Archives for category: Discipline and Suspensions

Gary Rubinstein, teacher and blogger, reviewed state data for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain. SA has been widely acclaimed for its high test scores. But Gary found that the attrition rate was astonishing. If low-scoring students leave, it boosts the overall scores.

Gary knew that the overall attrition rate was high but was surprised to see how high it is for students who enter ninth grade.

Over the years I’ve tracked the attrition at Success Academy. They are a K-12 program and I’ve found that generally when I compare the number of kindergarteners entering the school with the number of 12th graders that graduate 13 years later, they lose approximately 75% of their students over the 13 years.

Success Academy has argued that losing 75% over 13 years isn’t actually that bad since it equates to about 10% attrition per year, which is what district schools also have. One flaw in that reasoning is that district schools fill in those 10% of seats each year while Success Academy stops ‘backfilling’ in the 4th grade. Another problem with comparing attrition rates from Success Academy to district schools is that a student can pretty easily move from one district school to another and those schools won’t be all that different. But for Success Academy which are supposedly the best schools in the country, it is a major life change to leave Success Academy for a district school so if they really are as good as they say, you would expect their attrition to be less than the 10% per year that district schools have.

I recently got some data from New York State that puts the attrition of Success Academy in a different and scary context. Since Success Academy is a K-12 school and you can’t get in after 4th grade, any student who makes it to 9th grade there has been at the school for anywhere from 5 to 9 years. After making it that long, the last four years should be pretty easy. It’s like running a marathon and getting to the 25 mile mark, of course you are going to finish the race. But some new data I got reveals that this isn’t the case with Success Academy. In general, only about 60% of the students who become 9th graders there eventually graduate within 6 years. And with certain subgroups it is a lot less than that….

This data is really scandalous. Have you ever heard of a school that sheds almost half their students in a four year period from 9th to 12th grade even though those students have been in the school since kindergarten or maybe 4th grade at the latest? A question I wonder is why do so many students leave the school so late in the game after succeeding there for so many years?

On Friday, a large continent of Black students walked out of North Star Academy, a high-scoring no-excuses charter school in Newark, New Jersey. The students were protesting the mistreatment of Black students and teachers.

Chalkbeat reports:

Hundreds of students walked out of a Newark charter school and rallied outside City Hall on Friday to call attention to what students said is the frequent mistreatment of Black students and faculty.

Around 9 a.m., students began streaming out of the Lincoln Park High School campus of North Star Academy, which is New Jersey’s largest charter school operator with more than 6,000 students in Newark and Camden. After marching from the Central Ward campus to nearby City Hall, student organizers and a former teacher gave speeches about a culture of anti-Blackness they said pervades the school, while scores of students cheered and waved signs.

“We’re tired and we’ve been fed up,” 12th grader Kwadjo Otoo called out from the steps of the historic building, adding that some Black teachers and students continue to feel disrespected despite efforts by the charter operator’s leadership to address complaintsabout the schools. “Now they’re trying to pretend like something changed, but we know it’s the same school we’ve been going to forever now.”

Several students said multiple Black teachers over the years have left the school, which the students said is because the teachers felt overworked and undervalued. When well-liked Black teachers depart, their absence can leave students feeling isolated, they said.

“It’s very upsetting for us to build bonds with our teachers, to build relationships and connect,” said L. Drummond, a senior at the Lincoln Park campus, “and then see them chased out by the school.”

The school went into lockdown during the protest, and students who left were not allowed back in after they returned from City Hall. Locked out of school, the students began to disperse around 10:30 a.m.; some said they planned to walk home while others set out for a different North Star campus downtown.

Jennifer Hawes Berry of the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, wrote this account of a Charleston high school struggling to improve and raise its graduation rate, even as its enrollment dwindles in the era of school choice. The main effect of school choice seems to be the damage inflicted on the local public high school. The original story was published in 2015 and updated in 2020.

She writes:

Once a powerhouse Class AAAA school, North Charleston High can barely field sports teams anymore. Half of its classrooms sit empty. Saddled with a reputation for fights, drugs, gangs and students who can’t learn, middle-class families no longer give it a chance.

This is the unintended consequence of school choice.

Two-thirds of students in its attendance zone now flee to myriad magnets, charters and other school choices that beckon the brightest and most motivated from schools like this one.

But not all can leave, not those without cars or parents able to navigate their complex options. Concentrated poverty is left behind. So is a persistent “At Risk” rating from the state

Berry writes about the senior prom. Before “choice” drained the school of students, the prom drew 250 graduates. Now only about 60 attend.

She writes:

Fresh from jail, the 17-year-old has been at North Charleston High for six days. Principal Robert Grimm fought enrolling the teen given he came with an armed robbery conviction.

A district official said: You have to.

