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Obama to Andrew: “We Don’t Quit!”

Seth Andrew, 31, founder of Democracy Preparatory Charter School and aspiring Charter Management Organization CEO.

Seth Andrew, 31, founder of Democracy Preparatory Charter School and aspiring Charter Management Organization CEO.

This weekend, the parents and students of Democracy Preparatory Charter School learned that Seth Andrew, the school’s founder/leader, intends to leave New York and open new charter schools in Rhode Island. This is a surprising turn of events, given Andrew’s track record of spirited public engagement in New York. Ironically, it appears as if Andrew could use a lesson in democracy from President Obama: “we don’t quit!

In rationalizing the move, Andrew commented that the environment in New York just isn’t “supportive” enough. Apparently, the preferential treatment given by Klein and Bloomberg to charters over district schools isn’t good enough. Or the fact that charters receive nearly the same operating funding as a typical district school, despite enrolling a less-challenging student body. Or the City’s allocation of over $500 million in capital funding to charter and partnership schools and the placement of two-thirds of the City’s charters in free public space. [1] Not to mention the heretofore light touch by the City’s oversight officials. Inexplicably, these ‘unsupportive’ policies place New York among the top 10 places in the country to run charters — but what do NAPCS and CER know, anyway?

Andrew also made a serious accusation about the state Legislature doing “harmful things” to charters. What specifically does he have in mind? Could it be Speaker Silver and State Senator Sampson’s proposal to double the charter cap from 200 to 400 — thereby placing the state in a stronger position to win Race to the Top funding? Or efforts to replace the City’s mad rush to grant charters with a more prudent approach by the Regents and SUNY based on a common standard of quality? How about the proposal to strengthen parent (democratic) voice, rather than the blatant disregard that has characterized Klein’s administration? Or the bolstering of charter oversight to avoid future embarrassing scandals such as those perpetrated by his fellow BES alumna Sheila Joseph? Surely Andrew also wants to end the shameless profiteering by for-profit management companies, like Victory Schools, and by over-paid CEOs?

Alternately, perhaps Andrew was instead referring to the damaging work of charter lobbyists, “huddling” with the elected officials who do their bidding, which scuttled necessary reforms. Precisely which legislative agenda does Andrew support?

During the past three years, we’ve admired how seriously Andrew takes the school’s mission to prepare students for active citizenship. Students gave impressive point/counter-point testimonies on mayoral control, although their arguments to extend term limits seemed to oversell the Mayor’s accomplishments. Not limited to sober hearings and speeches, students celebrated on inauguration day with the rest of Harlem. It also seems that Andrew might share our concerns over equity of opportunity across the charter sector, given that his school’s English language learner and poverty rates are closer to the neighborhood averages than found in most of the City’s charters. Despite an attenuated argument (as parsed by Aaron Pallas), Andrew claims to be opposed to creaming the best students, as are we.

So given his track record of democratic deliberation and expressed commitment to equity, how then does Andrew square the decision to cut and run to Rhode Island? [2] How will he explain this to the students and parents of Democracy Prep, which hasn’t even graduated its inaugural class [3]? Or to state officials, from whom he is expecting a second charter and who might expect Andrew to stick around?

While Andrew may consider himself among “the best charter operators in the country” who are also “mobile,” families often don’t have the same luxury. The least they should be able to expect is some stability in their public institutions and commitment from public officials. Maybe Seth Andrew simply prefers lessons in democracy from Obama’s predecessor, who never intended to “stay the course.”

[1] We recognize that Andrew has not yet fully benefited from this particular largess, notwithstanding other means of ample support.

[2] We trust that Andrew is not simply attracted to the de-regulated, wild-west nature of Rhode Island’s charter sector, which has no components of a model accountability system or mechanism for performance-based contracts.

[3] Calling Mona Davids!