By Sam Fritz
With the arrival of our new Buffalo School Board majority, the district hopes to move in a new and effective direction. As the details of the majority’s plan are crystallized, it seems that rather than improving the BPS, the board intends to give up on addressing our greatest challenges. My greatest concern is the passion these members express for handing over our schools to private charter organizations.
Charter schools appear to produce better results, at times, because they are able to create a culture of excellence. The new strategies and methods they employ may help some students, but the big difference I have observed is that charter students are generally more academically motivated.
The problem is that charters create this culture at the expense of the students in the public schools from which they draw the best and brightest students. Many charters have admission requirements that either directly or indirectly exclude those students who cope with the greatest disadvantages.
Not only that, but those low-performing students who haven’t been filtered out are quickly removed from the charter community and returned to the public schools. The lowest-performing students are routinely removed from charter schools before the state math and ELA assessments, creating skewed assessment results. This charter to public transfer creates the impression that charters are doing better, and public schools are doing worse than they really are.
Even with the advantage of being able to select and manage their student bodies, many charters in Buffalo still struggle to demonstrate meaningful academic gains. A cursory review of Business First elementary school rankings shows at least six Buffalo charter schools that are academically underperforming some of Buffalo’s “failing” public schools. This is not to say that these low-performing charters aren’t providing other important resources to their students, but they are equally, and sometimes even more, ineffective than their public counterparts in delivering on their primary mission.
The truth is that we have too many charter schools in Buffalo, not too few. An expansion of charter schools in Buffalo, as the new board majority embraces, will harm our children. While having some charters in the mix of academic offerings in our community is important, having too many creates gross inequalities and will enrich the companies that operate them, while they further impoverish our children.
Sam Fritz is a middle school English teacher in Buffalo with 12 years of experience in private, charter and public schools.