I am one of over 6,000 parents in the Parent Group New York, a WeChat parent collective that I founded in 2020. The group came about from desperation when COVID policies turned NYC school admissions into an unpredictable, anxiety-filled process that left many Chinese parents in the dark. The Parent Group New York WeChat groups, organized by grade bands, is where New York City public school parents share information and support each other. I want to share what I’ve been hearing among these parents about charter schools.
One thing that Chinese newspapers cover frequently and thoroughly is education. It is well publicized that the quality of public schools have been declining. The ELA and Math proficiency rates have been below 50 percent for years, with no signs of improvement. Even worse, the report card grading is becoming increasingly generous while the curriculum has gotten easier. In 2022, math proficiency rates dropped to a historical low of 38% — meaning that two-thirds of students cannot do grade-level math. Parents cannot see how more challenging educational goals, such as critical thinking and STEM, can be achieved when students cannot read and do basic math properly. In contrast, charter schools manage to outperform public schools, even with less funding per pupil. In 2022, students in charter schools scored higher in ELA and Math proficiency rates than their peers in public schools, 55% vs 49% and 46% vs 38% respectively (see graphic).
To many parents in our group, charter schools are NOT just an alternative, but the ONLY alternative. These parents are first generation immigrants, unable to speak English, and struggle financially to make ends meet. To them, moving out of New York City is not an option nor are private schools that cost $15-70K a year. Public charter schools, which are free for their children to attend, are the only other choice. Last month alone (Feb 2023), over 100 parents inquired about charter schools in the Parents Group New York WeChat groups.
Unfortunately there are so few charter schools in the city now, and nonexistent in the growing Asian neighborhoods. As such, few parents even know about charter schools and many know little about how they admit students (by lottery), what grades they have (K-12) and what services they provide (IEP, ELL). Many do not know that they offer schedules that are more friendly to working families and that they have robust afterschool programs. The small but growing number of Asian families who have discovered charter schools are making sacrifices for this option. Three parents I know drive one hour each way to send their children from south Brooklyn to charter schools in Manhattan.
It is wrong to force children from ordinary New York City families to remain in public schools that are NOT providing an adequate education for their children’s future. This is common sense.
There are always challenges to opening more schools and I’ve come to understand that the barriers to opening more charter schools are even greater. We must honor what families want and what our city needs for future generations. I urge our elected officials and our education leaders to work on solutions and make better choices possible for NYC families. They can start with lifting the cap on charter schools.