Followup: Charter Schools, Parental Involvement, DOE Decision Making

Public hearing on Girls Prep expansion proposal, December 2009

Earlier this week, we posted our interview with Michael Duffy, who oversees New York City’s charter schools.  There’s one section in particular that isn’t exactly sitting well with some parents and education activists. During the interview, Duffy expressed his views on a state-mandated public hearing held on the Lower East Side to gather feedback on the controversial expansion of the Girls Prep Charter School. This is what Duffy said:

I think, for my part, in a couple of hours of comments, I didn’t hear anything new from the public that wasn’t already known prior to the start of the hearing. I know it’s important that people have a chance to speak their mind, but I don’t think there’s anything that wasn’t known to the Department prior to the proposal for the expansion of Girls Prep.

In an email blast to members of a Yahoo education news group, Leonie Haimson of the organization “Class Size Matters,” responds:

It is outrageous but not incredible.  The mayor and the chancellor have tried to blame all the outrage and discontent with their policies on a few unnamed parents who supposedly support the status quo.  The fact that there have been hundreds of angry parents at the charter co-location hearings seem to mean nothing to them… They have these hearings, because they have to, but they obviously don’t listen and they don’t care.

On the Gotham Schools web site, parent Susan Crawford highlights another portion of the interview:

I think that some parents were empowered by the way things were in the past. Very vocal parents had the ability to raise enough heat to challenge and quash proposals that would alter the status quo, and I think one of the reasons the status quo 10 years ago was so deeply dysfunctional was exactly because of that.

Her reaction?

This is incredible.  First the DOE blamed the old school boards for the alleged “dysfunction” of the pre-Bloomberg/Klein era.  Then it turned to UFT- and teacher-bashing.  Now the DOE is blaming parents?  Mr. Duffy, who came to the DOE from Boston, is clearly unaware that some of the city’s most popular and/or high-performing schools today — and for the past 10-20 years, were formed by groups of administrators, teachers and parents who coalesced around the given school’s vision and did the ground-work and due diligence that formed the basis of what those schools are today.  Where can he find them?  Start with the list of the 209 schools that the DOE exempted from the mandated curriculum when Bloomberg and Klein first took over.  That’s right, lots of parental involvement helped foster schools that were high-achieving, and/or that could take all comers and educate them without assuming test scores are the be-all/end-all of a student’s life.  And they were not, by a long shot, just found in middle-income neighborhoods. Meanwhile, charter schools certainly have no use for parent involvement, beyond the contracts parents have to sign when their children are accepted.  No PAs, no SLTs.  Token parent representation at most can be found on the governing boards.

The DOE’s Panel on Educational Policy approved the expansion of the Girls Prep Middle School in a building it shares with two other schools, P.S. 188 and P.S. 94. Parents, teachers and administrators of the other schools argued during the hearing that there is no room in the building for the expansion. They urged the DOE to find an alternative.