Open? Close? Repeat?

In the past 3 years the Denver BOE has authorized exactly two charter schools now in operation: West Denver Prep (opened 2006) and Denver Venture Academy (opened yesterday). In contrast, in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg just announced that 18 charter schools will be opening this fall. Charter schools under Bloomberg (and Joel Klein) have grown from 3,200 students in 2002 to an estimated 24,000 this fall. Bloomberg says:

“It’s the charter schools that let parents vote with their feet and tell us what the parents think about the quality of the education, of the schools. And I can tell you, one of the reasons that the public schools in the city have gotten better is because the charter schools exist and give parents an alternative and let parents see that you can do something better.”

This Spring the Denver BOE authorized exactly one new school operator: the nationally known Envision Schools (as well as an expansion of the Charter for West Denver Prep). Depending how you count new operators versus expansions of existing charters (DSST received an expansion in 2007), that is a total of four operators and seven charter schools – in five years.

Part of the difference here is the quality and number of charter applicants, but it is also the decision (or lack) to integrate charters as part of a larger strategic effort to improve schools. This is where Denver and NYC have gone separate ways.

In addition, DPS also has yet to close a charter school, even though some are among the worst schools in the city. Paradoxically, when you can’t close the bad ones, it seems harder to open the good ones (and there have been BOE votes where may of the same members who vote to stop promising new schools from starting then vote to keep bad existing schools open).

My question is: Has NYC closed charters successfully? And is the ability to close underperforming schools (district and charter) a prerequisite to opening good ones?

After all, there are fiscal reasons to close schools, but if you are not replacing them with a better option, what’s the point.

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