Private school head hits ‘elite’ charters

In defense of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda,  Steve Nelson attacks charter schools for enrolling the children of motivated parents and taking money from wealthy donors Nelson is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, an elite private school in New York City.

. . .  the (charter) lottery is rigged in that the pool is comprised only of self-selected families with social capital and high motivation. They claim to operate with more efficiency, but their budgets are augmented by an infusion of capital from billionaire philanthropists and hedge fund managers who know a lot about PR and very little about education.

Charter schools and other “so-called” reforms  reform” will “divide us by creating pockets of relative privilege while leaving the rest of the nation’s children to languish in neglect and poverty,” writes Nelson.

So, all of the nation’s children who don’t attend charters are languishing in neglect and poverty? Or maybe it’s just the public school kids.

The Calhoun School is a “pocket of rather extraordinary privilege on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. Tuition runs from $41,700 in kindergarten to $43,580 in high school and parents are asked to donate more.

Calhoun’s board is full of wealthy financiers, points out Matthew Levey.  The chairman of the board runs a hedge fund, the vice-chair is a partner at a financial firm, the treasurer manages two investment funds, a board member is a portfolio manager and another is a broker.

Charter co-location: A phantom threat

Charter co-location — having a charter school share a building with a district-run school — is a “phantom threat,” argues Marcus Winters in a New York Daily News commentary. Co-locations don’t affect test scores for students in traditional public schools, his research shows. 

“Rent-free co-locations have helped charter schools expand rapidly in New York City,” despite receiving no state funding for facilities, Winters writes.

More than half of New York City’s traditional public schools share space with other schools and with community organization, he notes. Only charter co-location is controversial.

Complaints range from fairly small issues such as insufficient closet space or changes to the building’s lunch schedule to more serious issues that could impair a school’s effectiveness, such as classroom overcrowding and the loss of classroom space used for small-group instruction and teacher preparation.

Looking at test scores over five years, co-locations — whether with other traditional public schools or with charter schools — do not show “any discernible impact on student achievement.”

New York City charter students outperform similar students in traditional public schools, two studies have found. A 2013 CREDO study found gains for urban charter students in New York City and elsewhere.

Flash: Charters aren’t a silver bullet

Applying to Washington D.C. charter schools taught Conor Williams that school choice relies on chance. Lots of parents want to get their kids into the good charters. A lottery decides who makes it.

There are Hebrew, Chinese, and Spanish language schools. One promises Spanish immersion, discovery-based learning, and an emphasis on ecological sustainability. There are multiple Montessori charters in our area . . .

D.C. has some “great” district-run schools, but they’re open only to people who can afford million-dollar homes, Williams writes. So parents have turned to charter schools. “In 2012, there were more than 35,000 students on charter schools’ waitlists (though some were duplicates). There were only 77,000 students in the city that year.”

Charters’ lotteries are neutral, he writes. His “son, with his two highly educated, almost-middle-class, white parents” has no advantage “over his friend whose mother dropped out of high school and is raising her child alone.”

It’s not perfect. Savvy parents can “get around town” and apply to multiple lotteries, he complains. However, D.C. has unified its district and charter lotteries.  While “a handful of high-performing charters stayed outside the system,” parents can apply to most schools with one application.

The D.C. Council has considered letting charter schools give admissions preference to students who live nearby. As the city gentrifies, that could lock low-income families out of high-performing charters, Williams writes. What about weighted lotteries to give a preference to disadvantaged students?

He doesn’t mention helping good charters expand, so they can serve more students.

The headline says Williams “learned about inequality” but his conclusion is that charters are a “mild corrective to inequity” though not a “solution.” Not a silver bullet? Really! 

The mayor vs. the charters

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s denial of school space to three Success Academy charters is “part of the national “pushback” movement against school reform,” write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire on Slate. So far, it’s not going well. “By going after the charters, he is attacking one of the most promising urban school reform strategies available to Democratic mayors across the country these days, and he’s doing it without offering a clear alternative.”

De Blasio misread his mandate, writes Conor Williams on The Daily Beast.  

