Bill Phillips, President, New York Charter Schools Association

Why are charters important in New York?

Two reasons immediately come to mind.  First, they are offering “proof points” regarding high-quality public education.  Interestingly, those proof points have moved beyond one-school examples to clusters of better performing schools throughout the state.  Second, the offer examples of innovation.  To date, most of the innovations relate to improving operations on the traditional model — longer school day, a longer year, various compensation approaches.  Where we’ve lagged is in the actual education delivery model.  The chartering model so obviously aligns with the process of prototyping fundamentally new and different approaches that the lack of progress here is a bit disconcerting.

What happens now that NYC does not authorize?

I am not sure this is quite the problem that it is made out to be.  The Regents always had final approval over NYC DOE applications/renewals.  Chancellor Klein’s real power is in the bully pulpit.  If he thinks that SED and the Regents are wrong on a charter decision, he can be painfully influential through the media.  It’s just a question of which battles he and the Regents want to fight.  The potential of a public loss actually keeps both parties honest, and relatively reasonable.

I can see benefits of a more active SED in this area.  SED’s process should provide consistency for applicants.  Besides, SED now has the best application process in the state.  I am thrilled that somebody finally admitted that the ability to create 500 page applications has very little correlation with the ability to create and run good schools.

Sally Bachofer seems great, how will SED authorizing improve?

Sally is a national expert in this area, and her approach is a breath of fresh air.  SED authorizing will improve because it will focus on performance, not compliance.  There is no polite way to describe how legalistic, compliance-oriented, and downright pernicious the old operating style was at SED.  Also, don’t underestimate how much it helps to have intellectual alignment at the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner levels.  To her credit, Chancellor Tisch said things would change, and it’s getting harder and harder to argue with her (on this issue).  Now, before we get too giddy, let’s remember that SUNY has been a very good authorizer for a decade, and unlike SUNY, the Regents have not shown that they can consistently close crappy charter schools.  SED is making wonderful changes, but it will be interesting to see if they can institutionalize these practices.

New York has a good example of a University authorizer in SUNY. Why is it a good idea to have two?

Speaking of an issue where it’s not hard to argue with Chancellor Tisch (she wanted to take over SUNY during the more bitter parts of the RttT fight in January). It used to be that the the best reason for having two authorizers was to combat state and local political interference that ultimately connected back to the executive and legislative branches.  (ed. Note: the Governor controls SUNY and the legislature controls the Regents)

Depending upon the political passions at the time, there were some parts of the state where you could not get a charter from SUNY, or in other parts, from the Regents.  Now SED and SUNY are in healthy competition to be the better authorizer. We are fortunate in New York that we can now shift the definition of “authorizer honesty” from political protection to a competitive battle to approve more good schools.

Why has there been a banning of EMOs in New York when NHA has such a good record? What’s your theory?

I just can’t go there.  There was such a breakdown of integrity and courage on that one.  In tense political fights, you always end up worrying more about your allies than your enemies.

Bill Phillips is the President of the New York State Charter Schools Association.

Mr. Phillips served in business development leadership positions with Beacon Education Management and SABIS Educational Systems. Prior to entering the charter sector, he worked as a marketing and new product specialist and a manufacturing supervisor with Texas Instruments, Inc. During that period he also served as a school board member in Massachusetts and, during his tenure, founded a regional charter school in Foxboro. Mr. Phillips earned his Masters in public administration from George Washington University and a Bachelors of Science from Lehigh University.

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