Is Success Academy too strict?

New York City’s Success Academy charters have very high test scores and very strict discipline policies, writes Vox’s Libby Nelson.

One principal drew up a “Got to Go” list with the names of 16 disruptive students, reports the New York Times. Nine left the school, in part due to frequent suspensions.

A different Success Academy school suspended kindergartners and first-graders 44 times in one year, with one child suspended 12 times, reports PBS’s NewsHour.

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

One parent complained of her son’s suspensions on camera. Eva Moskowitz, the charter network’s founder and CEO, published the student’s disciplinary record, which included punching and choking teachers and throwing a classmate into a wall.

Success Academy runs 34 New York City schools with 11,000 students, most of them black or Hispanic and poor, writes Nelson. “This year, 93 percent of Success Academy students tested as proficient in math in 2015, compared with just 35 percent of kids in New York as a whole; 68 percent tested as proficient in reading, compared with 30 percent citywide.”

Admirers point to a strong curriculum and intense teacher training.

Critics argue that the schools are narrowly focused on test preparation, including rewards for students who score well on practice tests and a combination of detention and study hall for those who do not.

Research suggests that pushing out low performers doesn’t explain Success Academy’s incredible success, writes Nelson. The scores are too high.

Strict discipline does matter. Suspending disruptive students allows Success to maintain safe, orderly classrooms. That’s a big draw for many parents and a huge “educational advantage” over district-run schools.

In affluent suburban schools, bright students “almost never share a classroom with challenging, high-needs kids,” writes Robert Pondiscio. Public school administrators “marginalize and punish kids who act out – even for infractions that are beneath notice at chaotic inner-city schools.”

Universal pre-k may widen achievement gap

“Universal” pre-k could widen New York City’s achievement gap, writes Robert Pondiscio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $300 million program to provide free, full-time pre-K to all children is not reaching the neediest children, reports Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor of education and public policy.

Mayor de Blasio’s pre-K program added only 195 kids from the bottom 20 percent of ZIP codes this fall, according to Fuller’s data. “Middle-income neighborhoods are showing the greatest gains in registration, while enrollments have actually fallen in nineteen of the city’s thirty-four poorest zip codes,” notes Pondiscio.

“We just don’t have the evidence to back why we would heavily finance pre-K in middle class and upper class communities,” Fuller told ProPublica. Children from low-income families need early education the most, he wrote earlier, but the city’s program advantages well-off communities.

Pass the test, earn a future

Tested follows eighth-graders prepping for the exam that determines who gets a seat at New York City’s most elite public high schools. Asian-Americans make up 73 percent of enrollment at the city’s elite schools, blacks and Latinos only 5 percent.

Pope visits a reborn Catholic school


Children from four Catholic schools practice a song for the pope’s visit at Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote, Newsday

At Our Lady Queen of Angels, a K-8 school in East Harlem, students from the area’s Catholic schools spent days preparing for Pope Francis’ visit, reports Newsday.

Students rehearsed the song, St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

LaSalle Duke-Sample, 9, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo, will show the pope his diorama — a grassy meadow and crystal blue stream that is surrounded by trees and a farmer’s fruit and vegetable stand.

“We are thanking God for the gifts of the Earth: water, trees that give us oxygen, animals that give us food. My favorite is the fruit,” LaSalle said.

Eight years ago, Our Lady Queen of Angel’s parish closed, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. But the school was reborn as one of six campuses in “a first-of-its-kind Catholic schools network, to be governed by the archdiocese and operated and financed by a nonprofit school management organization, which I oversee.”

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Ahead of the Heard has more on the “redemptive” private school management organizations (PSMOs) that are saving urban Catholic schools.

After a 50-year retreat for Catholic schools, there’s hope for a renaissance in Catholic education thanks to social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, write Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson.

However tuition-free charter schools are tough competition for Catholic schools that don’t have philanthropic support.

New York City Catholic schools have received $125 million to fund scholarships for inner-city children. That includes a $40 million gift from Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO at Blackstone, who are Jewish.


Pope Francis greets the crowd outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.

Who will teach computer science?

All New York City public high schools will offer computer science in 10 years, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Who will teach computer science? asks Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post. Public schools already have trouble finding qualified math teachers and it will be even harder to hire computer science professionals, who have much more lucrative options.

