Log in  |  Search

Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

A top-down plan for charters’ growth

[This editorial originally appeared in the June 26 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Over the last 15 years, as the number of charter schools around the country has multiplied, the movement has increasingly become dominated by charter school networks such as Success Academy and Uncommon Schools as opposed to independent or community-based charter schools.

That is no accident.

Researchers have found that large foundations are deliberately fueling the growth of charter school networks, also known as charter school management organizations. One recent study, described in our Research Shows column on page 17, looked closely at the explosive growth of charter school networks in California from 1999 to 2005. It found that four foundations had worked in concert to drive that growth: the Gates, Broad and Walton Family foundations along with the New Schools Venture Fund.

The Walton, Gates and Broad foundations are also the largest funders of charter school networks nationally.

Why would these foundations want to fund networks rather than independent schools? A main reason is that networks can grow. An explicit demand of the foundations in the California study was for networks to add more schools fast. Charter school leaders interviewed for the study said foundations told them that they would receive funding only if they had a plan to scale up.

Some of the charter organizations aimed to grow big enough within a particular school district to challenge that school system. One said that scaling up was akin to having an effect on “public education the way FedEx affected the Post Office.”

We know that the ultimate goal of many in the corporate education reform movement is to privatize public education. These foundations and the other billionaire funders of the corporate reform movement see building up charter school networks as a pivotal part of that work.

We must call out the orchestrated, top-down growth of the charter school movement. Studies show that charters perform no better and often worse than public schools. And an unbridled and unregulated increase in charter schools poses a threat to public education and our democracy.

The last public school

[This editorial originally appeared in the June 5 issue of the New York Teacher.]

This June, New Orleans’ Recovery School District closed its last five traditional public schools, making it the first all-charter school district in the country.

Some observers call the all-charter district a grand urban experiment. We see the unfettered, underregulated expansion of charters as a threat to children’s education and to democracy.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 102 of New Orleans’ 117 schools. More than 7,000 teachers and other school employees were booted out. Charter operators were invited in.

Charter boosters in New Orleans point to higher state test scores and graduation rates than before Katrina. But such comparisons are questionable because many families and students who lived in the city prior to the storm have left.

Other trends are clearer. A 2010 study by the University of Minnesota Law School found that while New Orleans remains a majority African-American city, 80 percent of its white students attend the most selective, higher-performing charter schools while children of color and lower economic status attend lower-ranked schools.

Similarly, advocates for students with disabilities say children with special needs are routinely denied equal access to educational opportunities and are often pushed out of New Orleans’ charter schools.

A similar lack of fairness can be found in the treatment of educators. While most of the fired teachers were African-American, many of the new recruits are white. The fired educators sued for unfair termination and won.

Unequal treatment can thrive more easily in a district of privately run, though publicly funded, charter schools. The privatization and decentralization of New Orleans schools have led to both a loss of community control and a diminished sense of community as neighborhood schools disappear.

At a time when public education is under attack, New Orleans should remind us that public schools offer both an equality of access and a sense of community essential to our diverse democracy.

“Public education isn’t important because it serves the public,” the late cultural critic Neil Postman said. “It is important because it creates the public.”

Charter Schools: A UFT Research Report

As charter school proponents go to Albany this week to plead their case, let’s examine the realities behind their claims of stretched resources, unique student demand and stellar academic results.

How poor are charter schools?

While charters maintain they have very thin budgets, and some smaller charters in fact operate close to the margin, others are extremely well-funded.

A review of the most recently available public documents showed that as of 2011-12, the schools in six of the city’s most prominent charter chains had a total of more than $65 million in net assets, including nearly $16 million for the charters which are part of the Uncommon Schools Network and more than $13 million for the Success Academy Network.

What’s more, this supposed poverty doesn’t prevent some charters from paying very large salaries to their executives, as the Daily News recently reported.  The two Harlem Village Academies run by Deborah Kenny pay her a total of half a million dollars a year;  Eva Moskowitz of Success Academies reported a salary only a few thousand less, while David Levin of KIPP got just under $400,000.  All these salaries are dramatically more than those of the city’s mayor and chancellor, who supervise roughly 1,700 schools.

