Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

Statisticians Mark Palko and Andrew Gelman explain why a relentless obsession with test scores ruins the value of the scores. As their prime example, they refer to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, where children and teachers live for higher scores. Not only are the children’s names and ranking posted, so are the teachers’.

You remember Campbell’s Law? That’s the axiom that says when you attach consequences to a measure, the measure loses its validity.

They write:

“When a school uses selection and attrition policies that effectively filter out many of the extremely poor, students speaking English as a second language, and the learning disabled, that clearly calls into question test score advantages that such a school might have over an ordinary public school.

“But the problems run even deeper than most critics realize: A look at the data combined with some basic principles of social science suggests that the practices of no-excuses charters are undermining the very foundation of data-based education reform.

“As statisticians with experience teaching at the high school and college level, we recognize a familiar problem: A test that overshadows the ultimate outcomes it is intended to measure turns into an invalid test.

“Back in the old Soviet Union, factories would produce masses of unusable products as a result of competition to meet unrealistic production quotas. Analogously, many charter schools, under pressure to deliver unrealistic gains in test scores, are contorting themselves to get the numbers they’ve promised. They’re being rewarded for doing so. But that monomaniacal focus on test scores undermines the correlation between test scores and academic accomplishment that originally existed.”

They note that Success Academy has astonishingly high test scores, yet for two years in a row, not a single one of their eighth grade students won admission to one of the city’s elite high schools. In the third year, some did (11% of those who took the test from SA).

In a comment on this post, Gary Rubinstein (a blogger who teaches at Stuyvesant High School, an exam school) writes:

“One thing to note, the 11% specialized HS acceptance rate–6 out of 54–is inflated since there were 200 kids who feasibly could have sat for that test but only 54 did.” Of 200 students at Success Academy who were eligible to take the test, 54 did, and 6 gained admission.

It is better to have high scores than low scores, but they should never be the measure of teacher quality or school quality. Making them too important ruins their value.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, has written an excellent summary of the reasons that charter schools are not public schools. As she puts it, they are private schools that receive public funding. They are like private contractors who are working with a government contract; when they are sued in court, they claim they are not state actors, they are private contractors. That is, they plead that they can’t be held to the same laws as public schools because they are not public schools.

What makes public education advocates angry, she writes, is when charter schools claim “success” but play by different rules.

She uses the example of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters to show that her charters do not enroll the same proportions of children who are poor and children with disabilities as the neighborhood school. In addition, they don’t accept new students after a certain grade because they don’t want to ruin their “culture” by bringing in new students (this is called “backfilling”).

Public schools have public governance, with open meetings and financial transparency. Charter schools almost never do.

The differences between public schools and charter schools go well beyond issues of governance. One of the strengths of a true public school is its ethical and legal obligation to educate all. Public school systems enroll any student who comes into the district’s attendance zone from ages 5 to 21 — no matter their handicapping condition, lack of prior education, first language, or even disciplinary or criminal record. Not only will empty seats be filled at any grade, if there is a sudden influx of students, classes must be opened.

In contrast, charter schools control enrollment — in both direct and subtle ways. In 2013, journalist Stephanie Simon wrote a comprehensive report exposing the lengthy applications, tests, essays and other hurdles used by many charters schools to make sure they get the kind of student that they want.

Even when some charter chains, such as Aspire, Success Academy and KIPP, have simple applications and lottery entrance, student bodies are not necessarily representative of neighborhood schools.

Burris asks:

The Democratic National Convention is about to begin. Will the party show commitment to rein in the “Wild West” of charter schools, as new platform language suggests? Friends of public education will be watching.

Kate Taylor in the New York Times describes education legislation that was rushed through in the closing days of the legislative session in Albany. Quietly slipped in was a provision allowing charter schools to switch to a different authorizer that would be enable them to evade state regulations about certified teachers. The primary beneficiary is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain, which is expanding rapidly and can’t find enough certified teachers, in part because of the expansion but also because of high teacher turnover in the chain.

In the fraught final hours of the legislative session on Friday, the Republicans in the State Senate agreed to give Mayor Bill de Blasio control of the New York City schools for one more year, but in return they demanded two provisions related to charter schools.

One made it easier for the schools to switch between charter-granting organizations. The second gave the charter schools committee of the State University of New York’s board of trustees — one of the two entities that can currently grant charters — the power “to promulgate regulations with respect to governance, structure and operations” of the schools it oversees.

