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Commentary: Charter schools the antidote to failing RCSD

The New York State Education Department has released the 2016-17 Math and English Language Arts (ELA) test results—and let’s not mince words. The Rochester City School District is failing its students. No, these schools aren’t “struggling.” They are failing—year after year, and to the detriment of Rochester’s children and families.

For years, the district has been unable to turn around its abysmally low performance. How low? Fewer than 8 percent of children are proficient in math and ELA. That’s unacceptable. And it’s why I simply don’t understand the resistance to the only beacon of change and progress within the city’s public school systems: Rochester’s charter school community.

To be fair, we at the Northeast Charter Schools Network want our charters to post even better scores than they are. And to be fair to our schools, many of them have taken in students far behind where they should be—far behind because they came from district schools to begin with and it often takes years of work to get them up to speed.

Many of our charters take on that challenge by providing more tailored instruction as well as a longer school day and year. It’s because of this and because of diligent charter educators that most of Rochester’s charters outperformed the citywide average, with some real superstars in the mix. Schools like Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter and True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School simply blew away the district schools’ results.

With all of this information, how then can anti-charter lawmakers and teachers’ union bosses dare tell city parents they shouldn’t have the right to choose another option? We’ve even had to defend our schools to an at times hostile press—and we’d love to ask the question: “Where would you send your child to school if all the district schools are failing?”

Parents with means choose for their children all the time. Whether it’s sending their child to a pricey private school or simply moving to a better school district, options have always been available to those with money. Not everyone has the luxury. But every child deserves access to a great education. That’s where charters come in, as free public schools of choice for parents who can’t move or pay private school tuition.

Before becoming an advocate for charter schools, I spent 16 years of my career working to help get poor folks out of poverty. There is no greater pathway out of poverty than a great education. And until we provide that for every child, they will continue to fall through the cracks and the cycle will continue.

Parents in Rochester are demanding more great schools for their children. We welcome the day when all public schools are serving their children and families, and test scores aren’t in the single digits. Until then we will fight tooth and nail for parents in underserved communities and their right to exercise school choice.

Janeene Freeman is chief executive officer of Northeast Charter Schools Network.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.


  1. Why does this article fail to highlight any of the many problems with charter schools?

  2. This is a commentary piece, not an article. I have updated the headline to reflect that. If you take issue with the author’s perspective, please consider writing a letter to the editor that we could consider publishing.

  3. The difference between “commentary” and “article” is important. Either way, though, the impression created by the commentary is somewhat misleading. For example, some parents could not blamed for automatically thinking that charter schools are naturally better than public schools. Extensive research shows that they are worse in many ways.

    Write a letter to the editor as a response? The problem with that unfortunately is that, like the D&C, the RBJ is very pro-charter school and averse to publishing pieces that undermine that orientation.

  4. I cannot speak for the previous leadership of the RBJ, but as the current editor, I can assure you that we are not against publishing guest opinions that dispute the effectiveness of charter schools.

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