Focus is on NYC charter schools

By Paul Braus

October 27, 2007 at 12:00pm

New York City’s ambitious charter school initiative gets a new director this month in Michael Thomas Duffy, fresh from a successful run in Roxbury, Mass.

The city has about 60 charter schools, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he wants 100 by the time he leaves office in 2009. So Duffy has a big goal to meet.

Educators around the country will be watching.

Currently, 40 states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., allow charter schools, according to the Center for Education Reform. There are 4,147 charter schools in the U.S., enrolling more than 1.2 million students. California has the most with 700, according to Todd Ziebarth, senior policy analyst at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationwide, 300 to 400 open every year.

During President Bush’s first term, the head of the national alliance, Nelson Smith, helped developed the guidelines for the No Child Left Behind law.

Some charter school management companies operate for profit, such as Edison Schools, National Heritage Academies, Mosaica Education and White Hat Management. Others operate as non-profits, including KIPP Academy, Uncommon Schools, Green Dot and Achievement First.

In 2006, New York City named Christopher Cerf deputy chancellor of the school system, forging a firm alliance with charter school interests. For eight years, Cerf was CEO and president of New York-based Edison Schools.

National Heritage Academies, in Grand Rapids, Mich., was founded in 1995 by J.C. Huizenga, a cousin of Wayne Huizenga, owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Wayne Huizenga is a member of the Florida finance committee for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

White Hat Management is based in Akron and operates charter schools throughout Ohio. The company’s chairman, David Brennan, is a long-time contributor to Republican politicians in the state – including U.S. Sen. George Voinovich.

Rapid growth of charter schools - certain to happen in New York City - is likely to continue in much of the nation. “There is no road block or obstacle to slow the growth of charter schools in the near future,” said Leah O’Donnell, a director at Eduventures, a consulting firm in Boston.

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