Hard Math: Charter Schools Race For Space

The state legislature’s eleventh-hour vote last month to expand New York’s charter schools will add 114 new charters to the 99 currently operating in New York City. But while the new law paves the way for new schools, and perhaps for millions in federal education funding, it doesn’t create new space for the new schools—or for the current charters, which are bursting at the seams as they add students, year by year.When a new school opens, it generally begins with one or two grades – typically, kindergarten and first – and “grows up the grades” over time, adding a new kindergarten cohort every year, as older children progress. This means that schools that aim to encompass K-8 begin small and eventually expand to a much greater size. City Department of Education (DOE) officials say that 62,500 students will attend charter schools this fall. But rough estimates by the New York City Charter School Center suggest that about 140,000 students may eventually attend charter schools in New York City, once all of the charters reach capacity.

Growing Grown-Ups In Harlem

Broccoli, cucumber, bell peppers, collard greens. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes and tomatoes; runner beans and basil, four big beds of jalapeno peppers. Worms and compost. Hip hop and capoiera. A cheeseburger cookout with all the trimmings: “We have enough food for everyone to eat here, and more,” says Nando Rodriguez as kids grab burgers, sliced pineapple and macaroni.

An Act of Faith

The HCZ model might not work in every depressed urban center. But something else might work in those cities—or might already be working, albeit outside the media spotlight or the White House’s embrace.William Strickland, like Canada, has dedicated most of his adult life to working to counter urban poverty. He established the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corp. in 1968, in Pittsburgh’s toughest district, first as an arts education resource for local schoolchildren and later, when Pittsburgh’s steel industry collapsed, to provide vocational training for unemployed workers. Today, the corporation works with Pittsburgh public schools, placing artists in the classroom and offering a broad swath of after-school, summer and evening programs for kids and adults.An overwhelming majority of teenagers who participate in Strickland’s programs—90 percent—graduate from high school.