Charters’ opaque bookkeeping methods make it difficult to figure out how much many schools spend on their vendors, but tax filings by the Success Academy schools suggest that management fees charged by that network totaled $3.5 million of their schools’ per-pupil funds in 2011-12. In 2013, the Success Network requested and received a raise in management fees to 15 percent of the per-pupil funding it receives from the state and city.

The total amount of management fees charged by just four of the city’s charter chains in 2011-12 — Success, Uncommon, Achievement First, and KIPP — was over $12 million.  (see table below)

Charter Chain Financial Data, 2011-12

 

Network Name Number of NYC Schools with Audits Total Net Assets of Schools Total Management Fees Top Executive Compensation 2010-11
Achievement First

2

$3,585,931

$2,363,205

$224,200

Success Charter Network

4

$13,563,661

$3,516,362

$475,244

Uncommon Schools

7

$16,820,767

$5,054,626

$252,941

KIPP

1

$1,911,010

$1,089,475

$395,350

Village Academies Network

2

$3,236,767

Not Listed on Audit

$499,146

Icahn Charters

4

$26,110,338

$2,236

$280,323

Total

20

$65,228,474

$12,023,668

$2,127,204

All of these figures are based on the schools’ own filings; the lack of publicly available audits for many other chains limits information about what other networks are charging.  Meanwhile, charter proponents led by Success Academy have launched a court fight to prevent an independent expert — the State Comptroller — from auditing charters’ and charter management companies’ books.

A study based on 2010-11 by the city’s Independent Budget Office calculated that as of 2009-10, co-locating a charter school in a public school building in effect gave the charter about $650 per student more in public funding than district schools spend. Their calculations were based on earlier, lower levels of charter per-pupil funding, however; at current rates, that disparity may now be over $2,000 per student.

Charters also get foundation grants — including from right-wing organizations like the Walton Family Foundation, which has given more than $1 million to Achievement First in recent years. In addition, a look at official filings by many charters — in particular the Success Academy network — show that the schools or chains have boards dominated by hedge funders and other financial interests whose contributions could theoretically absorb any reasonable rent charged for public school space; at a gala in 2013, for example, the Success Network raised more than $7 million in one evening.

How unique are charter waiting lists?

Charters make much of the length of their student waiting lists.  But the reality of New York City schools is that tens of thousands of students at all levels end up on waiting lists or completely frozen out of the schools they would like to attend.

More than half of the city’s nearly 64,000 eighth graders did not get into their first choice for high school last year and 7,200 — more than 10 percent of the total — did not get into a single school they applied to.  Approximately 20,000 students who take the test each year for the specialized high schools do not get into one of these schools.

The same is true for thousands of elementary school students who apply for slots in competitive middle schools, and for thousands more families who cannot find space in gifted programs or whose kids end up waitlisted for kindergarten in their neighborhood schools.

Students can and do get off waiting lists in district schools, which generally backfill empty spaces in higher grades if and when students transfer out; most charters, in contrast, almost never accept transfer students off their “waitlists” beyond their early grades.

Does admission to a charter guarantee academic success?

Student scores plummeted across the city last year when the state introduced new tests based on the Common Core standards. But in reading, charters schools as a whole scored under the citywide average (26.4 citywide average, charters 25.1).

Even highly touted charters had classes with significant problems.  Democracy Prep’s Harlem charter had fewer than 4 percent of 6th-graders proficient in reading and fewer than 12 percent passing math.  Fewer than 12 percent of 5th-graders at KIPP Star College Prep were proficient in math and just 16 percent passed the reading test, while 11 percent of their 7th-graders scored proficient in language arts and 14 percent in math.

These results come despite the fact that, as a group, charter schools serve a smaller proportion of the city’s neediest students, including special ed and English language learners.  A 2012 report by the charters’ own association —  the New York City Charter School Center — showed that on average, charter schools had only 6 percent English language learners, compared with 15 percent in district schools.

A recent IBO study showed that an astonishing 80 percent of special education students who start in charter schools in kindergarten are gone by the third grade.

Student attrition is a particular issue for the Success network, whose schools tend to have far higher student suspension rates than their neighborhood schools; they also see their class cohorts shrink as many poor-performing students leave or are counseled out and not replaced.

