For Immediate Release: April 11, 2019
Contact: Abdul Sada – email@example.com
NYC CHARTER CENTER BLASTS DOE PROPOSED POLICY REVERSAL, LIMITING PARENT INFORMATION AND UNDERCUTTING CHARTER SCHOOLS
De Blasio Administration Proposed Policy Reversal Would Prevent Parents from Knowing about Educational Choices by Excluding Public Charters from Utilizing Vanguard Services
(NEW YORK) – The New York City Charter Center today decried an imminent decision from Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education (DOE) that would stop NYC parents from finding out about all their public school options, including public charter schools. Because charter schools are alternative public schools, many parents are unaware that these are options that are open to them.
In recent weeks, the DOE has privately indicated to a variety of stakeholders that it intends to change an arrangement and reverse a policy that has been in place for over a decade. Currently, DOE allows charter schools to utilize DOE services and send informational mailings to prospective parents in their neighborhood at the charter school’s own expense. This unilateral decision to cut off charter schools from being able to tell parents about the options they have is a threat to parents’ ability to make the best choices for their children.
Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education (DOE) were set to quietly reverse the longstanding policy that would have limited parents’ ability to find out about local public charter school options. But according to reports this morning, the city has indicated publicly that it has tabled the plan and that no decisions have been made.
“If this plan is tabled, then we praise the Mayor and the DOE for making the right decision and keeping this decade-old policy in place. This is a critical issue for families everywhere as well as for the quality public charter schools that serve them, and we appreciate the City’s publicly indicating that it may not move forward,” said NYC Charter Center CEO, James Merriman. “Keeping this service is the right thing to do for families and schools. We expect and demand the administration keep the current arrangement in place, and we will stand with the parents and children seeking information about high quality public schools – district and charter. We just want parents to be informed about all of their choices, so they can make the best one for their children, and if the Mayor has tabled the plan, then we celebrate that decision.”
“For months, we’ve watched the administration propound myths around charters as it lobbed divisive, vitriolic rhetoric. When charters dramatically outperformed district schools and closed a statewide achievement gap on state exams last year, we saw Chancellor Carranza try to discredit extraordinary outcomes for low-income Black and Latinx public charter school students – results that should be unequivocally celebrated. But a plan, done in secret, to block information from NYC parents to keep them from learning about great public charter schools is wrong,” said Merriman. “Words are one thing, but any type of unwarranted action targeting parents’ ability to learn about charter schools crosses the line.”
The Current Structure
Currently, the DOE contracts with a third-party vendor called Vanguard (a separate and distinct organization from the large brokerage firm with the same name). Vanguard handles agency mass mailings of all kinds, including notifying parents in DOE schools about a variety of things. Since students are not zoned for charter schools, and these public schools are alternatives, the DOE has allowed them to utilize Vanguard’s services, for nearly 12 years, to send information to prospective parents in their neighborhood. Vanguard maintains and possesses accurate and up-to-date DOE lists of local students – absolutely no student information is ever shared with the charter school, which is not allowed to even view the lists. The ability to use Vanguard’s services is critical for new charter schools as they open, for instance, in order to notify parents of new school options in their neighborhood.
How It Works
To send a mailing, a charter school works directly with Vanguard; the school sends the vendor its flyer/mailer and requests the zip codes and age-ranges of the families it would like to reach. (Those are the only two parameters that a charter school can specify.) The school then pays Vanguard directly, in full. There is no cost to the DOE for charters to use this service. Also, at no point has a charter school ever accessed any kind of personal student information (because they are not allowed under this arrangement), and there has never been any kind of data breach. Indeed, this structure was set up precisely to ensure that charter schools would not have family information.
Why It Matters
Mailing to parents via Vanguard is the single best and most efficient way for parents to find out about the public charter school options in their neighborhood. The policy, which can also be utilized by district schools to attract students if they choose, was put in place over a decade ago to allow parents to gain the full range of information about local schools. It is used by charters of all kinds – from new schools, to independent schools, to larger networks. It’s also particularly important for charter middle schools, some of which start in 5th grade. Since most parents might start their middle school search process in 6th grade to align with DOE admissions, without the ability to utilize Vanguard’s services, they may not otherwise know about public charter options that start a grade earlier.
Critically, informational mailers themselves do not convince parents to send their children to a particular charter school, but rather give parents notice that they have a choice when it comes to which school their child attends. Parents then decide for themselves whether they want to know more about specific schools through open houses or visits. To deny public charter schools access to Vanguard services is ultimately to deny parents information about the educational choices in their communities.
Because schools using Vanguard can only specify two demographic parameters — age of the child and zip code — it is also the best way to ensure that charter schools are marketing to all students, regardless of any disability, native language or academic ability. Every child in the age range within a zip code gets the same information about the school and the same invitation to learn more. In turn, this ultimately helps charter schools increase enrollment of multi-lingual learners and students who are receiving special education services. Denying access to Vanguard will hamper charter schools’ ability to recruit students with special educational needs.
Now, however, the DOE has indicated it may be preparing to reverse this long held and well-working arrangement allowing charters to utilize Vanguard’s services – and consequently, limit parents’ access to information, while fundamentally undercutting charters’ ability to attract students.
- Charter schools’ utilization of Vanguard services comes at no cost to the district or the DOE.
- There has never been a data breach, and charters never access any kind of personal student information – in fact, they never receive any lists of any kind – charters can only request that mailers be sent to families with children within certain age ranges and zip codes. Those lists are held by Vanguard on behalf of DOE, which itself uses the service.
- The policy is completely legal and has been in place for nearly 12 years.
- If Vanguard services are taken away, in the absence of other ways to alert parents and recruit students in an efficient way, public charter schools could turn to commercial lists to reach parents with school age children. This will ultimately be far more expensive. By closing off access to the highly-targeted population that Vanguard has access to through NYC DOE, schools will be forced to use precious dollars on marketing in highly inefficient ways. Taking actions to divert public dollars from the classroom is bad public policy. In addition, this change will almost certainly hurt small, independent new schools far more than large networks.
- There is no reasonable rationale for this policy change other than to force parents to only enroll their children in district schools (many of which are low performing) and which, understandably are struggling to attract families. Because DOE has proven unable to actually improve many of these struggling schools their only remaining option to increase enrollment is to take any step they can to stop parents from exercising their right to find a public school, including a charter school, that is the best option for their child. This change, of course, puts the bureaucracy and its needs over the needs of parents to get the best education they can for their child. It’s that simple.