Archives for category: Charter Schools

Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia wants a statewide Recovery School District, just like Louisiana. He wants to be like Bobby Jindal. He wants all the low-performing schools turned into charters, just like Néw Orleans.

Won’t someone tell him that most of the charters–excluding those with selective admissions–are rated D or F by the state? Won’t someone tell him that the RSD in Louisiana is one of the lowest performing districts in the state? Perhaps he could invite Charles Hatfield or Dr. Barbara Ferguson of NOLA’s “Research on Reforms” to brief him. Or talk to Professor Kristen Buras of Geirgia State University, who just published a book debunking “the Néw Orleans miracle.” Or read Mercedes Schneider on the Néw Orleans story.

See, Governor Deal has a problem, and his name is Jason Carter. Jason is the grandson of President Jimmy Carter. More than that, his children are enrolled in public schools. His wife taught in a public high school. He wants to improve Georgia’s public schools, not privatize them.

Deal and Carter are tied in the polls. Deal thinks he can win by promising to hand schools over to entrepreneurs.

I’m for Jason.

A data analyst who worked for the past several years in the New York City Department of Education wrote the following about Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain. Most of the data he cites comes from public records maintained by the city or state education departments. His footnotes are at the bottom of the post.

Building a Charter Chain, and a Mayoral Campaign, on Lies

Over the past few days a deluge of, what for lack of a better word can only be described as Success Academy propaganda material, has appeared in the New York City media. The New York Daily News published an opinion piece written by what they termed “a researcher” and a “graduate student” that used the veneer of data to argue that Success Academy is a true success and miracle story.[1] Careful analysis reveals that many of the claims are outrights lies and the rest are half-truths.

Let’s start digging in.

Claim #1: “Success Academy schools serve a similar share of special needs students relative to their zoned counterparts.” This is a lie. According to the latest public data on the New York City Department of Education’s Progress Report website [2] the 4 Success Academy schools in Harlem had a total of 2540 students enrolled. Of these students only 17 were special education students with the highest level of need. That’s 0.6% of their students. By contrast the average percent of special education students with the highest level of need at community elementary/middle schools throughout New York City was 9.4% and 14% in Harlem. The average community school in NYC serves 1,500% MORE of the highest need special education students than Success Academy.[3] Such a vast disparity, in what to a significant extent are disabilities based on neurological, medical and physical differences, can’t be explained by anything other than Success Academy not serving the neediest students in the community.[4] You might think it would be hard for the researchers who penned the propaganda in the Daily News to top this lie. They will manage to surprise you.

Claim #2: “the school is more successful in teaching students English…27% of Success Academy students passed the ELL writing exam, compared to 19% at nearby schools.” This is a lie. The school is not successful at teaching English Language Learners. The “researchers” somehow forgot to mention that Success Academy only serves ELLs who are already amazingly good at English. According to the New York State data [5] over 90% of the ELL students at Success Academy are proficient or advanced in kindergarten (that is before Success Academy would have had much of an effect). Seems that Success Academy only serves English Language Learners who already know English. There ARE data suggesting that Success Academy IS very successful at kicking ELLs out (perhaps the few intermediate level ELL students who manage to slip through the lottery).[6]

Claim #3: “Success Academy students scored on average 39 points… ahead of others from equivalent backgrounds.” This is a lie. It is only by misrepresenting the “equivalent background” that they can make this claim. As we have seen in the first two lies that were exposed above, these “researchers” have not even come close to controlling for “equivalent backgrounds.” They have not controlled for level of special education need. They have not controlled for English Language Learner performance levels. They have not controlled for parent characteristics. They have not controlled for home environment. They have not controlled for peer effects of creaming some of the most advantaged students in each neighborhood.[7]

Claim #4: “the overall rate of attrition at Success Academy is far from alarming.” This is a lie. The “researchers” make this claim by comparing the yearly rate of attrition at Success Academy to that of other, nearby community schools. But that is an absurd comparison to make. After all, the data show that Success Academy is serving some of the most economically, linguistically, and academically privileged students in Harlem.[8] On top of that parents must actively choose to enter a lottery to get into Success Academy and must put up with Ms. Moskowitz’s hazing.[9] The fact that even after such a thorough screening process every single year, year after year, another 10% of the student body leaves IS rather disturbing.

