Schools improve to compete with charters

Charter school competition is improving district-run schools in New York City, argues Eva Moskowitz in the Wall Street Journal.

Her Success Academy charter schools serve low-income, minority students, yet students “not only rank in the top 1% in math and top 3% in English among all state schools, but they take top honors in national debate and chess championships,” writes Moskowitz.

Critics charge her schools and other charters cherry-pick the best students and dump harder-to-educate students in district schools. If that’s so, “any academic gains by charters are offset by losses in district schools,” she writes.

The city is divided into 32 community school districts. Math and reading scores improved from 2006 to 2014 in community school districts with the most charters and fell in areas with few or no charters, Moskowitz writes.

Of the 16 charter-rich districts, 11 rose in the rankings. And of the eight among those 16 with the highest charter enrollment, all rose save one. The district that jumped furthest, rocketing up 11 spots between 2006 and 2014, was District 5 in Central Harlem, which has the city’s highest charter-school enrollment (43%).

And what about the 16 charter-light districts? Thirteen fell in the rankings, and not one rose. For example, District 12 in the Bronx, which in 2006 ranked higher than Central Harlem, now ranks 13 spots lower. District 29 in Queens, which in 2006 ranked 15 spots higher than Central Harlem and has fewer poor students, now ranks lower.

Average charter-school enrollment was 20% for those districts that rose in the rankings and 6% in those districts that fell.

If there holes in this, I don’t know New York City well enough to spot them.

NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña should be looking for ways to emulate successful charters, rather than dissing them, writes Richard Whitmire. “New district/charter collaborations were announced in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Rhode Island and Florida, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reported last month. They will join the more established compacts well under way in places such as Denver, Houston and San Jose.”

Moskowitz outmuscles the unions

In a Reason interview, Eva Moskowitz, founder of New York City’s phenomenally successful Success Academy charter schools, talks about how she built a political coalition to fight union power.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to squash Success Academy’s expansion plans, Moskowitz “bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids to the state capital in Albany to protest.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed the charter network, the mayor backed down and “state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.”

Nothing succeeds like Success


Success Academy charter students at a pep rally.  Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Eva Moskowitz just ruined her chances of getting 14 more Success Academy charters approved in New York City, writes Richard Whitmire in the Daily News. Her students aced the state’s math and English exams.

Whereas only 35% of New York City students scored proficient in math, 94% of her students rated as proficient. Whereas only 29% of city students met English standards, 64% of her students met the standards.

At her Bed-Stuy-1 school, where 95% of the students are African American or Latino, 98% passed the math test, with 8 in 10 scoring at the advanced level.

“Nobody likes competition,” writes Whitmire.

Statewide, 7 of the 15 top-scoring schools for math proficiency are Success charters.

What’s the secret of Success Academy’s success? asks Robert Pondiscio, also in the Daily News.

. . . 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level?

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping 63 points on the Celtics in the playoffs. It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by 18 strokes.

It’s harder to raise reading scores, Pondiscio writes. It’s “all but impossible to test prep your way to a high score on a third to eighth grade reading test, especially the more challenging Common Core tests.”

Yet two out of three Success Academy scholars were proficient in reading.

Expect to hear that Moskowitz has solved the achievement gap and that the humiliation of Mayor de Blasio, who targeted Moskowitz during his campaign and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze three of her schools out of Education Department space, is now complete.

From the other side of the room, we will hear charges that Success creams top students, gets rid of low-achievers through attrition and test preps kids within an inch of their lives, or even cheats.

We need “serious, unbiased experts and observers” to figure out “how these extraordinary results are being achieved,” Pondiscio writes. If they’re for real, we need to figure out how to replicate them.

The $663,000 superintendent

It’s a nice job if you can get it. Jose Fernandez, superintendent of a 6,500-student district in California, was paid $633,000 last year, the local CBS station discovered. The Centinela Valley Union High School District also loaned Fernandez more than $900,000 at 2 percent interest over 40 years.

Fernandez runs three high schools, a continuation school and an adult education center.

This is what happens when government officials think no one is watching, writes Jason Bedrick on Jay Greene’s blog.

Naturally, in response to the citizens’ outrage upon discovering that the school board they had elected was squandering their hard-earned money, the Centinela Valley school board officials did the only responsible thing: They hired a media-relations consultant.