The broadness of the language at first left something of a mystery as to what the provision was intended to accomplish and who might have wanted it.

A few days later, the mystery cleared up a bit.

Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school advocacy group that is closely tied to Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy charter school network, sent an email to the leaders of several charter networks on Tuesday calling the provisions “a massive victory.” In particular, it said in the email, the SUNY-related bit of legislation meant that SUNY would be able to waive current requirements that limit the number of uncertified teachers that charter schools can employ.

In fact, the Senate had pushed for a provision that would have done that directly, by giving teachers at charter schools three years to become certified, but the Assembly, which is controlled by the Democrats, rejected it. After that explicit provision on teacher certification was taken out, the broader language appeared.

The three-year allowance had been a top priority for Ms. Moskowitz, who faces difficulty hiring enough teachers as she rapidly expands the number of Success Academy schools. Currently, under the state’s charter school law, a charter school cannot have more than 15 uncertified teachers. Success hires mostly young teachers. Many of them are uncertified when they begin and attend a master’s program managed by Success while they are teaching.

Apparently SA likes to take uncertified teachers and mold them, rather than certified teachers who may have their own ideas.

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Success Academy, expressed support for the idea of giving charters flexibility on the certification rules. “To continue to deliver the strongest academic results for children, as well as exceptional chess, debate and art programs, schools must hire the most highly qualified teachers available and give them extensive training and support,” he said in a statement.

Success Academy claims it is creating a national model for inner-city education. No excuses and uncertified teachers.

Ever wonder what it is like to teach at a Success Academy charter school in New York City? I have been contacted by several teachers who quit and told me their stories, but they were never willing to allow their name to be published. They were afraid that their future job prospects would be damaged. Here is a statement by a former SA teacher, Sasha Guiridongo, posted on her own blog and then shared with Mercedes Schneider.

What is unusual, of course, is that Sasha is not afraid to tell her story and give her name.

She didn’t last long at Success Academy. She explains why in her post. SA is known for teacher churn and burn out. That explains why Eva Moskowitz’s supporters in the Legislature were pushing hard to get a special exemption for charter teachers in the law, relieving them of the necessity of being certified to teach for three years. Since so many teachers don’t last three years, this creates a large pool of prospective “teachers,” wannabes without certification.

Sasha complains about the competition among teachers to produce the highest test scores; I had earlier heard from a leaker at SA that the charters post the names of teachers in public and rank them by their students’ scores. This is an inherently humiliating practice. They also post student test scores in public. It must be humiliating for all but those at the top.

Here is an excerpt from Sasha’s post:

I was set to join “the team” for T-School, a brainwashing series of seminars aimed to mold you into a “Success teacher” because it’s somehow different than a regular teacher. Success teachers are notregular teachers, no sir, they are above that. The seminars retaught me how to teach and fed my newfound Success ego while stealing an entire month of my well deserved summer vacation. The outcome? I was thoroughly convinced that it took a “special” kind of teacher to teach at Success and I was part of the chosen few. This mentality is what kept me there as long as I did despite looming depression due to my sudden loss of identity and free time to pursue personal passions.

I had heard horrors about SA prior to accepting the job: the long hours and pressure to perform, but coming from another charter school I had confidence that I could accept and overcome any difficulties; Besides I was coming from teaching in East New York and nothing toughens you up more than working in a school where someone is shot dead at the end of the school block during Parent-Teacher Night. So was I intimidated by SA? No. But once I began teaching as a newly baptized SA teacher I quickly realized the toxic environment SA strived to create and force feed educators who had real passion for teaching. SA had managed to create an educational environment that disregarded the well-being of the teacher. It promoted a cut-throat, monetarily incentivized corporate environment in which you prayed for the demise of your peers for an opportunity to inadvertently glorify yourself. Is this what teaching is about?

My 6 months at Success forced me to evaluate who I was as an educator and revise my motivation, a minute personal gain. Success mostly made me doubt my personal success every day. I became doubtful of the importance of teaching; if we could all be trained to be the same, think the same, and act the same then as educators we were inevitably relaying this same message to our students. Every day I relayed the message that just as all teachers had to think and act and be the same, consistency among classrooms, the same was expected of students. SA didn’t celebrate originality or praise the individual, no, SA thrived on doubt, on the inevitable fear of not doing enough, being there enough, talking enough, thinking enough, preparing enough, or absorbing enough information. The underlying message was that this doubt and fear somehow made you better because it encouraged you to take immediate action as you strived to BE THE BEST at the expense of your mental stability, of course. If I couldn’t survive here, I often thought, I had failed and I was not “one of a kind,” I was weak and had no business teaching.

