Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

In this post, Daniel Katz, director of secondary education and secondary special education teacher preparation at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, interviews Mindy Rosier about what it is like to work in a public school that shares the same building with one of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools. Rosier is a teacher at PS 811, the Mickey Mantle School, which serves children with special needs. PS 811 is situated within PS 149 in Harlem, a traditional public school; it serves about 100 children with autism and other special needs. The Success Academy charter school was co-located inside PS 149 in 2006. What is it like to co-exist with SA?

 

Here is a sample:

 

“There is definitely an us vs. them feeling in the air. I’ve been told that they have shiny clean floors, new doors, fancy bathrooms, etc. Meanwhile, we have teachers who have bought mops and even a vacuum cleaner to clean their rooms for they feel what is done is not efficient enough. Near our entrance, we have an adult bathroom. It is for staff and our parents. Success Academy parents as well have used it. For many months that bathroom went out of order. Honestly, I am not even sure it is fixed yet, but after all this time, I really hope so. So we would have to either use the closet of a bathroom in the staff lunch area or use one of the kids’ bathroom when it is not in use. You and I know that had that been an SA bathroom, it would have been fixed by the next day. SA also throws out tons of new or practically new materials often. At first, some of their teachers would sneak us some materials thinking we could benefit from it. They stopped out of fear. With all the great stuff that they have thrown out, they got angry when they found out that teachers from P.S.149 and I believe some of our teachers too would go through the piles and take what we could use. Well, now they only throw out their garbage shortly before pick up so that no one could get at it. Nice, right?”

The New York City Parents Blog compiled the many complaints of parents and teachers about Daniel Bergner’s article about Eva Moskowitz. Bergner interviewed many critics, but he quoted only two: me and Michael Mulgrew of the UFT.

Unlike the magazine article, the post explains that the main reason Mayor de Blasio rejected Moskowitz’s efforts to expand within PS 149 was that it would cause the displacement of children with special needs, some of whom are severely disabled. It was ironic that the $5-6 million TV ad campaign that Eva’s Wall Street backers ran on her behalf last spring claimed that the Mayor was forcing SA children out of their schools by denying them space, when the reverse was true: Moskowitz wanted to increase the size of her school at the expense of children with disabilities.

The ad campaign paid off for Moskowitz. Many of the same Wall Street tycoons who backed Eva also funded Cuomo’s campaign, so of course Cuomo supported Eva and cut the ground out from under the Mayor’s feet, with the help of the legislature. Eva got free rent, the right to expand in public space, and other privileges. But this was not what you saw in the New York Times article.

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.

The media loves the story of miracle schools. Imagine that! A school where 90% or more pass the state tests! Where 100% graduate. Where 100% are accepted into four-year colleges. Michael Klonsky once said to me, miracles happen only in the Bible. When the subject is schools, miracle claims should be carefully investigated.

With that caution and skepticism in mind, we turn again to a post by a researcher who works for the New York City Department of Education and must remain anonymous. This is the same researcher who chastised the media for ignoring attrition rates at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools. In posting that article, I failed to capture the links to documentation (a terrible oversight, I admit). I include his/her links at the bottom of this article.

Ed Reformers Are Most Like (a) Pinocchio (b) Beavis:
Getting to the Bottom of the Reformer Distaste for Honest Analysis

My short essay examining some of the dishonest claims about Success Academy’s data led to interesting debate on this blog.[1] Some of that discussion illuminated the dishonesty with which education reformers approach data and facts. I’ll limit this essay to the dishonesty reformers display in the charter school debate.

Reformers tend to make two very different arguments about charter schools. Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests. When it is pointed out that, as a whole, charters do no better than public schools on standardized tests [2], reformers will quickly turn their attention to specific charter chains that, they claim, do indeed produce much better standardized test results. So what’s the deal with these chains? Well, in every case that has been subjected to scrutiny their results are extremely suspicious. Here is a short list of examples:

1. Achievement First in New Haven had a freshman class of 64 students (2 students enrolled later), and only 25 graduated- a 38% graduation rate- yet the school claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 62% attrition rate. [3]

2. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) had a freshman class of 144 students and only 89 12th graders- a 62% graduation rate- yet the school (and Arne Duncan) claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 38% attrition rate. [4] As a 6-12 charter chain, DSST also manages to attrite vast numbers of their middle school students before they even enter the high school.

3. Uncommon Schools in Newark disappears 38% of its general test takers from 6th to 8th grade.[5] Another analysis found that through high school the attrition rate was, alarmingly, much higher “Uncommon loses 62 to 69% of all males and up to 74% of Black males.”[6]

4. BASIS in Arizona- “At…BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale…its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%.” [7]

5. The Noble Network in Chicago- “Every year, the graduating class of Noble Charter schools matriculates with around 30 percent fewer students than they started with in their freshman year.” [8]

6. Harmony Charters in Texas- “Strikingly, Harmony lost more than 40% of 6th grade students over a two-year time.” [9]

7. KIPP in San Francisco- “A 2008 study of the (then-existing) Bay Area KIPP schools by SRI International showed a 60% attrition rate…the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.” [10]

8. KIPP in Tennessee had 18% attrition in a single year! “In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.” [11]

In every case these charter chains accepted students that were significantly more advantaged than the typical student in the district, and then the charters attrited a significant chunk of those students.

