“Hunter is the original charter school,” offered a Hunter parent at a panel on NYC Selective School admissions that I moderated last month at BASIS Independent Manhattan School.
I’d never thought of it that way but, as soon as he said it, it made perfect sense. And yet, I don’t see activists clamoring to close Hunter down, using the same reasons they employ against charter schools. Even though Hunter does everything charter schools are accused of doing… and takes it even further.
1) Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School are not managed by the NYC Department of Education. Instead, they are schools that are funded by public money, but managed by Hunter College itself. Every student who chooses Hunter over a traditional public school takes that money out of the system.
2) Hunter runs its own admissions process. As a self-proclaimed school for the intellectually-gifted, it sends kindergarten students to get tested by Hunter-approved private psychologists (it won’t accept results from the public school Gifted & Talented exams) and then takes the top scorers to a so-called Second Round of admissions. Finally, Hunter accepts fifty five-year-olds via a process they don’t reveal. For high school applicants, a standardized test is followed by an essay which is graded based on Hunter’s internal standards, ones they do not share with the public.
3) There are only two entry points: kindergarten (with a waitlist that gets closed in second grade), and high school (at 7th grade, not the 9th grade entry point the public schools use). Hunter does not backfill.
4) Hunter has been accused of not providing any more value for its students than a demographically comparable public school would. A 1993 book, “Genius Revisited: High IQ Children Grown Up,” which tracked 20 years of graduates, concluded that Hunter alumni were no different than similar students, their life results mapping onto a normal bell curve. And yet, NYC parents are convinced the school is superior to all of their other options. Two thousand and five hundred Manhattan-residing children are tested at the kindergarten level by parents who believe Hunter will be better for them than any other public school option. Students from all five boroughs take the high-school test, qualifying based on state test scores, with around 170 ultimately accepted.
5) Promotion from the elementary school to the high school is not automatic. In other words, Hunter counsels out children it feels are not a good fit.
6) Hunter has a diversity problem. Unlike the majority of NYC charter schools, which are primarily filled with Black and Hispanic children opting out of their local, failing public schools, Hunter’s problem is the reverse. In 2010, the African-American valedictorian used his graduation speech to call out the school for its lack of diversity. At the time, the school was 47% Asian and 41% White. (And remember, according to Mayor de Blasio, Asians are not people of color). In 2016, those numbers were 45% and 39% respectively, with 2% of the student body self-identifying as Hispanic and 2% as African-American.
7) As a result, there can be no doubt that Hunter is poaching the very top students from their neighborhood schools. And since only 1% of children at Hunter Elementary qualify for free lunch status, it can be seen as a case of the rich getting richer and hoarding resources that might be better spent on underprivileged students.
So, to review: Hunter is not accountable to the DOE, has its own admissions process that it declines to reveal or justify, doesn’t backfill, cannot objectively prove it adds value to a given student’s education, regularly expels those who can’t keep up academically, is not ethnically or economically diverse, diverts resources from the needy to the already advantaged, and culls the top students from the city’s other public elementary and high schools.
If charter schools actually did all of the above – instead of merely being periodically accused of it – activists would be roaring to close them down even more than they currently are.
And yet, parents who swear they absolutely, positively believe in public schools and that charters are destroying public education and shouldn’t be allowed to open even in areas where there’s proven demand, are perfectly content to let Hunter go on with business as usual. They are, in fact, actively prepping their children for the entrance exams so that their family might exercise their own freedom of choice and attend – if they make the cut.
Why is that, exactly?
Oh, wait. Remember what I said about the school’s demographics? That explains it.
— Alina Adams