Claim #5: They dismiss as a “side argument” the notion that “the choice not to backfill drives up scores.” It is a moral imperative to point out that only charter schools are given this “choice.” Public schools serve all students, from all circumstances, at all times (even when charter schools kick those very students out right after “census day,” the day districts use to calculate enrollment for budget purposes). It is disturbing that this difference seems to carry such little weight with so-called education reformers. It can only make one wonder how invested they really are in the success of each and every student.

It is also disturbing that these researchers seem unable to use basic logic and arithmetic. An Independent Budget Office report showed that charters are more likely to lose the students who score poorly on the New York State exams and who are more often absent.[10] Losing 30% of the students who will test poorly before they enter the first testing grade (i.e. 10% attrition each year through 3rd grade) can have a huge effect on test outcomes. Since it is reasonable to assume that Success Academy replaces those students with ones more likely to do well on the exams, the whole Success Academy effect can be explained by attrition.[11]

Let’s use the data from Harlem Success Academy 1 as an illustration. This year’s 8th grade cohort, the one that started kindergarten in the 2006-07 school year, dropped from 83 students in kindergarten to 63 students in 3rd grade. This means that at least 25% of the cohort disappeared even before the first exam.[12] As the disappearing students are the ones least likely to do well on the exams that means that in 3rd grade these students can be expected to score proficient on the New York State exams at a rate that would be about 25% higher than would be expected based solely on other factors (such as the creaming and self-selection noted above). This effect fully accounts for Success Academy’s, now obviously banal, outcomes.

Claim #6: “growth data from 2013 suggests that in the upper grades, on average, students maintain their high early achievement rather than moving further ahead.” Now this one is interesting since the researchers are more or less admitting that a Success Academy education amounts to very little. If students are not growing more the more time they are spending in these schools, what exactly is Success Academy accomplishing? This little fact shows that the rest of their essay amounts to little more than apologetics and lies. It is implausible to assume that Success Academy accomplishes magic in the early grades and then barely manages to hold ground in upper grades. In fact, this is another piece of evidence suggesting that Success Academy amounts to little more than an accounting trick.

However even this is a half-truth since the most recent (2012-13) New York City Department of Education Progress Report data show that Success Academy lagged well behind its “peer” schools in English exam growth.[13] Success Academy scored in the 39th percentile on English exam growth for their overall student population and in the 21st percentile on English exam growth for the students who began with scores in the lowest 1/3 of students citywide.

Claim #7: “The implication is that, through “drill and kill” instructional techniques, Success Academy is teaching students only low-level skills…The reality is much different.” Here the “researchers” mislead in various ways. They state that “Success Academy students get more science instruction than their peers.” It is unclear how they know this since no evidence is cited. They forgot to mention that according to a Success Academy teacher “We do not teach history or foreign languages in elementary school.[14]” The teacher also revealed that “Test prep starts in November.” A former teacher noted that the “Entire school focused on remaining at top of network schools assessment wise.” [15] From another interview, “All of the other grades, besides seventh and eighth grade, have been doing test prep since…the beginning of November. So that means they weren’t having English class, they were just doing stupid passages by random authors of no literary basis, quality, and just doing multiple choice questions for the past two months or so. [16]”

The “researchers” also somehow forgot to mention that exactly zero Success Academy students scored well enough on the Specialized High School Admission Exam to be admitted to one the city’s top high schools.[17] This forgotten piece of data supports the teachers’ claims that a very narrow sort of test prep characterizes Success Academy curriculum, as little of it appears to generalize to other exams.

Conclusion: Given all the other tricks in the Success Academy playbook including suspension rates 2-3 times the district averages [18], teacher attrition rates approaching 75% a year [19], the ability to spend thousands of more dollars per student thanks to deep pocketed ideological foes of public schools [20], the ability to grade its own exams (public schools are legally prohibited from doing so), and lots more instructional time, Success Academy must be considered an utter failure.