How can we level the playing field?

If charter schools are serious about playing an important role in New York City education, they should take four immediate steps to level the playing field between them and district schools, as outlined by UFT President Michael Mulgrew below in an article reprinted from the New York Daily News:

For the past 12 years, the Bloomberg administration has singled out charter schools for special treatment, a strategy that embittered many ordinary New York City public school parents and children. Here are four steps charter schools should take now to end that divisive relationship:

Serve the neediest kids

State law requires that charters serve the same percentage of poor and special-needs children, along with English-language learners, as their local district schools do. Unfortunately, many charter schools ignore this requirement. Meanwhile, parents complain that special-needs children and students who struggle academically have been “counseled out” of charters, most of them ending up in local district schools while the charters hold onto students with better scores. A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that a shocking 80% of special-needs kids who enroll in city charter schools as kindergartners leave their schools by the third grade.

Be good neighbors

The Bloomberg administration often shoehorned charters into public schools. Because some charters didn’t want their children interacting with public school kids, gymnasiums and cafeterias would be limited to charter students at certain hours. Worst of all, students in dilapidated classrooms with outmoded equipment and few supplies watched with envy as the incoming charters spent small fortunes on renovations, paint jobs, new desks and equipment, books and supplies. If they want to be good neighbors, charters should share the wealth — and make sure all students sharing one school building have the same opportunities and environment.

Open their books

If charter operators truly want a new start, they need to abandon the lawsuit they have filed against the state controller seeking to block his ability to audit their books. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

Stop treating children as profit centers

Charters receive taxpayer dollars. In addition, many get donations from major hedge funders, have millions of dollars in bank accounts and pay their chief executives — who typically oversee a small group of schools — as much as half a million dollars a year, along with lavish benefits. Charters with such resources need to pay rent, as Mayor de Blasio has suggested. And charters should set realistic salary caps for their executives and appropriate limits on payments to consultants.

Data Sources

Other sources:

 How poor are charter schools?

 How unique are charter waiting lists?

Does admission to a charter guarantee academic success?

Charter schools: Time for change

In this op-ed piece, which originally appeared in the Daily News, UFT President Michael Mulgrew describes the steps that charter schools should take to repair their relationship with New York City students and parents.

For the past 12 years, the Bloomberg administration has singled out charter schools for special treatment, a strategy that embittered many ordinary New York City public school parents and children. Here are four steps charter schools should take now to end that divisive relationship:

Serve the neediest kids
State law requires that charters serve the same percentage of poor and special-needs children, along with English-language learners, as their local district schools do. Unfortunately, many charter schools ignore this requirement. Meanwhile, parents complain that special-needs children and students who struggle academically have been “counseled out” of charters, most of them ending up in local district schools while the charters hold onto students with better scores. A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that a shocking 80 percent of special-needs kids who enroll in city charter schools as kindergartners leave their schools by the third grade.

Be good neighbors
The Bloomberg administration often shoehorned charters into public schools. Because some charters didn’t want their children interacting with public school kids, gymnasiums and cafeterias would be limited to charter students at certain hours. Worst of all, students in dilapidated classrooms with outmoded equipment and few supplies watched with envy as the incoming charters spent small fortunes on renovations, paint jobs, new desks and equipment, books and supplies. If they want to be good neighbors, charters should share the wealth — and make sure all students sharing one school building have the same opportunities and environment.

Open their books
If charter operators truly want a new start, they need to abandon the lawsuit they have filed against the New York State Comptroller seeking to block his ability to audit their books. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

Stop treating children as profit centers
Charters receive taxpayer dollars. In addition, many get donations from major hedge funders, have millions of dollars in bank accounts and pay their chief executives — who typically oversee a small group of schools — as much as half a million dollars a year, along with lavish benefits. Charters with such resources need to pay rent, as Mayor de Blasio has suggested. And charters should set realistic salary caps for their executives and appropriate limits on payments to consultants.

