New IBO Report: Positive Trends in NYC Charter Growth, Diversity, Backfilling & Achievement

By Michael Pih

Today, the New York City Independent Budget Office released a new report, School Indicators for New York City Charter Schools: 2013-14 School Year. The IBO has put out a series of similar reports for NYC traditional district schools for the last three years; this is the first such report on the charter sector. The report is a straightforward presentation of data and, commendably, takes pain to avoid editorializing.

Much of the data has either been reported elsewhere (in many instances by us) or is an update on prior IBO publications. The picture that emerges is of a diverse charter school sector in high demand that overall is educating a rapidly increasing number of students who are mostly minority and low-income with varying success.

Below are some key data points – with context as needed – that are worth attention:

  • From 2006-07 through 2013-14, charter school enrollment increased by nearly 60,000 students, while enrollment in traditional district schools declined by about 30,000. In some communities, including Harlem, central and eastern Brooklyn, and the South Bronx, charter school enrollment accounts for over 20% of all students. More than one of three students in CSD 5 (Harlem) is in a charter school.
  • As the Charter Center reported in 2012, co-located charter schools are, on average, getting the short-end of the stick. Utilization rates for co-located charter schools average 93% on their side of the building compared to just 72% for DOE schools in the same building. In fact, nearly 45% of co-located charters schools had utilization rates of over 100%; the comparable percentage is three times less for district schools.

  • Further illuminating the complex issue of backfill, the IBO reports that most charter schools backfill a majority of their open seats through 5th grade. Moreover, a majority of the schools that the report has data for backfill over 100% of their seats. While there is expected variation in the extent and grades which schools backfill, fully three-quarters of schools backfilled at least 70% of open seats in grades K-3, and 60% backfilled at least 70% of open seats in grades 4-5. Given that the latest data used is from 2013-14 and current trends in the sector, these numbers are likely to increase in SY 2015-16 and beyond.

  • Charter schools serve a student population that is more likely to be African-American and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than their traditional district school counterparts, though fewer students are receiving special education services (a 4.0 percentage point differential) or are English Language Learners (an 8.9 percentage point differential). In response to these enrollment gaps, the sector has engaged in an active recruitment campaign that targets ELLs, and schools have been aggressive in tackling the educational challenges. Students from these populations who do enroll in charter schools are academically better off: Charter school students with IEPs and ELLs are more likely to be declassified than their peers in traditional DOE schools.

In summary, the report is a useful tabulation of data on the NYC charter school sector. It is not the last word in the ongoing debates about the sector, but it will help to illumine them.