The media, as seen in the “puff piece” in the New York Times Magazine [21], is clearly getting behind Eva Moskowitz’s planned mayoral campaign. However, the accumulating lies cannot withstand scrutiny. Eva has fought audits of her schools and has refused to be transparent with Success Academy data. These are not the characteristics that we want in an elected official. Nor in a leader of schools.

[3] By the way, Success Academy did not do any miracles with these students. Fewer than 20% tested proficient on the NYS English Exam.
[4] Not that that has stopped shills for the charter school industry from trying
[7] They also convert a 39 point difference in test scores into being “3 years” more advanced than other students. To put this ridiculous claim in context, let’s note that 39 points is about 12% of the average total score for general education students in New York City on the New York State exams. They are essentially claiming that a student who scores a 92% on an exam is 3 years more advanced than a student who scores an 80%.
[9] Here is one parent’s description on “I attended the orientation & was “turned off” by Ms. E. Moskowitz condescending & offensive approach. She was bordering on insulting. When informing the parents of their obligations to attend the after-school games/activities, she said,“All parents are expected to attend and stay for the entire time. Don’t think you can come for a little while & leave to go get your hair done”. “Another comment made in poor taste was when a parent ask if there was financial asst. 4 uniforms. Ms. M’s response was, “ have six weeks to save up”.”
[10] “Among students in charter schools, those who remained…had higher average scale scores…compared with those who had left for another New York City public school.” “Absenteeism is an even greater predictor of turnover for students in charter schools, compared with its predictive power for students in nearby traditional public schools.”
[11] Since Success Academy refuses to transparently share its data we are unable to determine exactly how much of a role attrition plays in the early grades. The public data only show overall cohort sizes, so when Success Academy loses 10% of its students a year, if it backfills those seats in grades K-3, the cohort size appears to remain stable through those years. As the “researchers” admit to at least the 10% annual attrition rate we will accept their numbers. But it is also possible that attrition is even higher in the early grades, since “survivor bias” makes it reasonable to assume that the longer a student has been at a Success Academy school the more likely they are to remain.
[12] See the previous endnote for an explanation of why this is likely an underestimate.
[13] this data does not account for the selective attrition effects noted above and is therefore a very optimistic figure for the real outcomes within Success Academy schools
[19] and

The Palm Beach County Commission allocated $20 million to enable a new charter school to borrow money for school construction. Some members of the commission opposed it, but the majority thought it was just another business that needed public funding.


The County Commission voted in favor of allowing Renaissance Charter School at Cypress on Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach to borrow money by accessing tax-exempt bonds. Those bonds can help the charter school pay for the cost of buying land, constructing the new building, adding equipment and other educational expenses.

While the money comes from private investors, those bonds are supposed to get paid back by school revenues. Those revenues include the portion of school tax dollars that go toward charter schools.

Palm Beach County shouldn’t be enabling charter school companies to profit from the bond deals, said County Commissioner Paulette Burdick.

“It’s not about educating children. It’s about making money,” said Burdick, a former school board member….


Charter schools are billed as a way to provide parents more educational alternatives for their children. Private companies, nonprofit groups and other organizations can use public funds to start charter schools, which can operate without many of the regulations of traditional schools.

But a proliferation of charter schools has sparked concerns that they are poorly regulated and too often fail to deliver on promised educational improvements. Critics say charter schools are taking too many tax dollars away from educational efforts at existing public schools.

The Palm Beach County League of Women Voters on Tuesday opposed approving a bond deal for the Renaissance Charter School.

Charter school companies are using public financing help to profit off land deals and the county shouldn’t help, according to Elaine Goodman, of the League of Women Voters.

“What is happening to our traditional public schools?” Goodman asked. “Where are our priorities?”


Despite the critics, the commission approved the deal by a vote of 5-2.



Jesse Register, the Director of Metro Nashville public schools, proposes to close a number of low-performing schools and replace them with charter schools, despite the fact that the state’s all-charter Achievement School District has not outperformed public schools.

Parents, community members, and teachers are upset by his lurch to the corporate model. Where is the school board, whose majority supports public schools? Why did Jesse Register drink the privatization Kool-aid?

Just bear in mind that New Orleans Recovery School District is one of the lowest performing districts in the state.