So, the new kid walked into the glass front doors and down the cinder block hallways, bringing with him only a handful of credits and a rap sheet.

Six days later, as students surge into the hallways during a morning class change, he starts shouting and bumping into another boy on the third floor.

Assistant Principal Vanessa Denney responds to the call for help. An ebony-haired Jersey girl, this is her first year at the school. She rushes toward the teens, fueled by an instinct to protect.

But the new kid crosses an invisible and clearly understood line.

With both hands, he shoves her down onto the floor hard enough to leave bruises. Denney doesn’t top 5 feet in stilettos. He outweighs her by 50 pounds.

Other students hurry over to help. Rodrik Rodriguez, the school’s burly North Charleston police officer, barrels in. He orders the student to calm down.

The 17-year-old doesn’t calm down. Rodriguez arrests him.

Then the teen crosses another clear line: He threatens to come back and shoot the officer, Rodriguez writes in a police report. “Watch what happens when I get back. I’m going to straight drop you, brah.”

New charges accompany the teen’s return to jail: threatening the life of a public official and second-degree assault and battery. He faces prison time, if convicted, and expulsion.

So the 17-year-old who Grimm didn’t want to enroll, who arrived with few credits and stayed six days, may wind up counting as a non-graduate on North Charleston High’s critical graduation rate.

The numbers game

It’s Wednesday morning, when several North Charleston High staffers will gather around an oval conference table next to Grimm’s office to tackle an onerous task: scouring the list of students who will count as dropouts because they have vanished from these hallways.

Every name is critical.

When a graduating class has fewer than 100 students, each one is crucial to that all-important number on the state report card: THE GRADUATION RATE.

With the seniors set to cross the stage in a month, time is running out to find students who last enrolled here but might be going to school elsewhere — or who could be persuaded to come back and finish high school.

Denney sits in her office poring over a roster of students counted as enrolled at the school. An educator turned detective, she must track down those whose names show up on the list but whose bodies aren’t warming a classroom seat.

If she can prove the teens are enrolled somewhere else, North Charleston High can scratch them from its rolls — and boost its graduation rate. If not, they count.

Report in hand, Denney heads downstairs to a conference room beside Grimm’s office, joining Data Clerk Kathleen Luciano.

Grimm huffs in, radiating ire.

A parent scheduled to meet with him didn’t show up. For the seventh time. And he’s just learned that two new students have appeared on the school’s non-graduate list. Both enrolled here as freshmen, then never stepped foot on campus.

Because North Charleston High has become so small — school choice drained 700 students from its halls this year alone — every student who shows up on that roster but doesn’t graduate in four years drags the school’s graduation rate down more than 1 percent.

Now he fears they’ll look like two more dropouts on the school’s graduation rate this year.

Grimm grabs his cell phone, dials the school district offices and makes his case.

“But she never stepped foot on this campus!” he insists.

As of today, the school has 84 students who should be seniors and graduate this year.

Of those, 58 likely will cross the stage in a month. Another 12 are self-contained special education students who are unable to pursue traditional diplomas. Yet they will count as non-graduates on North Charleston High’s state report card because rules about treatment of children with disabilities require all students be calculated alike.

But it means that this school, which has the highest percentage of special education students of all high schools in Charleston County, can achieve at most a 77 percent graduation rate, still below the district’s goal, even if every other student here graduates in four years.

The state likely will give it closer to 66 percent.

That’s because, as of this meeting, 14 students who should be crossing the stage are God knows where instead.

Denney recently found one should-be senior on Facebook posting photos of herself partying at clubs, new baby at home. Another earned a GED — but will count as a non-graduate per state reporting rules. One is in a psychiatric hospital refusing to do school work.

Then there is the 17-year-old charged with assaulting Denney. Another new student just was arrested for two gun violations in his neighborhood. Both likely will be expelled. Both could spend time in prison.

A student peeks into the conference room door. He just arrived at school, an hour late because he relies on a CARTA bus. He just moved — again — this time to live with an older sister.

But at least he is here, heading to a classroom.

Leonie Haimson is host of a weekly radio program on WBAI, a Pacifica radio station.

In this podcast, she discusses “How Success Academy Charters Violate Their Students’ Civil, Educational, and Privacy Rights.”

The show focused on Success Academy charters, NYC’s largest charter school chain, which has repeatedly violated students’ civil rights while becoming known for high test scores and high suspension rates. Leonie interviewed Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice and Nelson Mar of Bronx Legal Services, two attorneys who’ve successfully sued Success Academy charter schools on behalf of students who have been mistreated at the school.

Then she spoke to Fatima Geidi, a former Success parent whose son’s special education, due process, and privacy rights were violated, the last after PBS News Hour interviewed Fatima and her son about the school’s abusive disciplinary practices. Dany Mangrove also related her experiences as a former operations assistant and teacher at Success Academy High School.

