Charter Schools


Is there justification for a charter school in Elmira? A guest viewpoint opposing the proposed Finn Academy written by Kathy Pilling-Whitney appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette on May 1. In Ms. Pilling-Whitney’s view, “Competition for school funding between charter schools and traditional public schools is inappropriate and dangerous. Charter schools such as the Finn Academy rob an already stressed Elmira City School District. That is unfortunate and unfair to our students, especially when the same resources and ideals can work in the schools we already have.

Ms. Pilling-Whitney wrote: Charter schools hurt education for other students

The charter school question as a reform avenue in the American education system has come full circle in not delivering on its promise.

While charter schools began as a way for educator autonomy, creativity in addressing curriculum, a shared vision of teaching and learning, and school-based decision-making, they have become a leech on an already drained and stressed public education system.

The reality of charter schools is they don’t perform better than public schools, and they may have poorer test scores, depending on the school, especially with for-“Charter Management Organizations” (CMOs). Initial jumps in student scores may reflect initial parent involvement and better student attendance. Stanford University research tries to address all the complex issues of teaching and learning in different states with different regulations. In testing in charter schools from 2009 to 2013 (four growth cycles for testing on the NAEP) “56 percent of students showed no significant difference in math, while 31 percent were significantly worse in math.”

Along with no positive long-term proof of achievement, the issues of poverty, language barriers, homelessness and mental health, among others, are not addressed by most charter schools, since significantly fewer of this population are represented than in traditional public schools.

Public education has taken a beating in the search for continual improvement, but traditional public school continues to educate everyone. The idea that traditional public schools are failing as a whole is a lie. Since 1975, our schools are no longer racially segregated. Our schools must accept students who have physical, emotional and or mentally handicapping conditions. Traditional public schools must accept students who do not speak English and they must have high graduation rates for all students — something that was not true 50 years ago.

Our society has changed, and schools are not the cause of change but reflect that change. Society has failed our public education system. School funding needs to support every student equally, whether that student is from Elmira or wealthy suburbs of New York City, as is done in Finland (hence the better test scores in Finland). Parents need to support their children by getting them to school every day. Teachers need to be part of a team with the parent, advocating for children.

Competition for school funding between charter schools and traditional public schools is inappropriate and dangerous. Charter schools such as the Finn Academy rob an already stressed Elmira City School District. That is unfortunate and unfair to our students, especially when the same resources and ideals can work in the schools we already have.

Pilling-Whitney, an art educator in the Elmira City School District, is the Elmira Teachers’ Association vice president.

The comments to Ms. Pilling Whitney’s guest editorial suggest that at least some charter school backers seek to undermine public education, teachers unions, or oppose common core standards rather than promote quality education with justice for all.

A guest viewpoint written by Andrea Rogers, which appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette on May 20, takes the opposite view. Without challenging Ms. Pilling-Whitney’s claim that charter schools rob the public school system, Ms. Rogers claims that charter schools have a positive role in education.  Here is a summary of her points.

  • Pilling-Whitney is confused
  • Her facts are wrong
  • Some charter schools have shown success
  • Pilling-Whitney is biased
  • Tens of thousands of NYS parents have chosen charters for their children.

I was put off by Ms. Roger’s personal attacks and her failure to directly address the charge that charter schools rob the public school system. Charter schools in NYS represent taxation without representation–these schools are funded from school tax revenues, but unlike public schools are not supervised by the elected school board.

Ms. Rogers wrote: Studies show charter schools improve student learning

In her April 29 Guest Viewpoint, Kathy Pilling-Whitney is confused about what the research on charter school performance shows (”Charter schools hurt education for other students”). As the great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan might say, she is entitled to her anti-charter opinion, but she isn’t entitled to her own charter school facts.

Multiple studies done by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes have shown time and again that many charter schools do indeed improve student learning. CREDO’s methodology has been peer tested and is considered the gold standard in this field.

The proposed Finn Academy Charter School has applied to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, a charter authorizer with impeccably high standards and a portfolio of successful schools. For example, during the 2012-13 school year, 82 percent of charter schools authorized by SUNY outperformed their host school district in math, and 76 percent did the same in English language arts.

It is not uncommon for people in the existing school system to oppose the creation of a new school in town. After all, not everybody welcomes competition.