A few years ago, I “debated” Jonathan Alter on a Denver radio show but soon realized that I had entered a zone where facts were irrelevant because Alter’s mind was made up. He loves charter schools. He thinks testing and accountability are the answer to the deep problems of education. He is contemptuous of public schools and the teachers who work in them. He thinks that unions exist to protect failed teachers.

Jersey Jazzman, who is completing a Ph.D. In education research, tries here to set Alter right. It is a hopeless task, in sorry to say. Alter has a deep ideological devotion to charter schools, and he won’t listen to data about attrition or how many kids with special needs are excluded from them.

But I’m glad that JJ has the will to try.

A report from the OECD, which sponsors the international assessment PISA, finds that competition among schools for students (“choice”) is not associated with higher math scores but is associated with higher levels of social segregation.

“PISA results…show that, on average across countries, school competition is not related to better mathematics performance among students. In systems where almost all 15-year-olds attend schools that compete for enrollment, average performance is similar to that in systems where school competition is the exception.

“What this means is that school choice may actually spoil some of the intended benefits of competition, such as greater innovation in education and a better match between students’ needs and interests and what schools offer, by reinforcing social inequities at the same time.”

In the U.S., school choice began as an integral part of the opposition to court-ordered desegregation. The word “choice” was a code word for segregation. Southern politicians were all for choice because it would allow white students to “escape” to white schools, leaving black students in all-black schools. Today, charter schools are more segregated than district schools, even in districts that have high levels of segregation, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. today, the media celebrates all-black schools if they get high test scores. Charters have become a way of enabling renewed segregation.

Mercedes Schneider decided to analyze how the conservative journal “Ednext” gauges public opinion about one of its favorite reforms, charter schools.

She reviews the wording of the questions asked over several years.

She notes that Ednext never mentions charter school scandals, which are a hot topic in states like Michigan, Ohio, and Forida.

“There’s a lot of unregulated money to be made in “school choice”– so much so that the FBI is conducting investigations nationwide on criminal behavior rampant in America’s charter schools.

“That the gross negligence of states to regulate “choice” has yielded fertile ground for criminal activity appears to have escaped any survey question posed by EdNext.

“The hidden component of “choice” is the systematic dissolution of the traditional, local-school-board-run public school system. Indeed, EdNext is a corporate-reform-promoting nest that is especially fond of defunding traditional public education via under-regulated charter schools.”

She wonders about the wording of the questions:

“He never addresses charter scandals at all. Imagine if he had asked this version of his charter question:

“As you may know, many states permit the formation of charter schools, which are publicly funded but are not managed by the local school board and are exempt from many state regulations. Charter schools are prone to scandal, as evidenced by a recent nationwide, FBI investigation. Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?

“I’m thinking the “completely oppose” category would suddenly become rather popular.”

Schneider suggests a way to improve the poll:

“If Peterson and his EdNext followers really wanted to know what charter school parents think of “choice”– and the degree to which “choice” is “forced choice”– they could ask in their survey. They could ask charter parents why they do not “completely support” their “chosen” schools.

“They could also ask charter parents what exactly has them “somewhat supporting” or “neither supporting nor opposing” their “choice” schools.

“The opinions of the general public on charter schools are not as telling as the opinions of those actually utilizing the charter schools.

“But it appears that EdNext minds are already made up. Charter schools are good–and there will be no asking for potentially contradictory specifics from those who actually *choose* them.

“And certainly no questions connecting charters and the FBI. I mean, that would be really bad for charter “choice.”

The New York Times Magazine has a long article about Eva Moskowitz and her chain of charter schools in New York City. The charter chain was originally called Harlem Success Academy, but Moskowitz dropped the word “Harlem” when she decided to open new schools in gentrifying neighborhoods and wanted to attract white and middle-class families.

I spent a lot of time on the phone with the author, Daniel Bergner. When he asked why I was critical of Moskowitz, I said that what she does to get high test scores is not a model for public education or even for other charters. The high scores of her students is due to intensive test prep and attrition. She gets her initial group of students by holding a lottery, which in itself is a selection process because the least functional families don’t apply. She enrolls small proportions of students with disabilities and English language learners as compared to the neighborhood public school. And as time goes by, many students leave.

