tested — last year we were kindergarten through nine — all the sixth through ninth graders. We gave them the Gates diagnostic reading test. What we found is that 75 percent of our sixth through ninth graders were scoring at least two grade-levels below in reading. 75 percent of our students were scoring at least two grade-levels below in reading!
So that flies in the face of the arguments that we are screening and that we're not taking special ed kids. One of the other things that parents do when they're selecting charter schools, they tend not to mention the fact that their sons or daughters have special needs or are reading below level, or whatever the issues tend to be. They don't want to have replicated what happened in the local system.
But because we are a charter and we can be innovative and creative, what we were able to do once we received the results of the diagnostic reading tests was to reorganize our curriculum to meet the needs of the students.
To me, that's what education is supposed to be about. There's so much talk about standardized test scores and schools are compared and contrasted to one another by the results and those scores. But what's more important is what happens once you receive those scores. You know what a school or a school system does once a group has been identified as needing additional support.
What we were able to do because we are a charter school is to adjust our curriculum to meet those needs of the students. We did that midway through the year and the results were dramatic for those students.
QUESTION: I have a question for Mr. Harris concerning the size of the schools. There have been a lot of articles recently saying that smaller is better. And Mayor Coleman mentioned the possibility of instead of one giant high school, having 10 smaller high schools.
I think, 1,500 students sound like an awful lot of students.
ROGER HARRIS: It is. In particular, one other thing appealed to me about the Renaissance School. As I mentioned, I spent 25 years in the Boston public school system. I spent my first 15 years on the high school level, and at the high school level all the teachers complain about the middle schools. They say, “Oh, if the middle school teachers did a better job, we'd have better students.”
Then I went down to the middle school level and I spent ten years on the middle school level. And the middle school teachers blame the elementary teachers. They say, “Oh, if the elementary school teachers did a better job, we'd have better students.”
And when you go to the elementary level, the teachers blame the parents, and the mother blames the father's side of the family and it's all this blame.
So what I saw as an opportunity for me, something that was different and unique, and I think that anyone who is an educator would find appealing, is the opportunity to have kids from kindergarten to college, to have a controlled group of kids. If you were able to take a student from kindergarten and stay with that student, and that’s what the model at the Renaissance does, even though it's a challenge, what it does, it enables you to provide a feeder system.
In Boston there are now 23 high schools. I grew up in Boston, and when I grew up there was a feeder system. You knew what high school you would go to. Certain middle schools fed to certain high schools, certain elementary schools fed to certain middle schools. It's different now. On the high school level you can receive students from any of 21 or 23 middle schools. On the middle school level, you can receive students from 87 different elementary schools. And depending on the programs at those schools, that will show the variance in student performance when they get to your school.
What appealed to me about Renaissance was having the opportunity to have kids from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Now, the trustees who founded the Renaissance School, what they wanted was to create a model that was similar, that looked like a traditional school system and then use some innovative methods to address student needs. So it was done by design. But the majority of the charter schools in Massachusetts, and, from what I understand, across the nation, are much, much smaller.
BRUNO MANNO: Do any of the other panelists want to talk to this question of size?
NORM COLEMAN: I was really intrigued by what you said. My first reaction was wondering if the system wanted you to fail.
The criticism you get from the district, from the system, whether they are referring to charter schools or vouchers, is that “the charter or voucher schools don't have the challenges we face, so create something just like us.”
But the issue should not be creating something just like us. The issue should be what's the best form of educating our kids. That's the issue. Not to replicate a system, but to say “why don't we change that system.”
I think that's what charters offer. At the Twin City Academy, the one that recently started in St. Paul, Core Knowledge, uniforms and community service are part of the mission of this school. Creating models that we move the district system to, versus taking charters and moving them to what we have, is a huge challenge. We don't have to be stuck with a system we have. We have the opportunity to change that system so that we educate all of our kids and provide all of them with a quality education.
REVEREND FLOYD FLAKE: I think one thing we need to understand is that the argument that we must take special needs kids often is not followed by an understanding that the majority of those kids are not funded by state dollars. The majority of those special needs kids actually get more money, federal dollars, to support them.
