After assuming office in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio wasted no time mounting his assault on New York City’s charter schools. His recent decision to pull the plug on three previously approved charter schools has drawn praise from teachers unions. However, some supporters have accused him of not going far enough. This view displays an ignorance of school choice and a misguided understanding of the purpose of public education.
Nothing exemplifies this ignorance better than the response made by Brooklyn City Councilman Vincent Gentile. Referring to one of the 14 charter schools that were permitted to move forward by de Blasio, Councilman Gentile stated that “if the overarching consideration is what’s in the best interest of the students, then we should deny charters entry into District 21.”
There has been considerable public debate about the success of charter schools nationwide. However, a comprehensive study examining charter school programs in 26 states conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has found that “charter school students now have greater learning gains in reading than their peers in traditional public schools.”
The evidence from New York City is even more definitive, with the same study finding that a typical student in the city’s charter schools gains more learning in a year than their district school peers. This difference amounts to an extra month of learning for reading, and five extra months of learning for mathematics.
It is true that not all New York City charter schools perform better than their district school equivalents, but a significant number of them do. This is particularly the case when it comes to mathematics, with 63 percent of charter schools studied outperforming their district school counterparts.
Clearly Mayor de Blasio’s opposition to charter schools is unfounded, and assuming his concern for student welfare is genuine, it is a view based on an ignorance of charter schools and the benefits they provide.