The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 3rd graders but only 32 8th graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to 6th grade. One tested 121 3rd graders but only 55 6th graders, another 106 3rd graders but only 68 6th graders, and the last 83 3rd graders but only 54 6th graders. Why the shrinking student body? When students left the school, they were not replaced by other incoming students. When the eighth grade students who scored well on the state test took the admissions test for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, not one of them passed the test.

I also told Bergner that Success Academy charters have among the highest rates of teacher turnover every year, which would not happen if teachers enjoyed the work. Helen Zelon wrote in “City Limits”: “In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.” I also told Bergner about a website called Glass Door, where many former teachers at SA charters expressed their candid views about an “oppressive” work climate at the school. As more of these negative reviews were posted, a new crop of favorable reviews were added, echoing the chain’s happy talk but not shedding light on why teachers don’t last long there.

Bergner argued every issue with me. He reiterated Success Academy’s talking points. He said that public schools lose as many students every year as SA charters; I replied that public schools don’t close their enrollment to new students. Again, defending SA, he said that closing new enrollments made sense because Moskowitz was “trying to build a culture,” and the culture would be disrupted by accepting new students after a certain grade. I responded that public schools might want to “build a culture” too, but they are not allowed to refuse new students who want to enroll in fourth grade or fifth grade or sixth grade or even in the middle of the year.

He did not think it mattered that none of her successful eighth grade students was able to pass the test for the specialized high schools, and he didn’t mention it in the article. Nor was he interested in teacher turnover or anything else that might reflect negatively on SA charters.

Subsequently I heard from his editor, who called to check the accuracy of the quotes by me. I had to change some of the language he attributed to me; for example, he quoted me defending “large government-run institutions,” when what I said was “public schools.” He was using SA’s framing of my views. I asked whether Bergner had included my main point about attrition, and the editor said no. I explained it to her and sent her supporting documentation.

This is the paragraph that appeared in Bergner’s article, which understates the significance of selective attrition while not mentioning SA’s policy of not accepting new students after a certain grade:

“On the topic of scores, the U.F.T. and Ravitch insist that Moskowitz’s numbers don’t hold up under scrutiny. Success Academy (like all charters), they say, possesses a demographic advantage over regular public schools, by serving somewhat fewer students with special needs, by teaching fewer students from the city’s most severely dysfunctional families and by using suspensions to push out underperforming students (an accusation that Success Academy vehemently denies). These are a few of the myriad factors that Mulgrew and Ravitch stress. But even taking these differences into account probably doesn’t come close to explaining away Success Academy’s results.”

This minimizes the stark differences in demographics when comparing her schools to neighborhood public schools. The Success Academy charters in Harlem have half as many English language learners as the Harlem public schools. The Harlem Success Academy 4 school, which has 500 students, has zero students with the highest special needs as compared to an average of 14.1% in Harlem public schools. This disparity is not accurately described as “somewhat fewer.” It is a very large disparity. Attrition rates are high, which would not be happening if the school was meeting the needs of students. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Moskowitz said [on the Morning Joe show on MSNBC], referring to the students in her schools, “we’ve had these children since kindergarten.” But she forgot to mention all the students who have left the school since kindergarten. Or the fact that Harlem Success Academy 4 suspends students at a rate 300 percent higher than the average in the district. Last year’s seventh grade class at Harlem Success Academy 1 had a 52.1 percent attrition rate since 2006-07. That’s more than half of the kindergarten students gone before they even graduate from middle school. Last year’s sixth grade class had a 45.2 percent attrition rate since 2006-07. That’s almost half of the kindergarten class gone and two more years left in middle school. In just four years Harlem Success Academy 4 has lost over 21 percent of its students. The pattern of students leaving is not random. Students with low test scores, English Language Learners, and special education students are most likely to disappear from the school’s roster. Large numbers of students disappear beginning in 3rd grade, but not in the earlier grades. No natural pattern of student mobility can explain the sudden disappearance of students at the grade when state testing just happens to begin.”

I have no personal grudge against Eva Moskowitz. On the few occasions when we have appeared together, we have had very cordial conversation. What I deeply oppose–and this is what I stressed to Bergner and he deliberately ignored–is that Success Academy is not a model for public education. No one expects that Bronx Science is a model because it does not have open doors; it admits only those who meets its standards, and they are high. Eva Moskowitz pretends that her schools get superior results with exactly the same population because of her superior methods, when in reality the success of her schools is built on a deliberate policy of winnowing out low-performing and nonconformist students.

