Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Speaking of backfill, Democracy Builders just released an in-depth report on this issue, calling on every charter school to backfill (which I agree with):

High Quality Schools Choosing to Keep Seats Unfilled Despite Long Waitlists

 New York, NY, April 10, 2015 - "By refusing to backfill, charter schools across New York City are leaving thousands of high quality seats unfilled every year despite enormous waitlists," said Princess Lyles, Executive Director of the advocacy group, Democracy Builders.


In a report released today, Democracy Builders finds that at least 2,500 NYC students in third through eighth grade withdrew from charter schools from 2013 to 2015 alone. Recent research has shown that mobile students who attrit are lower performing, but slightly less likely to leave a charter school than a district school. Enrollment numbers demonstrate that most of these students were not replaced, leaving empty seats in high-performing and high-demand classrooms. "Charter schools should fill these open seats so that more students have access to the education they deserve," said Lyles. 

Charter schools refuse to backfill for a number of reasons according to the report, but one is the perverse incentive structure set up by Chancellor Carmen Farina and the NYCDOE. Because the DOE eliminated the A-F progress report formula that heavily weighted academic growth (value added by the school), schools are now judged primarily by absolute proficiency (number of students proficient). Under this evaluation system, charter schools have little incentive to backfill in non-entry grades, as  adding new students risks reducing absolute proficiency percentages. "Charter schools in New York City that leave classroom seats empty are artificially inflating perceived performance at the expense of real waitlisted children," Lyles said.


Family demand for charter schools has increased exponentially in New York City since 2006, growing from 15,300 to 83,000 applications submitted in 2014. Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address, called on lawmakers to approve 100 more charter schools across New York. This school year, nearly 50,000 students were waitlisted at the city's 197 charter schools. "If charters chose to voluntarily backfill empty seats in K-12, they would expand choice and voice for thousands of families that are desperate for the type of education these high-quality schools provide without requiring any new legislation or regulation," Lyles continued. 

Democracy Builders, which advocates for policies that support parent empowerment, is calling on charter schools across the city to voluntarily agree to backfill their empty seats. "A charter school should accept any student, at any grade level, when they have an opening. High-performing charters are better prepared to do this than any other schools. It is the responsibility of ALL public schools, charter or district, to serve as many students as space will allow," said Lyles.


Democracy Builders is also rallying families to support City Council Bill 613 to increase transparency on the issue of backfill. The bill would require the Chancellor to provide a report on student attrition and backfill data to the City Council. A representative from the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, which has endorsed the bill, stated the group is "committed to seeing attrition reduced by public charters and all public schools.  We support increasing the number of seats offered at non-entry level grades in all public schools." The bill has strong backing from local charter schools that already backfill. One such school, St. HOPE Leadership Academy, issued a statement confirming that they will "continue [their] commitment to zero net-mobility by filling all available seats. [They] hope that all schools in New York City will expand their commitment to the most mobile students."

Dozens of backfilled students as well as their family members will join community leaders and elected officials on the steps of City Hall at 9:30am for a rally and press conference and will be available for comment .

 The report, titled No Seat Left Behind, examines publicly available enrollment and proficiency data for almost 150 charter schools across the city since 2006. The report and all data can be publicly accessed at

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