Education

In Harlem, a Demographic Divide: The Neediest Kids Go to Public Schools, Not Charters

The real world impact of charter schools on neighboring public options.

Photo Credit: littleny / Shutterstock.com

Last month I published an OpEd in The New York Times, “Charter School Refugees,” which asked: “Is there a point at which fostering charter schools undermines traditional public schools and the children they serve?”

The OpEd looked at Harlem, where nearly a quarter of students are enrolled in charter schools, and the sizable demographic disparities between the students who attend  public schools and charter schools in that neighborhood. I argued that while “high-quality charters can be very effective at improving test scores and graduation rates…they often serve fewer poorer students and children with special needs.”

The OpEd focused on the reasons why “public open-enrollment elementary and middle schools have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools.”

With the help of my research assistant Emma Kazaryan, I have now compiled the 2012/2013 data, published by the New York City Department of Education,** on each elementary and middle school in East Harlem into easy-to-read charts. (The city’s school map divides the neighborhood into North and South. So, we have done the same, showing the percentages of kids in poverty, with special needs and English language learners with separate charters for East Harlem North and East Harlem South.)

The data shows that the demographic disparities cut across the board. East Harlem public schools not only have disproportionate numbers of special needs kids compared to nearby charter schools…

…the kids in public schools are much poorer than those in neighboring charter schools:

And East Harlem public schools have much higher percentages of English language learners than do their charter-school counterparts:

Most of the traditional public schools with relatively low levels of poverty and special needs, including Tag Young Scholars and Manhattan East School for Arts and Academics in East Harlem South, are selective schools. Meanwhile, the disproportionate levels of poverty and special needs, as well as the high percentage of English language learners, at most East Harlem public schools are undoubtedly influenced by the landscape in neighboring Central Harlem where more than half the schools are charters.

My OpEd was written in response to new New York State legislation, spearheaded by Gov. Cuomo, that virtually guarantees charter schools in New York City access to space, either in already crowded public school buildings or in rented spaces largely paid for by the city. I concluded: “If charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly…We should not allow policy makers to enshrine a two-tier system in which the neediest children are left behind.”
 

** To see the Progress Report data for each school, click on the area of the map you are interested in–for example, upper Manhattan. Then click on the neighborhood. Then click on the school and select “statistics.

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY. Her website is: www.andreagabor.com