NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 15, 2008

Some 5,000 people attended April 17th's Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, the largest ever held for charter schools in the history of New York State.  About 3,600 applied for 600 available places, and 900 applied for the 11 open slots in the second grade.  The desperation of these parents is hardly surprising, says the Economist.

For example:

  • In one Harlem school district, not one public elementary school has more than 55 percent of its pupils reading at the level expected for their grade.
  • And 75 percent of 14-year-olds are unable to read at their grade level.

So parents are beginning to leave the public school system in crowds, says the Economist: 

  • Harlem now has the most charter schools per square mile in the United States, yet demand still exceeds supply.
  • Harlem Success is opening three new schools this summer.
  • About 40 percent of all eligible children in central Harlem applied for kindergarten at Harlem Success schools.

The reason is obvious:

  • At the beginning of the 2006-07 school year at Harlem Success only 11 percent of six-year-olds were at their grade level in mathematic, by the end of the year, 86 percent were.
  • This may have something to do with grouping children by ability rather than by age, and with involving parents, who have to read six books a week to their children.

Unfortunately, many local politicians oppose charter schools.  They have tried to cap their numbers, or refused to let them share buildings with public schools.  The legislature in Albany has mandated that if a charter school has more than 250 students before its third year of existence, the teachers must unionize.  That spoils everything, says the Economist.

Source: "Six Books a Week," The Economist, May 8, 2008.

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