Six eighth grade students at Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain Success Academy passed the examination for New York City’s elite high schools. This is the first time that any student from Success Academy has passed the rigorous exam in the three years that she had students in this grade.

Moskowitz offered this information in a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board.

Six students out of 54 Success Academy eighth-graders who took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test were offered seats in 2016 at one of the elite high schools that rely on the test, like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech or Bronx Science, Moskowitz said in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News Editorial Board.

That’s up from zero kids who gained seats in 2014 and 2015.

The performance is below the city average acceptance rate of nearly 19%. However, all of the Success Academy kids who took the test and gained acceptance are black or Hispanic, making her acceptance rate of 11% about twice the citywide average for students of color. Only 4% of black students and 6% of Hispanic students who took the test got offers in 2016.

“It’s a rigorous test, and the kids have to prepare for it,” Moskowitz said. “Truth be told, our kids, most of them did not study for it. They took it cold.”

Students who pass the difficult test often practice for months, and there’s a cottage industry of prep firms that train kids specifically for the exam.

But Moskowitz said the Success Academy kids who got in did so without the drilling.

“I’m very proud of the fact that our kids are flexible thinkers,” Moskowitz said. “They have read a lot and done a lot of mathematics.”

Just under a quarter of Success Academy eighth-graders took the test, roughly the same as the city average for black and Hispanic kids.

Moskowitz says that the kids didn’t take any practice tests, didn’t drill, didn’t need any extra help to get ready.

She makes it sound easy because all of her students are “flexible thinkers” who have done a lot of reading and mathematics.

But if this is so, why did only six of 54 students who took the test pass it? Why not all 54? The 54 are “just under a quarter” of the charter chain’s eighth graders. Why didn’t all 220 or so take the test and pass it? Aren’t they all flexible thinkers who have done a lot of reading and mathematics? Shouldn’t they all be able to sit for the exam without any preparation?

Bear in mind that the 220 who finished eighth grade are about 40% of those who started, reflecting a 60% attrition rate. With their “grit” and the academic prowess learned at SA charters, why were only six students able to pass the exams?

Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby wrote a study in 2009 that was widely hailed by charter advocates, claiming that students in NYC charters nearly closed the “Scarsdale-Harlem” achievement gap. The implication was that attendance in a charter school for eight years would raise the achievement of all charter students, not just six of 220, or even six of 54.

In a stunning setback for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain, a judge ruled that the charters must submit to the city’s regulations for Pre-K if it expects to receive city funding. Moskowitz had sued to reject any city authority over her charter schools, even though nearly a dozen other charter schools agreed to sign the city’s contract for Pre-K.

Moskowitz vowed to appeal, insisting that she has a right to public funds without any oversight other than her authorizer, the State University of New York, which gives her free rein.

Campbell Brown, education expert and former journalist, excoriates Mayor de Blasio for failing to allow Success Academy to run a $700,000 pre-K program without any oversight from the entity supplying the money: the city.

Despite the fact that other charters signed the city’s contract, Success Academy refused to sign and is now abandoning the pre-K program because it will not answer to the city.

You see, Success Academy is so successful that the city has no right to expect it to sign the same contract that every other pre-K provider signed.

Note: there are many statistics in this article, but don’t believe them. Brown has never understood the Common Core cut points, which are aligned with the NAEP achievement levels. She continues to assert that all children should reach the NAEP proficient level. As the governing board of NAEP says clearly, “Proficiency is not grade level.” She obviously didn’t read the many suggested articles, some posted on government websites, that would have made this comprehensible to her.

Here, in an article that is not behind a paywall, is an account of Eva Moskowitz’s first defeat in her battle with Mayor de Blasio.

Success Academy has officially canceled its pre-kindergarten program for next year, after losing consecutive fights with City Hall and the State Education Department over a contract dispute.

Success CEO Eva Moskowitz and the network’s lawyers have argued that a pre-K contract the state requires all providers to sign is overly restrictive and therefore illegal. State education department commissioner MaryEllen Elia ruled in February that Success needed to sign the contract granting the city oversight over its pre-K program in order to receive public dollars.

Success had been seeking $720,000 from the city in order to run its pre-K program, which is currently in three Success schools. Moskowitz has been clear that the issue is one of one of principle, not cash. POLITICO New York reported last month that the charter network spent $734,000 on a political rally in Albany last year, $14,000 more than it is asking for from the city.