IBM worked with New York City public schools and the community college system, to create P-TECH, which prepares students for technology careers.

IBM worked with New York City public schools and the community college system, to create P-TECH, which prepares students for technology careers.

Tech CEO Daniel Gelernter doesn’t look for a degree in computer science when he’s hiring a software developer, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes.”

If universities can’t keep up, how can the city’s public schools? asks Riley. “The equipment will be outdated before it’s even installed. And the kind of knowledge that will actually be useful in the real world is changing constantly.”

De Blasio hopes computer science classes will help prepare students for technical careers. But will they?

A number of years ago, a girl I mentored told me that she planned to attend the John Jay High School for Law because she wanted to become a lawyer and her middle school guidance counselor told that school would start her down the right path.

When I explained that to be a lawyer, you needed to go to law school and in order to go to law school you needed to go to a good college and in order to go to a good college you had to learn a lot in high school and that John Jay was one of the worst in the city, she and her immigrant mother looked flabbergasted.

Nationwide, a quarter of high schools offer a programming course; 6 percent teach Advanced Placement computer science.

New York City officials aren’t talking just about AP. They want to expand computer science from elite high schools to schools where most students are below grade level in math and reading, reports the New York Times.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who financed the new Academy for Software Engineering, believes the program shows that all students can benefit from computer science classes.

But I’d guess the academy hires computer science teachers who understand computer science to students who have some interest in the subject.

For years, California offered bilingual classes without having anywhere near enough bilingual teachers. It didn’t work.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

NYC’s door-to-door push to involve parents


Tameka Carter, left, and Bliss Requa-Trautz, knocked on doors of families with Public School 112 students in the Edenwald housing projects in the Bronx. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

In hopes of turning around struggling schools, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has spent a million dollars to “train parents in organizing techniques and to hire people to knock on the doors of roughly 35,000 parents,” reports the New York Times.

“Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”

The initiative is modeled after Cincinnati’s “community schools.”

 So on a hot afternoon in late August, one of the outreach workers, Tameka Carter, a single mother of four from Brooklyn who said she had always been active in her children’s schools, went from building to building in the Edenwald housing project in the Bronx, knocking on doors of families with children in Public School 112.

When Ms. Carter did find the parents who were listed on her clipboard, typically mothers, they listened as she explained what it meant that their child’s school was becoming a “community school.”

Parents were asked to rate “how much they would value potential new programs, like medical services, tutoring or summer activities” or “an opportunity for parents to sit at the decision-making table.”

“Meaning?” Maria Pena, a 31-year-old mother of three, asked.

Ms. Carter explained that she could “sit at the table” with P.S. 112’s “community school team,” a group of parents and staff members who would decide what programs the school needed.

“I would definitely sit,” Ms. Pena said. “The problem is if they would listen.”

The administration will spend $106 million over two years to add social and health services at schools.

Parents will come to student performances or award ceremonies, but not to workshops on how to help their children with schoolwork, says Susan Barnes, principal of P.S. 112. “Most of my parents are non-readers,” she said. “People don’t want you to know that they can’t read or write.”

Most types of parental involvement have little or no effect on children’s academic performance, said Keith Robinson, a University of Texas professor who’s studied the issue. Parents’ expectations — will their child go to college? — does make a difference.

Life and death of an urban high school

Once the largest high school in the U.S., Queens’ Jamaica High had only 24 students in its final graduation class, writes Jelani Cobb in The Life and Death of Jamaica High School in The New Yorker.

Cobb, who went to Jamaica High in its prime, earned a diploma in 1987 and went on to Howard.

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981. CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.
CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE

The New York City Department of Education closed the once respected high school due to “persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent,” he writes. Four new “small schools” now share the old building.

The high school started to slip when talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other schools, a magnet and an exam school, on college campuses, Cobb writes.

In 2004, the Bloomberg administration let students apply to any high school in the city. Savvy parents found the best schools. Less-savvy parents took what was left.

Once a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix, Jamaica High became 99 percent minority and 63 percent low-income in the year before it closed.

In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, hunger strikers hope to save Dyett High School, a low-performing school that has lost students to competing schools.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of destabilizing the school in 2014 by starving it of resources.

A community group wants to run it as a neighborhood school with a focus on “leadership and green technology.” The principal envisions a school with an sports theme. Another proposal would create an arts theme.

“Schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships, writes Eve Ewing. “Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.”

Bronzeville parents have been choosing alternatives to Dyett for years now, just as Queens parents have been choosing alternatives to Jamaica High. Can they be persuaded to return to the neighborhood school?

What’s a rhombus? Ask a 4-year-old


Cheryle Chewning leads a discussion about shapes with her pre-K class at P.S. 93 in New York City. Photo: Steve Remich, Wall Street Journal

Some preschools are teaching math, reports John Higgins in the Seattle Times.

On a recent morning in South Seattle, Kristin Alfonzo challenged her preschoolers to make the number 7 using beads strung across two rows of pipe cleaners. One 5-year-old boy slid four beads across the top and three across the bottom. Another did the reverse, and one kid pushed all seven on one row. “I see many different ways of making 7!” Alfonzo said over the ruckus of kids counting out loud.

Research shows students who start out behind in math rarely catch up, writes Higgins. Seattle educators hope introducing math in preschool — in a playful way — will prepare children to be successful in elementary school.

Statewide, only 53 percent of children arrive in kindergarten with basic math skills. At South Shore PreK-8, where almost two-thirds of students live in lower-income families, 95 percent learn entry-level math skills in pre-kindergarten.

Boston’s city-run preschools use the play-based Building Blocks math  curriculum, which includes geometry.

In a game called “feely box,” the teacher puts a thin foam shape in a box with holes on two sides.

“It has four L [right] angles and four sides,” said Hoang-Son, a boy at Everett Elementary, as he cupped his hand around a rhombus.

“Can you tell us anything else about the sides?” asked his teacher, Sara Gardner.

“All the sides are the same length,” he said.

Someone guessed correctly that it was a square, but Gardner pushed for more, until Hoang-Son confirmed that the equal sides meant it was a rhombus, too.

I learned what a “rhombus” was in seventh grade.

New York City will spend $6 million to roll out Building Blocks in free preschool classes, reports the Wall Street Journal. Preschools will be given “books, related games and seven days of training, plus coaching.”

At P.S. 93 in the Bronx, teacher Gabriela Yildirim “held up a moose puppet named Mr. Mix-up and challenged him to look at several shapes to find one with two parallel lines.” After the moose picked a triangle, the children corrected him. “A trapezoid!” they said.

Yes, trapezoids came up in seventh grade for me.

Still, early learning may not stick. A 2011 study of Building Blocks found “very few differences at the end of kindergarten, and virtually none at the end of first grade.” Researchers speculated that children’s preschool math gains vanished because “primary grade curricula and teachers do not build” on what they’d learned.

Can’t fail 

New York City gave me a ­diploma I didn’t deserve,” 18-year-old Melissa Mejia told the New York Post.

She frequently cut her first-period government class at a Queens high school, didn’t turn in homework and skipped the final. To her surprise, she earned a passing grade and a diploma.

Teachers are under pressure to pass students and keep up their school’s graduation rate, said Andrea McHale, who taught Mejia at Bryant High in Queens.  “If we don’t meet our academic goals, we are deemed failures as teachers. . . . I thought it was in her best interest and the school’s best interest to pass her.”

A Virginia mother in an affluent Virginia suburb is complaining that her chronically truant daughter passed English, reports Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. The girl skipped the final exam,  but earned an A for the fourth quarter, bringing her F average up to a D.

The teacher admitted the girl hadn’t earned an A, but said she “participated in several class discussions and demonstrated that she understood the bulk of the material throughout the year,” despite poor attendance and lack of effort. The final counts only if it raises the student’s grade.

“I complained recently about D.C. schools’ giving D’s for no work to get as many uncooperative students as possible graduated so the schools wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore,” writes Mathews. It’s an issue in the suburbs too.

The Fairfax student was delighted with the results, telling her parents she might hold the world record for getting passing grades despite doing nothing. Her parents want her to grow up. They wonder why the school system won’t help.

“If she still hasn’t mastered the skills or tackled the assumed requirements for a high school diploma — such as writing a paper, exploring historical periods, reading the classics and presenting a project — she will never succeed in college,” the mother said.

The mother is planning to send this kid to college? The girl sounds like a good candidate for a competency-based alternative program. If she’s so smart that she already knows it all, let her prove it. Or she could try to get a job that doesn’t require showing up.