Success Academy in New York City plays the same game. It accepts many fewer high needs special education students, English Language Learners, and poor students. [12] It attrites up to 1/3 of its students before they even get to testing grades and then loses students at an even faster pace. It selectively attrites those students most likely to get low scores on standardized tests. [13] It is legally permitted to mark its own exams (as are all New York City charter schools) while public schools cannot. It loses 74% of its teachers in a single year at some of its schools. [14] The author of the Daily News editorial that sparked the initial blog commented “even in the aggregate that wouldn’t seem to account for” the results. It is entirely unclear what he means by “in the aggregate.” But it is clear that he has his arithmetic wrong. A charter chain that starts with an entering class that is likely to score well on standardized tests, then selectively prunes 50% or more of the students who don’t score well on standardized tests and refuses to replace the disappeared students with others, can easily show good standardized test results with the remaining students. Any school could do this. It’s really not rocket science.

Charter advocates usually first give argument #1 a try. When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation. The problem with argument #2 is that we don’t need charters to cream students (public schools could do that too…if it were legal), and charters as a sector are not doing anything innovative. Kicking out half of your class is no innovation, nor is it hard to create an environment that will encourage the half least likely to succeed to quit. The Navy SEALs have been doing that for years.

At the policy level these two different arguments have led to much confusion. It is often unclear what charter advocates are defending as they switch back and forth between the two arguments. This makes it difficult to have sensible public discussion about charters and leads many to accuse charter advocates of hiding their true motivations (from privatizing education for profit to breaking unions).

It is time that education policy makers demanded an honest accounting of charter practices. Metrics must be produced by every district clearly showing the demographics of charter school students, the attrition rate, and general data on which students are attrited. It is critical that the demographic data be as detailed as possible (e.g. specifying level of special education need, distinguishing between free and reduced price lunch, specifying level of English Language Learner status) since the charter sector and its advocates have in the past used broad categories to cover up important differences (e.g. claiming to serve the same numbers of English Language Learners as public schools while only serving advanced ELLs, claiming to serve the same number of poor students as public schools while serving much higher proportions of reduced as opposed to free lunch students, claiming to serve the same number of special needs students as public schools while serving only students with minimal needs).[15] With honest data in hand, the more important conversation about good teaching practices, engaging curricula, and effective students support services can begin. It is this conversation that will truly improve education for students. It is also the conversation that professional educators want to have.[16]

[1] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/22/is-eva-moskowitz-the-lance-armstrong-of-education/
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/24/the-bottom-line-on-charter-school-studies/
[3] http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/30/another-big-lie-from-achievement-first-100-percent-college-acceptance-rate/
[4] http://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/arne-debunkin/
[5] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/truly-uncommon-in-newark /
[6] http://danley.rutgers.edu/2014/08/11/guest-post-where-will-all-the-boys-go/
[7] http://blogforarizona.net/basis-charters-education-model-success-by-attrition/
[8] http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/04/no-bull-in-chicago.html
[9] http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/tx_ms_charter_study/
[10] http://parentsacrossamerica.org/high-kipp-attrition-must-be-part-of-san-francisco-discussion/
[11] http://www.wsmv.com/story/22277105/charter-schools-losing-struggling-students-to-zoned-schools
[12] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/12/fact-checking-evas-claims-on-national-television/
[13] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/28/a-note-about-success-academys-data/. The high attrition rate before testing in 3rd grade may explain the data pattern noted in this http://shankerblog.org/?p=10346#more-10346 analysis.
[14] http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/5156/why-charter-schools-have-high-teacher-turnover#.U_gqR__wtMv
[15] http://edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2013/the-charter-expulsion-flap-who-speaks-for-the-strivers.html
[16] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/when-dummy-variables-arent-smart-enough-more-comments-on-the-nj-credo-study/ I leave it as an open challenge to Ms. Moskowitz to voluntarily share this date (scrubbed of identifying student information of course) so that independent researchers can examine the Success Academy results. If she declines to do so we can only wonder what she is hiding.
[17] I wanted to end on a positive note so I add this comment as a footnote. We can expect that reformers will resist allowing the national conversation to go in this direction since they have so little to contribute to it. So many have so little classroom experience and so little time in schools that they will do all they can to make sure the conversation does not turn in this direction. If it did, they’d be out of a job. So we can expect that, as long as reformers maintain their power base, the national conversation about education will be limited to accountability, choice, standards, VAMs… anything but discussion of actual classroom and school-level practices.

Success has its privileges. This is certainly true when it comes to Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain Success Academy.

Juan Gonzalez of the Néw York Daily News reports that Moskowitz has moved her corporate headquarters from Central Harlem to Wall Street.

In addition, he reports:

“The new offices will cost her organization $31 million over 15 years, according to its most recent financial report.