The cancellation was a foregone conclusion after an upstate judge declined to expedite Success’s appeal of the state’s decision in the dispute, forcing Moskowitz to hew to a self-imposed, end of May deadline to cancel the pre-K program.

When Moskowitz called a press conference to announce her decision, no one showed up to cover it other than Politico.

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Eva Moskowitz agreed to open a pre-K program on behalf of the City of New York. But she refused to sign the contract that other charter schools (and all public schools and facilities) agreed to sign. Eva said that the city was not her boss, even though the money for the program came from the city.

She refused to back down. She refused to sign the contract. She canceled the pre-K program, for the fall, which enrolled about 70 children at a cost to the city of about $700,000.

Success Academy Charter Schools Cancels Pre-K
After months of fighting with City Hall about a prekindergarten contract, Success Academy Charter Schools said Wednesday it was canceling its pre-K program for the fall.

For nearly a year the charter’s founder, Eva Moskowitz, has refused to sign a contract that New York City requires of providers who participate in its public pre-K program. She says it aims to exert too much control over her curriculum, daily schedule and field trips.

City officials have said that every other pre-K provider, including charter schools, signed the same basic contract, and doing so was a clear condition of joining the initiative. Expanding public preschool has been a key part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda.

Ms. Moskowitz has said the charter oversight body at the State University of New York is the proper authority over her network. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia ruled in the city’s favor in February, saying pre-K is a state-funded grant program, rather than part of the K-12 levels overseen by SUNY.

Ms. Moskowitz appealed to the state Supreme Court earlier this year, but said Wednesday that the court’s decision would come too late to open doors in August, and families of admitted children must scramble to find alternatives.

“It is unbelievably sad to tell parents and teachers that the courts won’t rescue our pre-K program from the mayor’s war on Success in time to open next year,” she said in a news release.

“The state upheld our important standards to ensure all programs are high quality,” Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye said.

Success Academy started a prekindergarten program for 72 children in four classrooms last August, and planned to expand slightly for the next school year. A spokesman said about 3,000 children entered an admissions lottery for about 100 seats for the coming year.

Ms. Moskowitz and Mr. de Blasio have clashed repeatedly over the city’s obligation to provide space for charters and other issues. She said she hopes for a court victory so she can reopen prekindergarten classes in August 2017.

A spokesman said she is still seeking $720,000 reimbursement from the city for the current school year.

Politico reports on the latest news from school choice advocates:




STUDIES OF SCHOOL CHOICE: Two advocacy groups are out with papers today expounding on the benefits of school choice. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice says in its effort that more than a dozen empirical studies have found that school choice improves student outcomes. And nine out of 10 studies say school choice can improve racial segregation, moving students from more segregated schools into less segregated ones. The report: The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council is introducing three tools – peer reviews, branding and consumer reports – that parents can use to optimize education savings accounts. The paper:



Don’t expect to learn from either the Friedman Foundation (so-named for libertarian economist Milton Friedman, a voucher advocate) or ALEC (the far-right corporate-funded group that promotes deregulation of every government function) to say anything about Milwaukee. Milwaukee has had vouchers and charters for 25 years. There is no evidence that the children of Milwaukee have benefited by their choices. Despite the failure of choice to improve education, Governor Scott Walker wants to expand school choice and eliminate public schools altogether. The irony is that the students in public schools repeatedly have outperformed the students in choice schools, even though the public schools have a disproportionate share of students with disabilities and others that are not chosen by the choice schools. Chances are that Walker and the legislature will keep some public schools to use as a dumping ground for the students unwanted by the charters and voucher schools.



– On a related note: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation named the finalists for the 2016 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools today: Success Academy in New York and IDEA Public Schools and YES Prep Public Schools in Texas. The $250,000 award will be given to the best-performing charter management organization on June 27 at the National Charter Schools Conference in Nashville, Tenn.



Isn’t that great news? I am rooting for Eva and Success Academy charters. If she wins, she can use the money to buy a four-year supply of beanies or T-shirts for future political rallies. The $250,000 won’t be enough to pay for both. Or she can hire a private investigator to track down the high-level official inside her organization who leaked important documents to the media, including the internal report that alleged cheating, teacher churn, and central staff turnover.


The spending included $71,900 for the beanies and $62,795 for the T-shirts, according to receipts submitted to Success’s board of directors.


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