. . . at one of the schools he’s evicting, Success Academy Harlem 4, 83 percent of students scored proficient or better on the state’s math assessment in 2013. Nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the school is getting great results.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted a video purporting to tell “the real story” of school co-locations. It features parents touting the virtues of the non-charter schools that were sharing a building with Success Academy Harlem 4. “They have plenty of activities, they have a very good after-school program,” says one.

At P.S. 149 — the district run school in the building –5 percent of students scored proficient on the math test; 11 percent were proficient in English.

Democracy Now hosts a debate on “privatized education”  with former public school teacher Brian Jones and Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter network.

Sam Chaltain thinks this “isn’t really about co-locations, or charter schools, or the right of a parent to choose: it’s about the ongoing tension between our country’s delicate, dual allegiance to the core values of capitalism (consumption & competition) and the core values of democracy (conscience & consensus).”

Does democracy demand that Harlem parents send their children to P.S. 149?

“I voted for DeBlasio,” says Shamona Kirkland. “But I didn’t vote for you to take my child’s future.”

Success charters lose space in NYC

The high-performing Success Academy charter network will lose space for three schools, the New York Post reports. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Education reversed “co-location” decisions made last year.

The actions block new elementary schools in Queens and at Murry Bergtraum High School near City Hall. Bergtraum is the F-rated school running an online “credit recovery” program that’s left students illiterate.

At Success Academy Harlem 4, already in operation, the decision will leave 210 fourth and fifth graders without a school in the fall.

The Harlem charter is one of the top performing schools in the city, said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. At Success Academy’s Harlem 4, “83 percent of the students passed the state math exam last year, putting it in the top one percent of all schools in the state. Why would anyone want to stop that kind of student achievement?”

Success charters’ success has annoyed the mayor, write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in USA Today. The schools, run by the controversial Eva Moskowitz, have shown that low-income minority students can earn high test scores.

Consider the third-graders at Success Academy Harlem 5. They share a public school building with P.S. 123. If Harlem 5 children lose their seats, they might have to enroll in P.S. 123.

. . . The schools have similar students, but 88% of Harlem 5 third-graders passed New York’s math test compared with 5% of P.S. 123′s.

New York City charter students are outperforming peers who attend traditional public schools, a study by Stanford’s CREDO found. There are 70,000 students enrolled in the city’s charter schools and 50,000 more students on charter school waiting lists.

Expulsion is ‘heartbreaking but necessary’

Chicago charter schools expel 6 of every 1,000 students compared to .5 for public schools, the district reported. “At three campuses in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which has faced backlash over its disciplinary approach, anywhere from 2 percent to nearly 5 percent of students were expelled in the last school year,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Expulsion is heartbreaking but necessary, argues Michael Milkie, founder and superintendent of the Noble schools, in a Chicago Sun-Times commentary.

Milkie and his wife taught in Chicago public schools before starting Noble 15 years ago. They saw a disruptive minority make it difficult to teach and learn. Their 14 charter schools are known for strict discipline.  

We believed that the best way to support students’ success in college, career and life was to run schools with a culture of high expectations and personal accountability. 

. . . We’ve made a promise to our parents that their children will learn in a safe, calm and focused environment. We promise that our classrooms and halls will be free from violence and disruptive behavior. We promise that we will socially and academically support our students while holding high expectations for them despite the many social issues they face.

Noble schools don’t have metal detectors, police, bullying or fighting, Milkie writes. Attendance and graduation rates are high and 90 percent of graduates go on to college.

Students “who threaten the safety and environment of others” are expelled, he writes. The network’s expulsion rate is about 1 percent per year.  Noble will not “compromise the culture and learning environment of the 99 percent of students for the disruptive 1 percent.”

The well-meaning campaign to reduce suspensions and expulsions may backfire, writes Michael Goldstein on Puzzl_Ed, the Match Education blog. If a school environment is “crazy,” teachers will leave. “Kids in the most troubled schools typically lack choice.”

Goldstein remembers heartbreaking expulsion decisions in Match High‘s early years.