Gary Rubinstein writes here about a lawsuit filed by parents of children on Success Academy’s “got to go” list. The celebrated charter chain settled for $1.1 million. The corporate chain fought the lawsuit for 4.5 years, refused to turn over documents but finally settled.

Gary writes:

Success Academy is the largest and most controversial charter chain in New York. By one measure — state test scores — it is the most successful. But over the years they have been embroiled in several significant scandals. The two most prominent was the ‘rip and redo’ incident, where a teacher was caught on tape screaming at and ripping up a paper of a very well behaved young child, and the ‘got to go’ list where a principal created a list of students he planned to either expel or otherwise compel to leave.

But beyond these two high profile scandals, there are thousands of unreported mini-scandals that are just as harmful to the students who suffer them. Over the years hundreds, if not thousands, of families have suffered from the way that Success Academy gets those families to transfer their children out of the school. One trick they use a lot is threatening to leave back — or actually leaving back — students who are passing their classes and the state tests. This was documented nicely in a podcast about them last year. But the most heartless way they get parents to ‘voluntarily’ switch to another school is through coordinated harassment. When Success Academy has students who do not respond to their strict disciplinary code, what they do is start calling the parents day after day and demand that the parents come get their children. Sometimes the phone calls start at 8:00 AM. If the parents are at work and they are not able to come and get the child, Success Academy threatens to call Administration for Child Services (ACS) on them and, in some cases, actually does call ACS or the police or has the child picked up by an ambulance and brought to the emergency room. Even with all this, Success Academy is still the darling of the education reform movement since, I guess, the ends (high state test scores) justify the means (abusing — in my opinion — families and children).

In December 2015, five families of Success Academy students filed a civil suit against them. The five families had similar complaints about how Success Academy created what the lawsuit called a ‘hostile learning environment.’ Many of the children had various disabilities, like ADHD. Some of the court filings that I have read describe how Success Academy did not modify their protocols to address these disabilities. Also in the documents the families filed, we learn that Success Academy was not cooperative during the five year trial.

Gary wonders whether other families treated shabbily by Success Academy be encouraged to sue by this precedent?


Alexandria Millet writes in The Progressive about the consequences of the harsh discipline at “no excuses” charter schools.

She begins by telling the recent story of two six-year-old girls who were arrested in school for having a temper tantrum. They were taken to the police station, where their mug shots were taken. Eventually, in response to public outrage, the charges were dropped, and the school resource officer was fired. This happened at a no-excuses charter school where compliance is the highest value.

Are higher test scores worth the harsh discipline?

Achievement First is a Connecticut-based charter chain known for its no-excuses style, akin to schools of the late 19th century.

Data released by the Rhode Island Department of Education show that one of the AF charters in Rhode Island has a sky-high suspension rate.

The school in question is a K-4 school.

PROVIDENCE — A charter elementary school run by Achievement First had among the highest out-of-school suspension rates in the state during the last school year, according to data recently released by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

The Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy, a kindergarten-through-grade-4 school, has the fourth-highest suspension rate in the state among all schools, at 47.5 incidents per 100 students. The rate represents the total number of suspensions, not the the number of students suspended. Some students may have been suspended multiple times.

The academy has 460 students. Achievement First has a total enrollment of 1,127 students.

The only schools with higher rates of suspension were an alternative academy in the Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton school district, the West Broadway Middle School in Providence, and Hamlet Middle School in Woonsocket.

Among elementary school children from low-income families, Achievement First has the highest rate of suspensions in the state, the second-highest rate among black students, the second-highest among students learning English and the third-highest among Latino students.

Elizabeth Winangun, the charter school’s director of external relations, said the mayoral academy suspended 14 percent of its students during the 2017-2018 school year.

“This [school] year,” she said, “we committed to significantly reducing that number. We put a plan of action in place, and I am happy to report that it is working. Year to date, our suspension rate is below 1 percent, an all-time low.”

Parents of students at a Colorado charter school filed a federal lawsuit claiming infringement of the atudents’ First Amendment rights after the principal suspended the entire high school for refusing to recite the school pledge.

“Students at Victory Preparatory Academy said their First Amendment rights were violated, last year on September 28, during a school assembly. According to the lawsuit, after standing and reciting the United States Pledge of Allegiance, the students chose not to participate in the school’s own pledge in protest of “certain VPA ( Victory Preparatory Academy) policies and practices” which they elaborated on in a letter given to the school’s Chief Executive Officer Ron Jajdelski.”

Charters can treat their “scholars” in an authoritarian way when they are in elementary school, but high school students won’t be bullied.

Peter Greene checked into this story and concluded that the charter was at war with the First Amendment. He has more detail and explains why the students refused to recite the school pledge. He also says this is an example of a charter operator who believes he is exempt from the laws known to every other school administrator.