“The same report shows Moskowitz received an eye-popping $567,000 during the 2012-2013 school year. That’s a raise of $92,000 from the previous year, and more than double the $212,000 paid to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

“That made Moskowitz the city’s highest-paid charter school executive last year. Her spokeswoman said Moskowitz’s current pay is a less lofty $305,000, with her bonus to be determined at year’s end.”

According to the SA website, during the “ 2013-2014 school year, we are serving 6,700 scholars at 22 schools.”

Earlier this year, Moskowitz humbled Mayor De Blasio when he tried to deny part of her request for new schools, offering her only five of the eight schools she sought. Her hedge funds backers unleashed a $5 million TV blast against the Mayor. With the support of Governor Cuomo, the Legislature required the city to pay the rent of all charter schools and required him to approve all those charters that had been authorized by Mayor Bloomberg’s board in its last days. Eva got what she wanted, and the Mayor retreated.

Writes Gonzalez:

“As a result, the school system is spending $5.3 million this year to house the three new Success Academy schools in buildings owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.”

A reader directed me to a website where people rate their work experience and their employer. Former and present teachers at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy posted devastating critiques of their experiences. SA must have gotten wind of what was happening on this website, because as you will note, the reviews suddenly turned from bleakly negative to enthusiastically positive, echoing the reformers’ talking points.

A recent article in City Limits said that Eva’s Harlem Success Academy charter schools had consistently high rates of teacher turnover, higherthan the public schools or most other charter schools. HSA denied it, although the writer was using state data. There was much speculation in the article about why teachers quit her schools at such a high rate. Read the reviews.

Judge for yourself. What do you think?

Helen Zelon of “City Limits” wonders why teacher turnover is so high in nyc charter schools.

She writes:

“According to data from the New York State Department of Education, charter schools in New York City lose far more teachers every year than their traditional school counterparts. In some schools, more than half of faculty “turn over” from one school year to the next, according to NYSED school report cards.

“Charter advocates at the New York City Charter School Center and at Success Academies, the city’s largest charter network, say that at least some of the turnover is due to movement within school networks—teachers moving up the leadership ladder, for example, or to seed the faculty of new schools, which have opened at a rapid clip in recent years.

“But even so, it’s hard to explain a churn of more than half the veteran faculty, which is the case at 15 percent of charter schools for which the state reports data….”

“The situation is not much better for veteran teachers, who are often the minority in charter schools: Of the 70 schools, 10 lost more than half of their veteran faculty in the ’11-’12 academic year; 24 schools saw more than 40 percent of experienced teachers exit.”

Zelon adds:

“Near the top of the turnover chart is the Success Academies system led by former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. With 22 schools and 10 new schools opening in August 2014, it is the city’s largest charter chain.

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.”

Spokespersons for HSA said the data were wrong.

Why is attrition so high? Long working hours; teacher burnout; TFA who made a two-year commitment and never intended to stay longer.

Eva Moskowitz has applied to the State University of New York‘s Charter School Institute for permission to open another 14 charter schools in New York City by 2016, a request that seems sure to be approved.

 

Chalkbeat reports:

 

“If Success’ proposal to open 14 new schools by 2016 is approved by the trustees of the SUNY Charter School Institute, the network will enroll about 35,698 students and cost the city more than $165 million (not including the cost of potential private space) by 2020, according to the application.

SUNY’s board is widely expected to authorize all 14 schools in a vote planned for October. SUNY has approved all of Success’ existing schools.”

 

To demonstrate its positive impact on nearby public schools, the Success application said that one Harlem school had begun hanging college pennants in its hallways, following a Success practice. In another example, a Success principal in the Bronx was sharing advice about instructional practices with a public school principal.

 

Given the fact that there is a charter cap in New York City, the rapid expansion of the Moskowitz chain may set off rivalry with other charters that find themselves frozen out by Success Academy.

 

Only one charter chain gets special treatment in New York City, and that is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies.

Principals have beenr told they had 24 hours to clear and clean the space where her schools will co-locate rent-free. The city hired hundreds of workers to get the space in order.

The 1 million children who attend public schools are second-class citizens.

Eva’s 7,000-10,000 students are extra-important and privileged. After all, Eva not only gets free public space, she may expand and kick out kids with disabilities if she wishes. Her billionaire friends on Wall Street control the legislature. She can hold a dinner and raise over $7 million on a single night.

Really, she should be chancellor and show what she can do to raise scores and work her miracles for all children. Why limit her magic to only those who win the lottery? Let her take responsibility for the kids with disabilities, the English-language learners, the homeless kids–all of them, not just the ones she chooses.

Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News reports that Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school celebrated its first graduation from middle school, with disappointing results. Although Moskowitz has boasted for years that her schools had overcome the achievement gap and that all her students are high performers, Gonzalez pointed out two inconvenient facts:

1. The graduating class started with 73 students in 2006 but only 32 remained to graduate.

2. Not one of the Success Academy graduates qualified to enter the city’s eight elite examination schools, such as Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech.

Twenty-seven of the graduating class took the entrance exam for the elite schools but none scored high enough to gain admission.

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