Parents speak out against co-location

Co-locations have been a hot-button issue of the mayor’s race, and with the Bloomberg administration pushing through proposals for co-locations that will take effect after Bloomberg leaves office, the issue is sure to stay heated in the months ahead. In this entry, two parents share some thoughts on their fight to keep a charter school from co-locating in the building of their school, IS 281 in Brooklyn. Maria and John Talmadge, former PTA co-presidents at IS 281, wrote this open letter. An expanded version appears in the Brooklyn Spectator.

The co-location of Coney Island Prep with Joseph B. Cavallaro (IS 281) is a huge mistake.  My husband and I are former PTA co-presidents of Cavallaro. We attended the public hearing held at Cavallaro on Oct. 21 to show our continued support for the school. We listened to Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Bill Colton, Councilman Domenic Recchia, and Councilman Vincent Gentile, just to mention a few politicians present, all of whom oppose the co-location of Coney Island Prep, a charter school, with Cavallaro. Many of our students, both past and present, voiced their opinions and fears of overcrowding in the hallways; cramped classrooms; and music, dance, art classes and afterschool programs being taken away. Adding 300 children, ages 4-8, to a school that already houses 1,200 children ages 10-14 is also certainly a safety issue.

Doesn’t Coney Island Prep care about the safety of their children?  We most definitely do.

Parents of the children who attend Coney Island Prep spoke at the hearing. They wanted us to understand how their children were failing in public schools and that Coney Island Prep has raised their scores and how well they are doing now. They told us how wonderful they were and how we should welcome them because they want to be our neighbors and enjoy the building with us…that we would grow to love them.  Cavallaro parents, teachers and students listened to what they had to say. Imagine our surprise when, as supporters of Cavallaro began to speak, one by one, Coney Island Prep parents left. NOT ONE PARENT stayed to listen to what we had to say.  This was brought to the attention of Jacob Mnookin, the executive director of Coney Island Prep.  He just looked up and smirked. While my husband John was asking why Coney Island Prep teachers are non-union teachers and why they don’t follow the same rules that our teachers must follow, Mr. Mnookin was checking his phone and texting. He did this to just about everyone. How disrespectful of Mr. Mnookin and Coney Island Prep parents!  Does this not speak volumes of their character and how they negated their entire message?

Why does Coney Island Prep hire non-union teachers? Why don’t their teachers undergo background checks like our teachers? Why doesn’t Coney Island Prep rent a building and put ALL their students in ONE place? We had many questions but received very few answers.

Cavallaro staff and students have and continue to work hard to make our school the A-rated school it is. We are a family at Cavallaro and we truly care for one another. It is our home away from home, and Coney Island Prep invading our home is a crime. We need the space in our school for it to continue to flourish and meet all of our children’s needs. This certainly cannot be accomplished with Coney Island Prep moving in.

Eva uses her students

This editorial originally appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of the New York Teacher.

They’ll say it was about “school choice” and “for the children,” but the morning rally on Oct. 8 by Harlem Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and other charter school honchos was little more than a thinly veiled campaign rally for Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

That wouldn’t be a problem if Moskowitz hadn’t closed her schools and forced parents, students and staff to attend. Children, who should have been in class at that hour, were instead bused to the rally with their parents.

“Several emails from senior leadership make it clear that the event is not optional,” a “concerned charter teacher” wrote to Diane Ravitch on her blog. “It seems very unethical that adults and children are being forced into this political statement.”

The rally was billed as a protest against Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s charter school policy proposals, not a campaign rally. But if it wasn’t a de facto campaign rally for Lhota, then why was he there? Lhota’s wife and daughter were at the head of the march across the Brooklyn Bridge and the candidate himself posed for pictures with children who should have been in school in a small area cordoned off in front of City Hall Park.

Moskowitz, a former chair of the City Council Education Committee, and others in the charter movement have lined up with Lhota because de Blasio has called for a moratorium on new charter schools and has said that he will charge charter schools rent to use space in public school buildings.

But we’re public schools, too, the charter operators complain. They’re right, of course: Charter schools are public schools. But the for-profit operators of charter schools only own up to that fact when it suits them. When it comes to accepting students with special needs, for example, they’re private schools through and through.

