Yesterday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio revoked a Bloomberg administration promise to provide free public space to three schools in Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school network. Because charters receive no capital funds, these schools need the free space within the publicly owned facilities in order to operate. Thanks to de Blasio’s decision, about 700 kids—most of them are minority students from low-income households—planning to attend some of the city’s best schools in the fall will now have to return to the neighborhood schools from which they had fled.
Reaction to the announcement has been strong on both sides of the charter debate. But those most affected by de Blasio’s decision are not opinion journalists, think tank senior fellows, or even Eva Moskowitz; they are New York City public school students. Charter schools are public schools. The students who attend them are New York City residents, enrolled in New York City public schools. What makes charters different from traditional public schools is that kids attend them by choice.
There seems to be no academically valid reason for de Blasio’s move. As is true everywhere, the quality of charter schools in New York City varies, but research consistently demonstrates that students benefit academically from attending the city’s charters, and Success Academy appears to run some of the best of the bunch. Recently published research by economists Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer found that New York City’s most effective charters are characterized by frequent teacher feedback, data-guided instruction, high expectations, and increased instructional time—all attributes of Success Academy schools. Needless to say, these aren’t characteristics commonly found in the traditional public schools in the low-income neighborhoods that Success Academy’s students are otherwise likely to attend.
The other academic rationale for the mayor to restrict charter school co-locations would be the oft-heard claim that traditional public school students are harmed when they share space with charters. But in a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, I demonstrated that this just isn’t so. My research measured what happens to student test scores within traditional public schools when a co-located charter enters or leaves the building. I found that co-locations have no statistically perceptible effect on student test scores within traditional public schools—positively or negatively. Thus, if Bill de Blasio truly cares about student achievement, co-locations shouldn’t bother him.
By slowing the growth of the city’s effective charter school sector in this way, the mayor will succeed only in harming New York City’s students.