Why did Bergner insist on obscuring this crucial difference between SA charter schools and public schools? Public schools can’t remove students with low scores. They can’t refuse to enroll students with severe disabilities and students who can’t read English. They can’t close their enrollment after a certain grade. Unless they have a stated policy of selective admissions, they must accept everyone who seeks to enroll, even if they arrive in February or March. Their doors must be open to all, without a lottery. It is not honest to pretend that public schools can imitate Moskowitz’s practice of selective attrition. And it is not honest to overlook that difference.

Paul Tractenberg, a distinguished law professor at Rutgers University, challenges the idea that all-charter districts based on the New Orleans model are a magic bullet for Newark, Camden, and other low-performing districts in New Jersey. He notes that for the past four years, we have been bombarded with propaganda films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down,” intended to convince us of the superiority of privatized charter schools over traditional public schools.

But, Tractenberg notes, the evidence is missing. Contrary to media hype, the Recovery School District in New Orleans is one of the lowest-performing districts in the state. No miracle there.

He asks questions that the propagandists for an all-charter district can’t answer:

“Do we really believe that the education of our most vulnerable students will be enhanced by constant churning of their schools and teachers? Do we really believe that we will improve education by replacing experienced and credentialed teachers with bright young college graduates — B.A. generalists as we used to call them in the early days of the Peace Corps — who are trained for six weeks before they are placed in the nation’s most difficult classrooms for their two-year commitments? Do we really believe that, despite growing evidence to the contrary, charter schools will begin to fully serve the needs of special education and LEP students? Do we really believe that balkanizing our already undersized New Jersey school districts to the charter-school level, where each charter school is technically an independent school district, will satisfy our state constitutional mandate of an “efficient system of free public schools”?

I have just finished reading Kristen Buras’ book about New Orleans. I will review it soon on the blog. It is the counter narrative to the reformer boosterism about New Orleans, “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space.” It tells the story of the past decade from the perspective of black students, parents, teachers, and communities. It is a story of dispossession, of white supremacy, of community destruction. The publisher put a crazy price on the book, but I hear there will soon be a reasonably priced softcover. Buras shows that the destruction of public education in New Orleans is no model for other cities.

EduShyster interviewed David Kirp following the publication of his article in the New York Times about why teaching is not a business. EduShyster noticed that some “reformers” were incensed by Kirp’s views, especially his criticism of the virtues of competition and his skepticism about choice and charter schools.

Among his interesting answers to her questions:

“With respect to choice, the studies coming out of Milwaukee, which has the longest-running voucher program in the country, don’t suggest that that city has been well served by choice. As for charters, they’ll be the subject of my next piece for the Times. I’m looking for examples of charter schools that actually do what Al Shanker wanted them to do, which is collaborate rather than compete. I’d love to write about good charters and am looking for examples, so if you or your readers know of these, by all means send them along. My view, by the way, is that the best of the charters are as good as the best traditional public schools, while the worst are worse than the worst public schools. But no one has figured out how to bring really great schools to scale without the structure of a school system. Does that sound like a declaration of war? I don’t think so.”

When asked about his view that teaching is not a business, he said:

“I actually think there are important lessons for school folks in looking at a business model that works, hence my shout out to Ed Deming. But that model isn’t creative decimation. If you look at businesses that have been successful over time, you’ll find there’s much less emphasis on booting out the bad guys then there is retraining. Proctor and Gamble hasn’t remained a very successful company because it keeps tossing out its leadership every three months.

EduShyster: “A lot of this seems to come back to the question of how you drive change. You seem to think that trust is a more effective driver than, say, a boot to the neck.

Kirp: “If you peel back the nature of this disagreement, it has to do with people’s fundamental views about human nature. If you believe that everyone is by nature a slacker and needs to be whipped into shape, then you come out on one side of the conversation. If you believe that, by and large people want to do the right thing and should be supported in doing that, then you come out on the other side. That’s a very old debate.”


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