The charter school standoff, explained

Photo courtesy Success Academy
Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz outside New York City Hall.

The charter school standoff, explained

The New York City charter school standoff, explained
November 14, 2017

Charter schools have been a point of contention since they were established as part of the state’s public school system in 1998, when then-Gov. George Pataki threatened to veto a legislative pay raise as leverage to get the Charter Schools Act of 1998 through the state Legislature.

As established by the act, these schools are publicly funded and given five-year contracts – or charters – by the approved authorizers, either the state Board of Regents or the State University of New York’s board of trustees. These privately operated public schools can design their own curricula, with the goal of providing a higher standard of education, and are held accountable for student achievement through renewable contracts.

Once the Board of Regents has authorized a charter, the state Education Department’s charter school office oversees the day-to-day activities of the schools, and conducts reviews and site visits. The SUNY Charter Schools Institute conducts similar administrative duties for the SUNY board of trustees. Students, who are selected to attend charter schools by lottery, achieve higher exam scores on average than their regular public school counterparts.

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While proponents of charters see them as providing an alternative choice for parents who want to see their children succeed, critics fear that they divert resources away from students in regular public schools. The act was amended in 2007 and 2010 to establish higher caps on the number of schools allowed in the state. A 2015 compromise kept the limit at 460 charter schools, but allowed for 50 of those slots to be opened in New York City.

Supporters and opponents of charter schools have a long history of conflict, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is currently engaging in a war of attrition with Success Academy Charter Schools by refusing to provide the charter school network with space for new middle schools. Conflict has even broken out between the two authorizers of charters over what constitutes appropriate teacher certification standards.

“Lowering standards would not be acceptable for any other profession; this is an insult to the teaching profession.” – Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

In October, the SUNY board of trustees approved a plan to revise the requirements for charter school teachers that it certifies, including 160 hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of field experience. The original proposal had required 30 hours of classroom instruction and 100 hours working in a classroom, and was criticized by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia as being less rigorous than training to work at a fast food restaurant. The requirements for charter school teacher certification under the state Board of Regents’ approval process are the same as those for teachers in regular public schools.

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Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa remain critical of the revised plan, saying in a joint statement that it was “an insult to the teaching profession.” A state education department spokesperson added that the proposal “will allow inexperienced and unqualified individuals to teach those children who are most in need – students of color, those who are economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities – in SUNY-authorized charter schools.”

SUNY and the state education department previously collaborated on TeachNY, an initiative to improve teacher preparation. Elia and Rosa noted in a letter sent to the SUNY board of trustees in September that the proposal to revise charter school teacher certifications was in direct contrast to this program. The spat over teacher certification requirements may not only show a gulf between the SUNY board of trustees and the Board of Regents, but between the work done by SUNY through TeachNY and its board.

As the standards for charter schools operated by SUNY and those overseen by the Board of Regents diverge, it may affect the other ongoing fights over charters. Success Academy is authorized by SUNY, and having different teacher certification requirements may affect who applies to teach at their schools and, ultimately, the quality of the education.

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The charter schools committee of the SUNY board of trustees recently approved a controversial new plan to revise teacher certification requirements for charter schools that it oversees. These requirements differ from those authorized by the state Board of Regents and state Education Department, which are the same for public and charter school teachers. Here are the requirements for teachers to be certified by SUNY and NYSED:


  • Completion of an approved teacher education program in a New York college or university, or, if applying from out of state, completion of a comparable approved teacher preparation program and a bachelor’s degree

  • 765 hours of classroom instruction

  • 100 hours of “field experience”

  • Two 20-day placements or one 40-day placement as a student teacher

  • Passing a content specialty test, the Educating All Students test and the edTPA teacher certification exam


  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject with at least a 3.0 GPA at an accredited institution or a master’s degree in education

  • 160 hours of classroom instruction, with at least 20 hours of students with disabilities training

  • 40 hours of “field experience” in teaching, with six hours focused on assisting students with disabilities

  • Passing one examination that may be edTPA, the state teacher certification exam or the Educating All Students test

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.