Fritz was carrying a weapon which he said . . . was to protect him from gang members in his neighborhood, and he would never use it in our school community. We believed him. We had a clear rule, though, and he was expelled. . . . You end up thinking crazy things like “Should our students be able to check their weapons at the door, like a saloon in the Wild West, and pick them up on the way home, because the police in Boston are utterly unable to protect (minority) kids from gangs?”

. . . There’s part of an educator that thinks “Hey if that was my kid, and he had to live in that unsafe neighborhood, and the reality was that yes, carrying a weapon poses obvious risks (of escalation, of arrest), but also genuinely also serves as a deterrent so he can go to and from school without humiliation, what would I tell my kid to do?” It’s not always an easy question.

Schools should be clear about rules and consequences, Goldstein concludes. Let parents decide whether they want a strict or lax regime.

Many Chicago and suburban public schools aren’t reporting campus violence, despite a state law, reports NBC.

Common Core? What’s that?

The Education Roadtrip is 50CAN’s new survey of Americans’ attitudes toward education. Results can be broken out by region.

Respondents trust teachers to improve schools, but not teachers’ unions. And definitely not “elected officials in Washington, D.C.”  Eighty percent said they “do not trust” officials.

Americans aren’t well-informed or consistent, notes Sarah Garland on the Hechinger Report. Nearly three-fourths backed school choice and letting schools cut through red tape to make changes. Yet only 54 percent wanted to open more charter schools and 58 percent supported “using public school funding to create schools that are allowed to set their own administrative rules and explore innovative solutions.” Forty-four percent thought charters are private schools.

Most people — 58 percent — said they didn’t know what the Common Core is. Less than a third supported the standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Twelve percent were opposed.

Two thirds of those surveyed backed “holding all students across the country to a uniform set of high standards,” the report’s authors noted. “Most Americans would support the Common Core if they just knew what it was.”

D.C. faces middle-school slump

As Washington D.C. gentrifies, more educated parents are sending their children to neighborhood elementary schools. But choosy parents aren’t choosing district-run middle schools, reports the Washington Post.

Ross Elementary in Dupont Circle has a long wait list for pre-k, but few fifth graders. Many D.C. charters start in fifth grade. Those who finish at Ross typically go to charters, private schools or the suburbs, reports the Post. “In the past three years, just one Ross fifth-grader out of 47 went on to attend the assigned public middle school, which many parents consider substandard.”

Among parents who send their children to a D.C. public school, 31 percent say they’d send a child to a DCPS middle school, 30 percent would seek a charter middle school and the rest say “they would look to private schools or leave the city.”

Magnet schools compete with charters

Magnet schools  are making a comeback as urban school districts compete with charter schools, reports the New York Times.

The number of children in Miami-Dade County attending magnet programs — which admit students from anywhere in the district and focus on themes like art, law or technology — has grown by 35 percent in the past four years. These children now account for about one in six students in the district.

. . . Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”

Magnets are district schools with unionized teachers. But, like charters, they pose a threat to neighborhood public schools. Motivated students are more likely to choose an alternative. 

Unlike charters, magnet schools can set admissions requirements, reports the Times.

At Coral Reef Senior High School, a prestigious magnet that includes programs in the arts, engineering and an International Baccalaureate track, less than half of the 3,229 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and close to a fifth are white, compared with just 7.7 percent of the district. African-American students, who represent close to a quarter of the district, are only 13.5 percent of the student body at Coral Reef.

Magnet schools were created as a desegregation tool — with mixed success.

Charter grads go farther, earn more

Charter high school students go farther in school and earn more as adults, concludes a Mathematica study. Researchers followed Florida and Chicago charter eighth graders for 11 years, comparing those who attended a charter high school and classmates who went to a traditional high school.

Charter students don’t earn higher test scores, on average, unless they attend “no excuses” charters, previous research has found. However, they’re significantly more likely than similar students to complete high school and enroll in college. 

. . . students attending Chicago and Florida charter high schools were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than comparison groups of students who attended charter middle schools but matriculated to traditional public high schools.

The former charter high students earned more at age 25 than the control group, Mathematica found. That suggests charter high schools “are endowing students with skills, knowledge, work habits, motivation, and values that are important for long-term success but are not fully captured by test scores.”