Not all charter schools are fans of Moskowitz’s tactics. Leaders of some independent charter schools said in an open letter that the rally “sends entirely the wrong message” and is “at best premature.” They wrote that they would rather have dialogue with de Blasio than protest against him.

What drives the success in Success Academy?

When scores for the first round of Common Core-aligned state tests were released this summer, it wasn’t surprising that the results were lower than in years past. What did come as a surprise, however, was how well students at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools had fared: At one SA charter in the Bronx, 97 percent of students scored proficient in English and 77 percent were proficient in math.

What’s their secret? (If there can be a “secret” to high scores on standardized tests, that is.) A new blog post by education writer Diane Ravitch, in which she quotes an anonymous Success Academy teacher, suggests that the disappointing truth may be old-fashioned test prep, and lots of it, otherwise known as “drill and kill.”

ELA test prep starts in November for two periods a week, the teacher wrote to Ravitch. After winter break, we have daily hourlong ELA test prep. Then we add math. By late February, we spend several hours a day on it. The last few weeks are almost all-day test prep.

So much for the Success Academy mission statement that proclaims, “Our schools are fueled by wonder.”

The same teacher notes that “we have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to Common Core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. The teacher adds, “Thousands of dollars [is] spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard.”

Custom test prep packets and bribery — is this the way to close the achievement gap?

The anonymous teacher, who says a typical Success Academy work day lasts 11 hours, describes “literally pour[ing] 100 percent of yourself into [test prep] day in and day out.” And just in case teachers are not feeling enough pressure, they receive “daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for ‘getting kids over the finish line’.

And while Success Academy’s test scores were high, so was another statistic: its teacher turnover rate, which at one point approached 40 percent. Could experiences like the one above be the cause?

Read Ravitch’s entire entry here.

Missing the Real Story on Student Attrition at Charters

At a time when the question of how to best serve our neediest students at all schools is a key focus at the local and national levels, media analyses of the impact of student attrition at charters and district schools can be a useful contribution to the discussion. Unfortunately, an article recently published by SchoolBook misses the key point of this question in its failure to acknowledge that charter attrition’s effects come not from the number or type of students who leave, but from most charters’ decisions not to replace those students.

Gary Miron did a great job addressing this issue in his recent study on KIPP, and Mathematica recently confirmed some of his key findings (though they argued that the impact of these practices were relatively minimal).

In general, Miron and others have shown that both urban charters and urban district schools serve populations with high rates of student mobility — every year, relatively high percentages of students change schools in New York and other cities, and students who change schools (in general) tend to be lower achieving and have higher needs. This is what the SchoolBook article focuses on — if you just look at the percentage and type of students who leave schools in any given year, you’re not going to find big differences between district and charter schools.

The key difference is that in district schools, the students who transfer out are replaced by equally needy students who transfer in, including in higher grades. Overall, this keeps enrollment numbers and overall percentages of high-need students fairly stable — in a K-5 district school, if you have 50 kindergartners arrive in 2012, you’ll see roughly 50 5th graders graduate six years later. Not all those students will have started as kindergartners, but those who left will have been replaced by students with fairly similar demographics and achievement levels.

In contrast, even charter advocates admit that most charters choose not to replace students who leave with incoming transfer students, especially in upper grades. This means that at charters, the neediest students are the most likely to leave before graduation, but either they aren’t replaced or they’re replaced in very limited numbers. This is why you’ll often tend to see graduating classes at charters which are much smaller than entering classes.

Based on what we know about the demographics of students who transfer compared to those who stay in schools, the upper-grade students who remain in a charter with high attrition will tend to be those with relatively lower needs and higher academic achievement. In NYC, we’ve shown that the charter middle schools with the highest attrition and non-replacement rates are also the same ones which show the greatest increases in scores in their highest grades. The Mathematica study showed that at KIPP, incoming transfer students tended to come in with higher achievement levels than students who transferred into district schools, a pattern also noted by the principal of the charter school highlighted in the SchoolBook article when discussing his school’s test score increases.

