In Buffalo, One of Many Failing Schools is Held Accountable

The looming closure of a Buffalo school that failed to meet student achievement standards is a timely reminder of the high level of accountability New York demands from its charter schools. 

Buffalo Collegiate, a charter school serving grades 4 to 8 since Fall 2018, announced this month that officials will be shutting them down in June for failing to meet student performance criteria outlined in the state’s charter school regulations. The school was authorized by the State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustees, which oversees more than half of New York’s charter schools. 

When a charter is not meeting the purposes of the Charter Schools Act or the SUNY Trustees’ criteria for renewal, SUNY is mandated to act,” said Joseph Belluck, the chair of the Charter Schools Committee at SUNY. “The high level of student achievement across the vast majority of SUNY authorized charters evidences the effectiveness of the Institute’s robust oversight and evaluation practices.” 

While this closure is disruptive for over 300 students and their families, the success of New York’s charter-school system has come in part from closing low-performing schools and allowing new ones to open. 

State law requires charter schools to demonstrate yearly improvement in student learning as measured in proficiency rates on state exams. Buffalo Collegiate failed to meet standards on state assessments in English Language Arts (ELA), math and science. The school’s performance in 2022, after two unconventional years, was not strong: just 18 percent of its students were proficient in ELA. But that still put it in the middle of the pack; 19 district-run schools in Buffalo had lower ELA proficiency rates.  

Districtwide, the proficiency rate for all grade 3-8 public school students in Buffalo was only 24 percent. Statewide, this figure stands at 47 percent; with some schools, and whole districts, at-single digit or even zero percent proficiency for entire grade levels. Pre-pandemic, student achievement was no better. In 2017, Buffalo City school district only managed to achieve a proficiency rate of 23 percent.  

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the statewide teachers union and a vocal opponent of charter schools, claims that they operate “without accountability.” In reality, charter schools are not only assessed on measures of student performance, but also follow strict guidelines for operational and financial reporting. In addition, they are subject to annual audits by an authorizer, which include site visits to assess the premises. They must also demonstrate efficacy of curriculum and pedagogical choices, as well equivalency to state and federal standards.  

Failure to meet any one of these measures results in the state shutting them down. 

Traditional public schools are subject to a different accountability process. It allows schools to remain in targeted improvement status for several years before even undergoing initial evaluation. At that point, traditional public schools may be considered for receivership, another multi-year process by which staff are brought on to develop and execute improvement plans.  

NYSUT, for all its talk of school accountability, would like to see this process of receivership abolished. Arguing that “struggling [traditional public] schools need time and money to improve, not receivership.” The state currently has over 35 schools in receivership; some in Buffalo have been for over six years.  

The decision to close Buffalo Collegiate will leave hundreds of families with one fewer option for their students, but its closure is a sign that the charter school accountability system is working. Parents across the state, and their elected officials in Albany, can rest assured that charter schools are being held to the sort of high standard to which all schools should be.

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