But what most surprised me was Pilling-Whitney’s claim that academic improvements achieved in charters are a byproduct of motivated parenting and school attendance. With all due respect, this is old and worn-out assertion of charter opponents that has never ever been supported by a shred of evidence.

Successful charters help improve student performance because they are free to innovate and focus on student needs, and must provide a program that parents want to choose for their children. Keep in mind, charters only stay open if parents and children choose to attend them. If nobody chooses them, the charter will close down.

Charter schools are part of our state’s and our country’s public education landscape. They are part of the solution — not the problem, as Pilling-Whitney suggests.

CREDO found that charter schools that start strong tend to stay strong. Tens of thousands of parents throughout New York State have chosen charters for their children. Finn Academy may have the opportunity to bring this choice and chance at a better life to Elmira. If approved, everyone who cares about children should support their work and not tear it down — especially with baseless assertions.

Rogers is the policy director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The article by Bill Moyers cited below gives another perspective on charter schools. The article gives test results for NYC schools (there is a link for charter schools), but NYC has unique problems unlike Elmira’s.

© William Hungerford – May 2014






About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
This entry was posted in Education, Political and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Charter Schools

  1. josephurban says:

    Both authors are partially correct. It all depends on what you want to emphasize. The 2013 Credo Report does point out that some charter schools function better than traditional schools….and some function not as well.It seems that schools in the poorest communities are the ones most likely to show more gains in student performance relative to the public schools. In the states with better educational systems the reverse is somewhat true, especially in math.
    In addition, the Credo study points out that poor performing charter schools have been closed down, so the data in 2013 is somewhat skewed to include the better schools. ( The data on the closed schools is not included) Poor performing public schools continue to operate. (Note: By “poor performing” I am not suggesting the schools or students are not learning, but based on standardized test scores the level of achievement is below average. The use of standardized testing is another topic!).
    There is no universal conclusion. In the end, the quality of the school will depend on the staff, parents and community. The Credo study does NOT try to describe any data regarding the resources available to charter schools versus traditional schools. That may be an important point. As well as class size. It may also be a case in which students are selected for charter schools (by parents or some other criteria) whereas traditional schools are required to take all comers.
    So, some charter schools seem to be better for some kids, at least in under financed, poor school districts. So, maybe the answer is to adequately finance ALL schools and turn them into public “charter schools”.


  2. whungerford says:

    I have no objection to religious schools or alternative schools if parents are able and willing to pay. I object to charter schools funded with taxes with no accountability to the local elected school board. I am very much opposed to the establishment of separate and unequal schools; I believe public education is in the public interest.


  3. Deb Meeker says:

    In my opinion, attitudes in the US are becoming more and more divisive in terms of societal strata and status. Beyond the fact that charter schools take emphasis and funding away from already lean public school budgets, they seem to encourage a deeper divide in attitudes between levels of society – “my children go to a charter school” – implying a superior education, where that may not even be the case.
    Creating a total charter school system over-all, would put K through 12 in the private sector’s control; while publicly funded. In essence, privatizing schools could eventually encourage allowing sub-standard teachers and sub-standard curricula, depending of course on where one lived.

    Here’s what the League of Women’s Voters has to say:


  4. whungerford says:

    In his column in today’s Gannett papers, Leonard Pitts decries instances where divisiveness trumps even compassion and decency.


  5. Barbara Griffin says:

    I agree with whungerford, in that private charter schools should be privately funded if they are not held accountable to regulations or oversight put forth by a Board of Education. Our tax dollars would be better spent enhancing the public education system with smaller classrooms, better facilities and tools to improve learning, and public “alternative” classes for those with special needs. A unique blend of public/private on the other hand, is that of the Mary Cariola Children’s Center in Rochester, which is a “private” institution for children with special needs that cannot be met by the public school system or other local private learning institutions. Severely handicapped preschool children and those to the age of 21 are referred by the County Social Welfare Program or by the public school system, and tuition is paid through both taxpayer and private funds. The school is under regulation by the NYS Board of Education. I do not, however, support for-profit charter schools that are not held accountable and seek to drain funds from the public to line the pockets of corporate administrators.


  6. whungerford says:

    While some may believe charter schools needn’t comply with state regulations including common core, they are in for a shock–all NYS schools must comply with NYS regulations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s