Op-Ed | Icahn Schools’ achievements reflect success of Bronx charters

Classroom photo 1
Photo Icahn Charter Schools

In the heart of the Bronx, public charter schools have emerged as beacons of hope, setting a higher standard of academic achievement in some of New York City’s most disadvantaged communities.

At Icahn Charter Schools, where I serve as superintendent, our recent math and English language arts test results underscore our remarkable achievements. Icahn students achieved an 84% proficiency in English Language Arts during the 2022-23 school year, double the rate of Bronx district schools. For math, Icahn students scored 92%, a staggering 58 points above the Bronx district-school average.

Our success is not unique for charter schools. A 2023 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University highlighted the profoundly positive impact that charter school enrollment has had on outcomes for Black and Hispanic students, as well as students living in poverty.

According to the study, Black charter school students showed academic growth equivalent to an additional month and a half of schooling in reading, and a month in math. Hispanic students experienced 30 extra days in reading and 19 in math.

The reason for this disparity is no mystery to the educators I work with. Icahn Charter Schools’ success is the result of a blend of extended-day and extended-year learning, the finest curriculum, and an emphasis on both faculty performance and professional development.

Our commitment to a longer school day and school year is an important bedrock of our success. This model allows Icahn students to spend more time in the classroom, delving deeper into subjects and receiving personalized attention when needed. Moreover, it eases the burden of childcare for the working parents we serve.

Our classical education curriculum is designed to be adaptable, igniting curiosity, fostering critical thinking, and preparing our students for success in high school and beyond. It promotes learning through innovation and creativity, addressing the diverse needs of our student body.

The leaders of successful charter schools understand that great schools are built by great teachers. That is why we invest heavily in staff professional development, empowering our teachers with the tools and inspiration they need to be outstanding educators. As a result, they understand the mission and approach the work with a sense of urgency. This investment pays dividends in the form of exceptional academic performance.

The proof is in the results. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Icahn Charter Schools five National Blue Ribbon Awards, most recently in 2022, for our strides in closing education disparities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Success drives demand. Icahn Charter Schools receives thousands more admission applications each year than we have seats available. The lucky ones, selected at random, get a chance at a free, world class education right in their very neighborhoods.

Enrollment data published by the New York City Department of Education shows that New York City charter school enrollment grew by over 4% in the past year and that 146,000 New York City students attend charter schools – more than 15% of the city’s total student population. This growth far outpaced additional enrollment in district schools, which grew by only .7%. Continued growth in the charter school sector will improve student outcomes here in the Bronx and across the city and state.

Bronx families deserve more high performing charter schools. Albany has the power to provide that to our communities by lifting the current cap on the number of new charter schools that are permitted to open in this city.

As Icahn Charter Schools celebrates its achievements, we encourage parents, educators, and community members to engage in conversations on the benefits that charter schools provide Bronx families. Every child deserves the chance for a brighter future.

Lawford Cunningham is the superintendent of Icahn Charter Schools.