No excuses!

Newark’s largest charter-school network suspends students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate, violating their rights, according to a new complaint filed with the state.

The complaint alleges that North Star Academy gave suspensions to 29 percent of students with disabilities during the 2016-17 school year. The network disputes the complaint’s allegations and says the actual figure was 22 percent.

North Star removed students with disabilities from their classrooms for disciplinary reasons, including suspensions and expulsions, 269 times that school year, according to the complaint filed by an attorney at the Education & Health Law Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Newark. The complaint is based on state data and reports by parents who contacted the clinic.

Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to ones at Newark Public Schools, where students with disabilities were sent out for disciplinary reasons just 87 times that school year, according to state data. Overall, just 1.3 percent of special-education students and 1.1 percent of all students were suspended in 2016-17, according to the attorney’s analysis of state data. Excluding North Star, the city’s charter schools together suspended about 9 percent of students with disabilities, the analysis found…

North Star is part of the Uncommon Schools network — one of several large charter-school organizations whose reliance on strict discipline and demanding academics is sometimes called “no excuses.” Some of the schools have softened their discipline policies in recent years, but others have held firm, insisting that their no-nonsense approach to misbehavior creates a safe, orderly environment where students can focus on academics.

According to the complaint, North Star continues to take an exacting approach to managing behavior. Each week, students receive behavior points in the form of “paychecks.” They can lose points for even minor infractions, such as not paying attention in class or violating the school-uniform code. If their points dip below a certain level, they can be sent to detention or suspended, the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that some students with disabilities struggle to follow the rules, and wind up being punished at a higher rate than non-disabled students. Federal data from the 2014-15 school year appear to support that claim. In that year, students with disabilities made up 7.2 percent of North Star’s enrollment, yet they received 16.5 percent of in-school suspensions and 12.9 percent of out-of-school suspensions, according to data compiled by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights

One way that charter schools get high test scores is to get rid of students with low scores. The Education Law Center called out one of New Jersey’s High-flying charters for excessive disciplinary tactics imposed on students with disabilities. That’s a prelude to expulsion or “encouraging” these students to leave.


A complaint filed by Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic (Rutgers) with the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) on August 17, 2018, alleges that the North Star Academy Charter School in Newark has engaged in a pattern and practice of imposing discipline without regard to students’ disability status, resulting in the inappropriate suspension and retention of students with disabilities and a denial of a free and appropriate public education.

Education Law Center, in a letter to the NJDOE on August 17, is supporting the Rutgers complaint.

Rutgers filed the complaint under a procedure requiring the NJDOE to investigate systemic violations of special education law by districts and charter schools. Rutgers’ clinical law fellow, Deanna Christian, Esq., prepared the complaint based on the Clinic’s representation of individual North Star Charter students and families, an examination of North Star’s discipline policy, and NJDOE data regarding suspension rates.

North Star Academy Charter School is managed by the Uncommon Charter network based in New York City. Under a single charter granted by the NJDOE, North Star actually operates 13 separate charter schools in Newark, enrolling approximately 4,000 students.

To manage classroom behavior in its Newark charter schools, North Star relies heavily on a “paycheck” system in which a student’s loss of dollars or points, and his or her ultimate detention or suspension, may result from minor infractions, such as poor posture, off-task behavior, or incomplete work or homework. Many of the infractions may be related to a student’s disability.

The NJDOE data examined by Rutgers revealed that, during the 2016-17 school year, North Star suspended 29.1% of students classified as eligible for special education and related services, placing it among New Jersey public schools with the highest discipline rates for students with disabilities. During that same period, all other K-12 charter schools in Newark suspended less than 9% of their special education students, while Newark Public Schools (NPS) suspended only 1.3% of those students.

“Some parents of students with disabilities who attend North Star have reported more than thirty out-of-school suspensions in a year, resulting in loss of instructional time and retention,” said Ms. Christian. “North Star’s use of the paycheck system, without modification for students with disabilities, has a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on those students and must be revised.”

The data presented to the NJDOE by Rutgers is consistent with complaints ELC has received from North Star parents. ELC also noted that North Star’s high suspension rate for students with disabilities was accompanied by a low enrollment rate of those same students: during 2016-17, only 7.3% of North Star’s students were classified, compared to 15.48% of NPS students.

“We applaud the Rutgers Clinic for requesting that the NJDOE investigate an apparent pattern at North Star of imposing excessive and inappropriate discipline on students with disabilities,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC senior attorney. “A 29.1% suspension rate for students with disabilities is shockingly high, as is North Star’s low enrollment rate of classified students. North Star, like every other New Jersey charter, is obligated to ensure its discipline policies support, and do not undermine, the right of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate education under state and federal law.”

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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