What I've said in my debates consistently is, when they ask would you take special needs kids, I say yes. If I'm spending $3,500 a child and I'm able to educate them, and the State is offering $6,100, that's like heaven to me. Then in my district they're giving $8,300 a child, but the special ed kids in my district get $21,000 a child. I will take the $21,000 and build a special ed school and then be able to promote kids out of that school because most of them in there, in my opinion, don't belong in there, because many of them have been misdiagnosed.
So when we hear in the debate that the issue about charter schools is they won't take those kids, I will take those kids. I will take them and I guarantee you they will not be sitting four years later in special education. If you have the innovative skills, the integrative capabilities as you see from the Renaissance School and the one Steve and I are working on, you can actually put those kids in a regular classroom. I believe that even without that extra benefit of federal dollars you can bring them up to standard.
STEPHEN KLINSKY: At the Harlem school we picked a curriculum that specifically allows special ed kids to be more integrated into the school. Some curriculums teach for the average, and then the kids who are ahead are bored and kids who are slower can't keep up.
One of the reasons we chose Direct Instruction for reading and math is because it breaks all the kids down into groups of about six, six kids with one teacher. It's a whole ladder of lessons and they're at the level of lesson they can handle. So six kids may be on lesson 40 and six other kids may be on lesson 100. We have a kindergartner who's reading — the whole school reads at the same time, so you can have kids move among classes. We have a kindergarten girl reading with the second graders every morning. And then she goes back with her age for the rest of the day, where she engages in age-appropriate activities for the rest of the day.
So one of the ideas of innovation that the charters can address is these sorts of issues and come up with solutions. But clearly it is a lottery. It is open to everyone. We're setting up schools in areas where the special ed needs, as a percentage in the other schools are very, very high. And I think there's better ways to handle it than trying to warehouse kids for extra dollars.
ROGER HARRIS: I have to do a commercial, because the Renaissance School is in partnership with the Edison Project. What my colleague here just described is something similar to what Edison provides, the Success For All literature model. Every eight weeks students are tested and then regrouped into smaller reading groups. So there's a similar model that Mr. Klinsky is using that's used in the Edison Schools across the country as well. It's proven to be a successful model. Kids are taught reading in small groups and then tested every eight weeks and regrouped.
BRUNO MANNO: Actually, the final point here gets back to the initial question that was asked about size. While it's true that the vast majority of charter schools are smaller than district schools, in fact you do have a number of them that are quite large. The issue is not so much size per se, but what is accomplished with the numbers of students enrolled.
You'll see schools like that breaking kids into much smaller groups — families, they call them, or academies. So that in fact in the Renaissance school, which I know something about, you will have teachers staying with the same kids for two to three years in houses. So while they may have 16, 17 kids, in fact the way they work with those kids is much, much different from a district school that has six or seven or 1,800 kids. You know what happens to those kids in the course of moving through the factory.
Just to end on one of the ideas that I thought was coming through loud and clear here, the genie's out of the bottle.
We often see — I'll use the euphemism here — the system reacting to innovation, or, in this case, charter schools, in one of four different ways. After the shorthand version here of stop 'em, and if that fails tame 'em, regulate them, the system itself moves to a point that maybe it wants to fight back and begin to do some of the things that may make it attractive to those people who left it.
Finally, what I’ve heard on this question of the genie's out of the bottle, is the Mayor, Reverend Flake, the other folks, talking about how this strategy can be advantageous to the system, whether it's as an R&D function. Let's see what we can do here, what we can cook up in this kitchen called a charter school and get into the district in some way.
So there are a lot of ways that folks and the system can respond. I think what people are talking about here is a more constructive relationship between charter schools and other kinds of district schools. I think people are talking about creating a kind of perspective on schools that looks at these schools as real community institutions, not bureaucratic organizations. I think people are talking about creating a perspective more along the lines of getting the system to use the strategies to meet the needs of all kids, kids who are very different, families that are very different.