Not every charter posts such dramatic results, and there are a few whose students don't perform as well as those in comparable public schools, but most charters outperform public schools. They feature longer school days, higher standards, more parental involvement (some schools require parents to sign a contract promising to read to their kindergarteners, first- and second-graders one hour a day) and an atmosphere of safety and respect. Many of the 53,000 New York students currently on waiting lists for charters just want a safe and quiet atmosphere for learning. As Marcus Winters of the University of Colorado has found, far from harming the public schools, the presence of a charter school tends to improve the performance of neighboring public schools. Competition works its magic.
De Blasio bulldozed into office swearing to take aim at the privileged and defend the powerless. If you know anything about leftists, you won't be surprised that he is actually training his fire on the poorest and most vulnerable. Remember that one of President Barack Obama's first acts was to attack the school choice program in the District of Columbia. De Blasio is calling for a moratorium on placements of charter schools within public school buildings (many are co-located) and proposes that charter schools be required to pay rent. He has also unilaterally revoked a promise of space made by his predecessor to three new charters associated with the Success Academy in Harlem, leaving 700 students out in the cold. Autumn Elvy, an 8-year-old charter student, told the New York Daily News that she had a message for the mayor: "Stop being mean to charter schools because it's not fair."
De Blasio, like many in his party, is a loyal servant of the teachers unions. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has chosen to side with the parents. While de Blasio appeared last week before an assembled crowd of about 1,000 union members in matching T-shirts, Cuomo spoke at a competing rally of 7,000 or so parents.
That Democrats are beginning to fight over this question is encouraging. Republicans who haven't focused on it, perhaps thinking it doesn't affect their voters, very few of whom live in cities. That's shortsighted. This is a moral issue. No one in public life should avoid it. Besides, it betrays the cold brutality of some Democrats who claim to speak for the poor.