one more round

Regents refuse to approve city’s latest charter school renewals

Teaching Firms of America co-founder Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, with parents and staff of the school, speak with Regents Kathleen Cashin in Albany after a meeting about charter school authorization. In a rare move, Regents said they would not approve a spate of charter school renewal recommendations submitted to them by the city's Department of Education because they lacked consistency.

Updated, 6:54 p.m — The city’s charter-school oversight came under harsh scrutiny Monday after it submitted a slew of school renewal recommendations that state education officials said were too lenient.

“I wouldn’t vote to keep most of these schools open, quite honestly,” Chancellor Merryl Tisch said at a Board of Regents meeting. “None of them have a track record worth writing home about.”

City officials had recommended allowing seven of its charter schools to stay open for another two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years, according to a report posted to the Board of Regents website on Friday (and since revised). But in a rare move, the Regents agreed to delay voting on six of the renewals, citing the city’s own reports that said several were out of compliance with federal disciplinary laws and produced lower-than-average test scores. A seventh school was abruptly taken off the agenda after a last-minute lobbying spree from the school’s founder and parents.

The renewals are typically considered rubber-stamp votes by the time they make it to the Regents agenda. This time, state officials said they wouldn’t approve the extensions until representatives from the city’s charter-school office came to Albany and explained their reasoning.

The strong rebuke comes just a month after the Board of Regents faced a barrage of criticism for signing off on a new school in Rochester whose 22-year-old founder lied about his credentials. (Only after the founder’s lies came to light was the application withdrawn.) It also puts the spotlight on the city’s charter-school office, which has shrunk and merged with another office under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has only selectively embraced the charter sector.

While discussing the potential renewals issue on Monday, officials pointed to the city’s own reports, which showed that five of the seven schools have been out of compliance with federal disciplinary laws. The disciplinary policy at one of the schools, Hyde Leadership Charter School – Brooklyn, said that students could be expelled for minor infractions.

“I’m sitting here wondering, well, why would they recommend renewal if there’s evidence that was strong enough to include it in the renewal [report]?” said Lester Young, a Regent from Brooklyn.

Advocates of Children of New York says the charter school sector’s compliance problems go well beyond a handful of schools. The nonprofit says it reviewed more than 150 charter school discipline policies and is “alarmed by the number of policies that fail to comport” with the state’s charter school act, according to a letter sent to Tisch last week.

The schools up for review this week struggled in other ways, according to the city’s reports.

Staten Island Community Charter School went without a principal for five months during the last school year and experienced a 68 percent turnover of its instructional staff. Another school appeared to be in dire financial straits. Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings was deemed to be in a “weak position” to meet its near-term financial obligations because it had just $304,257 in cash to cover more than $1 million in current liabilities.

Academically, several of the schools underperformed district averages, although they fared better when compared to district schools that served similar populations of students.

“The DOE reviews every school’s application for renewal and possible grade expansion carefully, and bases decisions on the proposal’s educational merit,” department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement.

All seven schools that were part of the city’s renewal reports this month were approved in 2009 as part of the last cohort of charter schools created by the Department of Education. The city lost its power to authorize new schools soon after, but it still has responsibility to oversee the charters of the 70 charter schools it had already approved. (The state’s other authorizers, the State Education Department of the State University of New York, can still approve new charters.)

It’s not the first time that the city has faced scrutiny for its charter school authorizing. Michael Duffy, who headed the city’s charter-school office for nearly three years before it lost its power to authorize new charter schools, said in 2012 that it was difficult to convince officials at the Department of Education to close schools because it the Bloomberg administration had been working hard to expand the charter school sector. And a judge once ripped the department’s authorizing standards as being “riddled with inconsistencies.”

Despite Regents’ concerns that the city went too easy in their recommendations, none of the schools earned a full, five-year renewal recommendation. Three of the schools were denied requests to add grades, and leaders of one of those schools felt that the city had been far too harsh.

Teachers and staff from Teaching Firms of America Charter School in front of Tweed on Monday.
PHOTO: Brian Charles
Teachers and staff from Teaching Firms of America Charter School in front of Tweed on Monday.

In a last-minute lobbying spree that seemed to pay off, Teaching Firms of America founder Rafiq Kalam Id-Din traveled to Albany on Monday morning along with parents and staff to protest the city’s decision to deny the school’s request to add middle school grades. In New York City, more than a dozen parents and teachers waited in the lobby of the Department of Education’s headquarters demanding a meeting with Fariña.

In an interview, Kalam Id-Din said he believed the decision was “political” because an expansion would have meant the city would have had to find space for the school’s new grades. He also disputed some details in the city’s report for his school, including the suggestion that he had hired four TFOA staff members without bachelor’s degrees. Kalam Id-Din suggested that the city’s recommendation might have be racially motivated.

“Why is this happening to the only black-led charter school in Brooklyn?” he said

State Education Department officials said that Fariña asked them to take down the city’s renewal recommendation for TFOA on Sunday. They said the reason was that Kalam Id-Din had not signed the charter school agreement, though Kalam Id-Din said he wasn’t informed of Fariña’s letter until Monday afternoon.

“Someone said something to someone and the city is now negotiating,” said Assembly Member Walter Mosley, Jr., whose district includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant charter school. “I think something positive will take place.”

The other schools facing a delayed vote are Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School and Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School. The Regents have 90 days to take action on any proposal before it is automatically approved.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”