School discipline 101

Suspension helps create safe, orderly, schools — and tells parents they share responsibility for their child’s behavior, writes Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academies in the New York Post.

Success Academy Harlem 5 suspends 14 percent of students at least once during the year, compared to 9 percent for  PS 123, a district school in the same building. The charter had one violent or disruptive incident (a theft) in 2010-11, the most recent year for which data is available, compared to 92 incidents at the district school.

Most “parents like high standards for student conduct,” Moskowitz writes. It’s one reason they choose a Success charter.

It’s not just about safety. Order and civility are critical ingredients in a positive learning environment. Even something like making fun of another student’s answer in class — a comparatively mild misbehavior — can shut a student down intellectually and emotionally, particularly one with a learning disability.

To be sure, discipline isn’t the whole answer. Educators must also build positive relationships with students, create a warm and nurturing school environment, set clear expectations and work closely with parents to develop individualized behavior plans for children who struggle.

But suspensions also have a place. They’re a school’s version of giving a child a “time out.” By keeping a student out of school for a day or two, they convey to the child, in the simplest and most concrete way possible, that there are minimum standards of conduct for being part of the school community.

Sending a child home for a day or two puts the burden of children’s misbehavior on the parents, Moskowitz writes. “Many politicians give lip service to supporting teachers — yet would undermine them by depriving them of the tools they need to create a safe learning environment.”

Dropout Nation disagrees: “Suspensions rarely help kids understand how their behaviors affect their schoolmates and the cultures of the schools they attend.”

Harlem kids win big in school lottery

Winning the lottery to get into the Harlem Success Academy charter school is a very big win indeed, concludes a University of Pennsylvania study by Jonathan Supovitz and Sam Rikoon, education professors.

Students who won the first-grade lottery were compared to students who applied but lost out and stayed in district-run schools. By third grade, the HSA students performed 48 points higher in math and 35 points higher in reading than the lottery losers. That’s roughly 13 percent higher.

HSA students scored 19 percent higher than similar third graders in neighborhood schools.

Harlem Success Academy is featured in two new documentaries, The Lottery and Waiting for Superman, notes Education News.

Both films view the enrollment lottery from the eyes of parents who believe that winning a spot in the high performing public charter school is the key to their child’s future.

Which may be true.

Last year, 7,000 students applied for 1,100 spaces at Success Academy schools in Harlem and the South Bronx. That means there are a lot of motivated parents whose children lost the lottery.

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.”

Union fights for ‘D’ Harlem schools

Harlem parents are refusing to enroll their children in two low-rated Harlem elementary schools. But the United Federation of Teachers, backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, is fighting a plan to phase out the schools, which would be replaced by charters run by the Harlem Success Academy.  HSA, which opened in 2006, doesn’t have enough space for the students who want to attend, reports the New York Daily News. Meanwhile, PS 194 is more than half empty; PS 241 is more than two-thirds empty. Both schools have ‘D’ ratings.

PS 194 has space for 628 students in kindergarten to fifth grade, yet enrollment has fallen to 280. PS 241 has room for 1,007 students but draws 310, including just 11 kindergartners. That pitiful number means that only 15% of the kindergartners who reside in the zone attend.

Harlem Success Academy, which eventually will run K-8 schools, organized neighborhood parents to protest, reports Gotham Schools.

“I’m tired of these special interests claiming they represent me. Did the teachers union ask me if P.S. 241 should close? If they asked me, I would have said, yes, absolutely” said the mom of Emanuel Agbavitor, a first grader at P.S. 241. “I never get to see my child’s teacher, I don’t know how he’s doing in school and they don’t return my phone calls.”

. . . “The teachers union is trying to prevent a bad school from closing and me from sending my child to the school of my choice,” said Thiong Sall, mother of two children zoned for P.S. 241. “Mayor Bloomberg should not listen to the union and should instead listen to parents like me.”

“I live across the street from 194 and although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me, I wouldn’t put my child in there because the children are well behind,” said Melissa Haley. “I used to attend 194. I would prefer a school where it is not only clean which 194 isn’t, but also where there are teachers that are willing to see children get not 65% but 100%.”

“I feel good about them closing 194. Teachers are there just for a paycheck, not to help kids learn,” said Shamecca Davis, mother of Tytiana. “Children beat each other up and there are not enough supervisors.”

It’s easier to get into Harvard than to get into top-rated Democracy Prep, a Harlem charter middle school which will add a high school, reported the New York Post. Some 1,500 parents applied for 100 seats. Students were chosen by lottery.