NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 12, 2007

Excellence charter school -- a Brooklyn public charter serving mostly low-income black students -- is trying out a new model for education reform: allow greater flexibility in its operations in return for greater accountability, says the Economist.

Three years old, Excellence is living up to its name:

  • Some 92 percent of its third-grade scholars (eight-year-olds, the oldest boys it has, so far) scored "advanced" or "proficient" in New York state English language exams this year.
  • That is compared to an average (for fourth-graders) across the state of 68 percent and only 62 percent in New York City; they did even better in mathematics.

This is the sort of performance that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to extend beyond New York's 60 charter schools to all of the city's schools, says the Economist.  As a result, he made competition and accountability -- which charters promote -- the center point of his education reforms:

  • Under new rules, every school run by the city will receive a public report card, with a grade that reflects both academic performance and surveys of students, parents and teachers.
  • Schools that do well will get a boost to their budget; the principal may get a bonus of up to $25,000 on top of a base salary of $115,000-$145,000.
  • Schools graded "D" or "F" will have to submit improvement plans that will be implemented with support from the Education department.
  • Principals whose schools are still faltering after two years will be fired, and schools still failing after four years will be closed.

Equally crucial has been Bloomberg's success in winning over reluctant principals, who have agreed to sign a new accountability contract, and the teachers' unions, which despite quibbles broadly support the new system, says the Economist.  All in all, there seems a good chance the reforms are here to stay.

Source: Editorial, "The Great Experiment," Economist, November 8, 2007.

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