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Rebuttal to Shawgi Tell's Op-Ed on Charter Schools

Dr. Paul Miller

Dear Editor,

While Dr. Tell raises concerns about charter schools being privately operated, having questionable academic performance, and lacking accountability, it is crucial to present a balanced perspective supported by factual evidence.

First, the assertion that charter schools are privately operated is inaccurate. Charter schools in New York State are, in fact, public schools. They are publicly funded and operate under a charter, which is a performance contract with a designated authorizer, usually the State University of New York (SUNY) or the New York State Education Department (NYSED). This distinction is not a matter of interpretation but a legal and structural reality.

To counter the claim about the academic performance of charter schools, I refer to the 2023 study conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The study found that nationally, charter schools outperformed traditional public schools, providing a robust evidence base for the positive impact of charter schools on student achievement. Specific data from the CREDO study indicates that charter school students gained, on average, an additional month of learning in both math and reading compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools.

Regarding the accusation that charter boards are not elected, it is essential to recognize that the performance of district schools, especially in urban environments like the Rochester City School District (RCSD), has been a matter of significant concern. For instance, the 2023 state data reveals alarmingly low ELA and math proficiency rates in the RCSD, with only 2% in Math and 8% in ELA of students meeting proficiency standards.

This raises questions about the effectiveness of the traditional public-school model and highlights the need for alternative approaches such as charter schools. Often School Board elections are popularity contest composed of individuals who are not experts in the field. If you were a heart surgeon and your board at the hospital attempted to control operations instead of governance, based off their experience that they went to the doctors as patients all their lives, would they be great as board members for this heart surgeon and hospital? Just because they were elected and went to school K through 12 minimally, don’t have to have college degrees, does it mean they are qualified to operate a Billion-dollar business? Isn’t there something wrong with that logic and could that be part of the problem as to why so many districts are failing?

Contrary to the claim that charter schools suspend and expel more students, a national and local comparison of suspension rates tells a different story. Nationally, charter schools often exhibit lower suspension rates than traditional public schools. In Rochester, NY, the suspension rates at charter schools are comparable or even lower than those of district schools, suggesting that charter schools are not disproportionately punitive.

Finally, let's address the issue of accountability measures. Charter schools in New York State are subject to rigorous oversight. They undergo regular external audits, and their fiscal accountability is ensured through various mechanisms, including the school board, SUNY or NYSED review, and audits by the New York State Comptroller. These measures collectively ensure that charter schools are held to high standards of transparency and financial responsibility. Indeed, at least five underperforming charter schools in Rochester have been closed by the state. The RCSD, which boasted the lowest 3rd – 8th grade academic growth in both math and ELA among the nation’s largest 200 districts, has never been held to account for its failure to its students.  

In conclusion, it is essential to base discussions about charter schools on accurate information and a nuanced understanding of their role in the educational landscape. The evidence presented above challenges the assertions made by Dr. Tell and emphasizes the positive contributions that charter schools can make to the overall improvement of education. It is concerning that such a highly educated person as Dr. Tell is not providing a written piece based on factual data, but rather rhetoric that has the ability to unfairly damage the public’s perception of educational institutes that service mostly Black and Brown students within NYS most impoverished communities. It is hoped that Dr. Tell and others reading this decide to understand that Charters are not the enemy of Districts. Conversely, they were designed to be a learning ground; “Why not learn what charter schools are doing to educate children, and then ask the RTA and NYSED to make changes to remove the impediments that prevent the district from educating its children as well as the charters do. Parents see charter schools as lifeboats that save their children from illiteracy driven by a failed District. Dr. Tell would rather burn the lifeboats and trap the children in an uncaring district than learn and try something different”.


Dr. Paul Miller, CEO Charter Champions


~ Dr. Paul Miller has emerged as an expert in education having produced consistent results for young black men, graduating 95% of his students yearly. He builds systems that work for children that look like him. He has been in education for 24 years as a teacher, Asst. Principal, Principal and CEO, in the public and charter worlds. Dr. Miller's career has been devoted to the practice of "doing better"; not allowing complacency in education, continuously pushing for excellence in our schools. He is known to be "Pro-GOOD Schools." Dr. Miller is an author who writes about improving the mindset of children through Family, Community, and Education, with the goal of helping communities all over the country. Currently, as the CEO of Rochester Charter Champions, Dr. Miller is looking to build an organization to provider the necessary support for Rochester Charter Schools. He aims to accomplish an equitably educated Rochester. He holds an Ed.D in Executive Leadership and a Masters of Education Administration both from St. John Fisher College. He also has a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Teacher Cert. from SUNY Brockport. Dr. Miller has 16 + years in the Urban Public Education system; specializing in school redesign and reform, creating effective change for schools through collaborative missions, visions, and teamwork. 

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