The other element of this that the article doesn’t fully address is the impact of the different discipline codes at the charters. The quotes from the parents and charters leaders in the article are fairly contradictory on this point — they acknowledge that disagreements about discipline were a primary factor in making these students leave the school, but don’t define this as being “kicked out.” The lack of a good way to either measure (1) how frequently these “nudge out” transfers happen or (2) the impact the exit of students with discipline issues has on the remaining students’ academic performance are major problems with the research in this area. Some charters do have high rates of suspensions, but lower-level types of discipline are much harder to track.

Overall, the fact that this article doesn’t even acknowledge that practices around attrition and replacement represent a legitimate difference between charters and district schools makes its analysis significantly less useful and more misleading than those from the Charter School Center itself or the researchers at Mathematica — and very disappointing.

South Bronx Educators Demand Justice! Call TODAY!

Thank you to all of those who have reached out on behalf of New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries (AECI) teachers. Join us for the final push of our call-in campaign to support these educators.

This week we are targeting board chair Irma Zardoya, president and CEO of the New York City Leadership Academy, to help demand justice for teachers at this charter school in the Bronx.

In January 2010, teachers at AECI formed a union to provide a positive and stable learning environment for their students. They have been working for two years without a contract. Meanwhile, AECI’s administration has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against teachers; they have suspended, terminated and otherwise disciplined union activists and supporters.

Call board chair Irma Zardoya at 917-882-3533 and tell her to respect teachers’ rights.

Go to the UFT’s campaign page for talking points and additional
information »

Please report back to us through the campaign page above or our Facebook page and pass the word along to friends and colleagues.

To learn more about the issue, read “Contract talks stalled at South Bronx charter“from the Sept. 6 issue of the New York Teacher.

Charter School Call-in Campaign is Building Momentum

Thank you to all of those who have reached out on behalf of New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries teachers. Our call-in campaign is building momentum and we need your continued support as we enter Week 4.

This week we are targeting board member Robert Burton to help demand justice for teachers at this charter school in the Bronx.

Teachers, parents and other community members are participating in this call-in campaign to support the teachers at AECI.

In January 2010, teachers at AECI formed a union to provide a positive and stable learning environment for their students. They have been working for two years without a contract. Meanwhile, AECI’s administration has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against teachers; they have suspended, terminated and otherwise disciplined union activists and supporters.

Call board member Robert Burton at 917-376-4182 and tell him to respect teachers’ rights.

Demand that the board:

  • End all retaliation by administration against teachers and staff involved in the organizing and contract campaign.
  • Respect educators’ right to strengthen their school community by advocating for the best working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.
  • Negotiate a contract in good faith.

Go to the UFT’s campaign page for talking points and additional information »

Please report back to us through the campaign page above or our Facebook page and pass the word along to friends and colleagues.

Middle School Charters — Suspending Their Way to the Top

In June, School Stories published the names of the 10 charter schools with the highest suspension rates. Many of these were middle schools and three had suspension rates at least four times above the city average.

Highest Charter Suspense Rates

Now, the city test results are out, and two additional facts emerge about these schools.

First, students in these schools weren’t just suspended; they also disappeared. Specifically, as classes moved up from one grade to the next, the number of students in them got smaller and smaller. The average reduction was 15% between 5th and 6th grade alone, which is when the size of cohorts is most likely to shrink.

School Grade Span Change in number of students in cohort % Reduction in cohort
Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 96 to 77 -20%
Bed Stuy Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 81 to 69 -15%
Kings Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 80 to 71 -11%

Classes shrink faster at these charters than as just about any other charters in the city. All three, in fact, rank in the top five citywide (and citywide the median reduction from 5th to 6th grade is 6%).1

The second thing we learn about these high-suspension schools from the latest testing results is that as students disappear the passing rates rise dramatically. The average gain between grades 5 and 6 was 21 percentage points.2

School Grade Span % Reduction in Cohort Increase in Number of Percentage Points (ELA) Change in Percent of Students ELA
Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -20% plus 24 33% to 57%
Bed Stuy Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -15% plus 20 35% to 55%
Kings Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -11% plus 21 37% to 58%

So what’s the relationship between high suspension rates, shrinking cohorts and rising passing percentages?