Meanwhile, teachers are complaining they have to buy school supplies out of their own pockets.

Eva Moskowitz, who founded the high-performing Success Academy charters in New York City, is controversial because she earns $475,000 a year. (Half her pay comes from private donors.) The 22 Success charters educate 6,700 students.

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.

NYC’s teachers’ union enemy #1

Eva Moskowitz, who runs New York City’s largest charter network, is teachers’ union enemy number one, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, an old-school liberal Democrat, campaigned against Moskowitz:

 In May at a forum hosted by the United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, the potent government-employee local: “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. . . . She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.” In July, on his plans to charge charters—which are independently run public schools—for sharing space with city-run public schools: “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, O.K.?”

As mayor, he’s cut funding for charter construction, announced a moratorium on co-location and threatened to “roll back” co-locations already approved. 

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,”says Moskowitz, who’s also a Democrat. “It’s just wacky.”

As she reminds every audience, the 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.

If Success Academy can’t find space to expand, “most at-risk children would be sent back to failing schools,” says Moskowitz.

She’s backing charter-friendly Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, reports the Journal.

But which one gets to be Crassus?

Via EducationNext, a little inside baseball for those of you following the ongoing reform wars: Klein, Moskowitz, and Rhee have joined forces in New York.  It looks like that’s where they’re going to make a stand.  According to the NYT:

Like the national group, the state branch will promote the expansion of charter schools and the firing of ineffective schoolteachers, while opposing tenure.

I should visit the concession stand and pick up some popcorn.  This is going to be good.  Anyone want anything while I’m up?

Extra study, higher scores

Eve Moskowitz — “Evil” Moskowitz to her many enemies —  is profiled in New York magazine. A former New York City councilwoman, she founded a high-scoring, all-minority charter school, Harlem Success Academy, which is expanding rapidly.

Harlem Success Academy’s first class of third-graders outperformed “all but seven of the city’s 788 elementary schools, including perennial high fliers like P.S. 6 and P.S. 321″ and “trounced every third grade in Mamaroneck, Chappaqua, and Rye.”

. . . in contrast to their drill-and-kill competition, Moskowitz says her teachers prepped their third-graders a mere ten minutes per day … plus some added time over winter break, she confides upon reflection, when the children had but two days off: Christmas and New Year’s. . . . After some red-flag internal assessments, Paul Fucaloro kept “the bottom 25 percent” an hour past their normal 4:30 p.m. dismissal — four days a week, six weeks before each test. “The real slow ones,” he says, stayed an additional 30 minutes, till six o’clock: a ten-hour-plus day for 8- and 9-year-olds. Meanwhile, much of the class convened on Saturday mornings from September on.

The schools also provide enrichment, including “classes in chess and dancing, Greenmarket field trips, 150 science experiments per year. Their art is shown off at Sotheby’s, their essays at Barnes & Noble. It’s a college-bound culture, stem to stern.”

Moskowitz wanted to create schools “where I’d want to send my own children,” and now she has, the magazine notes. “Harlem Success Academy 3 enrolls Dillon, 7, and Hannah, 5, the lone white students there.”

P.S. 172 in Brooklyn, also known as Beacon School of Excellence, also posts very high test scores despite serving many low-income Hispanic students, reports the New York Times.  Like the Success Academies, the school schedules extra learning time for students who need it.

P.S. 172’s principal “finds money for coaches in writing, reading and math. Teachers keep detailed notes on each child, writing down weaknesses and encouraging them to repeat tasks. There is after-school help and Saturday school.” The school hired a speech therapist to figure out why seven or eight students were having language problems; a psychologist recommended how to help. There’s even a dental clinic on campus.

Students at P.S. 172 who need more help stay in their classrooms until 4:45 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, after a short snack break at the regular 3:05 quitting time.

The school benefits from consistent leadership: Jack Spatola has been the principal since 1984, the Times reports. He has a simple formula: “Teach, assess, teach, assess.”

Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average.

Years ago, parents asked for their children to be “placed directly in English-only classes, with extra help from teachers of English as a Second Language.” The school dropped bilingual classes.

Anna Phillips of Gotham Schools visited a B-rated school where bored students filled out test-prep workbooks — or played computer games or slept or stared into space. She saw no teaching by teachers, who were “were barely present.”