The most benign way to tell that story is to claim that attrition and suspension have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Under this scenario, less school time for troubled kids is actually a good thing, so good in fact that these suspended kids experience terrific academic growth — much better than they otherwise would have — which accounts for the rising passing rates. True the cohorts are shrinking, but that’s only because other students, not these troubled students, are disappearing to lower grades-levels or other schools.3

Hmmm.

What seems more likely is that some students with behavioral problems, and possibly emotional disabilities, are being pushed out of these schools by repeat suspensions. If that’s the case, then the students who remain are generally those who arrived more ready to learn and then became even more so after seeing what quick work had been made of their more rambunctious peers. We don’t know if that that’s true, but we do know that many charter schools sanction this approach. In a report from the charter community itself, for example, the writers record what some charter operators see as the happy outcome that results from ridding schools of troublesome kids:

“…By this logic, schools should be full of students who share a common culture of learning, provided that the culture is not defined in an exclusive fashion … a student who leaves one school to find a better fit at another should be considered a success story.”

A success?

Was that how we were supposed to be measuring the success of charter schools?

Everyone who works in education understands just how hard it is to create the kinds of school cultures that keep kids focused on their education. And we do not have enough information to know for sure how many struggling students are pushed out of charters by a culture of punishment (though we do have anecdotal evidence). What we do know, however, is that these schools are public schools, and at public schools we take it as our mission to support every student who shows up at the door.

If these charters are suspending students right out of the school, we would not call that a success story.

We’d call it a disgrace.

1Another two middle school charters have similarly high attrition between grades 5 and 6, at 19% and 25%. All five belong to the same two charter networks: Uncommon Schools (the Collegiate schools) and Deborah Kenny’s Harlem Village. In fact, the seven schools with the highest attrition all belong to these networks.

2It should be noted that a fourth charter school, South Bronx Classical, followed the same pattern as these three middles schools — over four times the city average for suspensions, a 39% reduction in size of the cohort, and a 36 point increase in the passing rate. Because this post focuses on middle schools, I have omitted it from the main body of this text.

3While we don’t know for sure that shrinking cohorts indicate that students have left the school altogether, it seems much more likely that they have left than that they have been left back. When students are left back, we expect the class they join to rise in size — or at least to stay the same. But in these schools, the pattern is just the opposite — most cohorts shrink, including the ones that would be receiving students from shrinking cohorts. It seems likely therefore that numbers are shrinking because students left the school.

Keep Up the Fight for AECI Teachers

UFT ACTS Contract NowFor those who have already called-in this past two weeks, the educators at AECI thank you. We are certain our message was heard by the board and is having an effect, but we must keep up the pressure.

We want to ask you to once again call another board member to help demand fair treatment for teachers at this charter school in the Bronx.

Read our post from two weeks ago for the background on this campaign.

Call board member Maria M. Ramirez today at 917-807-2273 and tell her to respect teachers’ rights.

Demand that the board:

  • End all retaliation by administration against teachers and staff involved in the organizing and contract campaign.
  • Respect educators’ right to strengthen their school community by advocating for the best working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.
  • Negotiate a contract in good faith.

Go to the UFT’s campaign page for talking points and additional information »


Want to stay informed?

Fill out my online form.

Unionized Charter School Teachers Need Your Support

AECI teachers need your support
In January 2010, educators at the NYC Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries (AECI) in the Bronx formed a union at their school to provide a positive and stable school culture for their students. Educators delivered letters to the school’s principal and board of directors that called for a more formal voice in school operations to “strengthen our school community and enhance the educational experience of our students, faculty and administrators.” A few months later the board formally recognized the union, and contract negations began.

Since then educators at the charter school have been working for two years without a contract. The teacher-led contract committee diligently attended all bargaining sessions in hopes of reaching a contract that would serve the interest of the entire school community. Negotiations reached impasse last winter.

Due to the stalled negotiations teachers salaries have been frozen and union activists have suffered harassment from the administration. AECI’s administration has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against teachers; they have suspended, terminated and otherwise disciplined union activists and supporters.

Educators at the school just want to focus on educating their students free from harassment and with a contract in place.

Want to stay informed?

Fill out my online form.

Call board member John Kwok today at 917-807-3502 718-482-4806 OR 718-482-4825 and tell him to respect teachers’ rights.

Demand that the board:

  • End all retaliation by administration against teachers and staff involved in the organizing and contract campaign.
  • Respect educators’ right to strengthen their school community by advocating for the best working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.
  • Negotiate a contract in good faith.

Go to the UFT’s campaign page for talking points and additional information »

Democracy Prep and the “Same Kids” Myth

In general, charter advocates have become somewhat more responsible about acknowledging the impact of demographic differences in charter and district school enrollments on charters’ academic performance. The recent release of the New York City Charter School Center’s “State of the Sector” report is one example, and we had hoped that the existence of its database (which offers straightforward comparisons between enrollments at each New York City charter school compared to its Community School District) would help further efforts towards a more fully informed discussion of the role of charters in school reform.

Unfortunately, last week’s publication of a guest essay by American Enterprise Institute researcher Daniel Lautzenheiser in Rick Hess’ EdWeek column marks a return to the simplistic rhetoric and unsubstantiated assertions which Hess himself has warned are becoming too common among self-identified “reformers.” In “A Tale of Two Schools,” Lautzenheiser makes the claim that Democracy Prep’s high test scores come despite its enrollment of “the same kinds of students” as its academically struggling co-located school, the Academy of Collaborative Education (ACE). He offers no data to back up this assertion, other than the fact that the two schools share a building in Harlem. However, if he had taken a moment to check the Charter School Center’s database, he would have found that in 2010-11, Democracy Prep served fewer students who were eligible for free lunch, fewer students who required special education services, and fewer students who were English Language Learners than the average district school in its neighborhood.

Taking a closer look at Democracy Prep’s enrollment in comparison to ACE specifically (as we did in 2010) shows that other than the first year ACE opened, these patterns have been true throughout both schools’ existence. In addition, though Democracy Prep no longer publicly reports the type of services its Special Education students receive, evidence from 2008-09 showed that only 18% of its students with IEPs were mandated to be in self-contained classes, compared with 50% of Special Education students at ACE.

School Year
% Free Lunch
% Limited
English
Proficient
% Special Ed
Academy of Collaborative Education 2008
79
4
10
Academy of Collaborative Education 2009
71
8
13.4
Academy of Collaborative Education 2010
83
10
21.6
Academy of Collaborative Education 2011
82
10
21.7
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2008
64
7
11.6
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2009
64
6
no public data
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2010
66
5
11.9
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2011
66
6
11.5

Sources: NY State Report Cards; NY State Charter SPED Invoices; NYC CSC Database

Researchers like Lautzenheiser who seek to hold up Democracy Prep as a model for district schools to follow should stop making the argument that such schools are succeeding with “the same students” without checking the data first to see if their claims are true. Criticizing the academic performance of the ACE school community while failing to recognize the greater challenges that community faces is not helpful in moving forward in finding ways to improve the educational experience for all the city’s children.

Disturbing Background for Founder of New “Charter Parents PAC”

Thomas Lopez-Pierre

Thomas Lopez-Pierre

The founder of the latest group to try to cash in on the big money flowing from Wall Street to New York City’s charter schools has a disturbing history. Potential donors and charter parents who received Thomas Lopez-Pierre’s recent email seeking $250,000 in donations to support his new “Harlem Charter School Parents PAC” (of which he will serve as treasurer and spokesman) should take a moment to Google his name before signing on. When they do, they’ll discover that Lopez-Pierre is also the creator of the Harlem Club, which became infamous a few years back for its founder’s misogynistic and classist descriptions of that organization’s mission and for his own beliefs about women’s place in the home and society:

Thomas Lopez-Pierre was looking for just the right men for the Harlem Club, a private social club for African-Americans and Latinos that he was forming in Manhattan.

For $5,000, mid-career professional men could become charter members; $2,500 would make them general members. But this club did not want just any moneyed men. Rap stars, Hollywood glitterati and professional athletes — what Mr. Lopez-Pierre labels the ”ghetto-fabulous crowd” — would not be welcome.

Women could join the Harlem Club, too. But only as associate members. And they had to be 35 or younger, unmarried, childless, college educated and willing to submit a head-to-toe photograph, to prevent unattractive women from making the cut … More »