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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Harlem Village Academy Really the Model for Urban Public School Reform? Times Columnist Bob Herbert Seems to Think So.

In his latest NY Times column, Bob Herbert has shown that he belongs to the Nick Kristof club of "journalists" who helicopter into an issue, traipse around for a few hours, get treated like royalty and receive a king's tour, hear a one-sided pitch, watch a show being put on for their benefit, and then go write a story as if they actually know something about the broader topic.

Herbert decided to dabble for a few hours in NYC public school education, and the Potemkin village story he presents is about the marvels of Harlem Village Academy (HVA) charter school on West 144th Street. Herbert makes much of one his one selected statistic: "In 2008, when the math and science test scores come in, Ms. Kenny's eighth graders had achieved 100 percent proficiency." That's commendable, of course, but here are a few figures he overlooked or failed to mention:

-- In 2006-07, the first year on which DOE reports data for HVA, the school had a Grade 5 class of 66 students. HVA has no students in Grades K-4, so Grade 5 appears to be the school's primary intake class. The next year, that same cohort as Grade 6 students numbered 45. A 32% loss of students in a single year for such a stellar school, even in the middle school crossover year, is worth explaining.

-- In 2006-07, HVA had a Grade 7 class of 42 students, but the next year's Grade 8 cohort numbered just 31, another 26% loss of students that raises an eyebrow or two.

-- One-third of the school's classes in 2008 were "taught by teachers without appropriate certification" according to the DOE's own data, and 42% of the teachers were reported either without certification (18%) or teaching outside their area of certification (24%). HVA did not report its teacher turnover rates for the DOE's 2007-08 report, nor does it appear to have ever disclosed those figures for the DOE's public reporting.

-- In 2006-07, HVA had zero students out of 200 classified at Limited English Proficient (LEP); in 2007-08, that number was still only three out of 233. By comparison, PS/IS 210, located just eight blocks away on West 152nd Street, had 173 LEP students out of a student population of 360 in 2007-08, or 48%.

-- In 2006-07, 53% of the HVA student body qualified for free lunch, rising to 61% in 2007-08. By comparison, 91% of the student population at nearby PS/IS 210 qualified for free lunch in 2006-07 (no data reported for 2007-08).

-- HVA reported 75 student suspensions in 2005-06 and 87 suspensions for 2006-07. The student body in those two years totaled 200 and 233, respectively. Nearby PS/IS 210 reported just 10 suspensions in each of those two years for student populations of 192 and 257, respectively. Both schools reported 94% attendance rates for 2006-07, the only year reported by HVA.

-- For 2007-08, HVA reported a Grade 8 cohort of 31 students. Thirty took the Grade 8 Math exam, but only 25 took the Grade 8 Science exam in which 96% were rated Proficient. What happened to the other six students, almost 20% of the class? If they were all too weak academically to have reached Proficient, the school's percentage would have dropped to 77% -- still good, but not as chest-thumping as 96%. Curiously, 41 of HVA's 43 Grade 8 student the previous year took the Science exam for 2006-07, and their proficiency percentage came in just there, at 76%.

-- A recent executive search letter seeking teachers on HVA's behalf included the following statement: The organization [Harlem Village Academies] recently completed a $67 million capital campaign to build a new high school in the heart of Harlem and has a robust pipeline of donors. Harlem Village Academies recently held its first ever gala, hosted by Hugh Jackman, with performances by John Legend, Patti LaBelle, and Joss Stone. The event, attended by Mayor Bloomber and Governor Patterson, generated net revenues of nearly $2 million. I can't resist adding here that the DOE is still aggressively pursuing its edict that NYC public school students are forbidden from selling homemade brownies, cupcakes, or cookies to raise $50 or $100 for their clubs and activities; if they could just get Hugh Jackman and Patti LaBelle!

-- Other recent news items from HVA's own website cite the involvement of Jack Welch (GE), Dick Parsons (Citigroup), Brian Williams (NBC), and Tiki Barber. Again, compare all this to the (steadily shrinking) resources DOE provides to PS/IS 210 and its much needier student population nearby. Note as well that Mayor Bloomberg is repeatedly quoted in the school's literature and on its website as describing HVA as "the poster child for this country." Is this really the Mayor's vision for NYC public schools: dependent on celebrities and the feel-good charitable funding fad of the moment among NYC's corporatocracy and its nouveau riche hedge fund managers?

-- Principal Deborah Kenny, as chief executive of Harlem Village Network (which includes one other school in East Harlem, the Leadership Village Academy Charter School), commanded a neat little compensation package totaling slightly under $420,000 last year. She is not the acting principal of any of her network's three schools, yet her compensation, spread over the 400-odd students in her network, adds a $1,000 per student overhead burden. If the entire NYC public school system operated in the same manner for its one million students, the combined compensation for all the comparable "network chief executives" would add one billion dollars to the city's education budget!

I should state here that I am not categorically opposed to charter schools in principle, any more than I have ever been opposed to parochial schools (from which, in Indianapolis, I am a partial product). What I object to is the unthinking, unquestioning acceptance by people like Mr. Herbert, who are supposed to know better, that privatizing public education based on hidden investors (with potentially their own agendas), paying outsized salaries to members of the club, dumping at will any kids who are difficult to teach or control, ignoring kids with English language or special education needs, and then blindly comparing these cream-skimmed apples to a wholly different and far more inclusive set of underfunded oranges somehow represents "the answer" for urban education in America. Mr. Herbert owes us much better than the misleading storyline he has provided in this instance, whatever his personal feelings and connections are.

Schools like Harlem Village Academy may indeed work well for the population they create for themselves after dumping the kids they don't want back into the "traditional" public school system, and they deserve to be credited for what they achieve as a result since their students appear to be benefiting. But that's not public education, that's just a tuition-free private school operating on public money in public space, supplemented by lots and lots of private money and making a few more, mostly white people like Ms. Kenny and Ms. Moskowitz shamefully well-paid.


NYC Educator said...

Thanks for posting this. I read the Herbert piece and was very curious about what it didn't include. You certainly answered my question.

David C. Bloomfield said...

Magnificent, Steve. When does your Times column start?

Anonymous said...

I find your your posting comical! admittance into charter public schools are by lottery, students are not hand-picked! And due to their rigorous academics, not only HVA, but most charter public schools scores surpasses most public schools scores!!!!

You should take a lesson from the charter public schools and perhaps your students will score better or as equal as their charter school counterparts!

Oh, and one more thing, CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS!!!!!

Anonymous said...

You make a good, if one sided, argument. This is pubic education, and shows that for the children and importantly their families that are willing to make the necessary sacrifices in and out of classroom, this intensive approach can work. Yes, it is much more expensive (class sizes are smaller, school days are longer), but this only illustrates that this expense is necessary. This one school's financial backing is unusual, but the approach is more expensive in general. I have seen parallel public and charter schools operating side by side. Students from the same population with similar abilities do better at the charters. Importantly they behave better and study harder both at school and at home. Keys are the ability and threat to suspend or expel that is not possible at the public school, and the lower percentage of students with learning and behavioral dissabilities. It is akin to tracking, but the percentage who make the grade is much much higher than with tracking at traditional city schools. One should note that the most successful approach is extremely taxing on teachers. Most teachers at these schools work extended hours, are very young, and don't have children. Many of the teachers are from the seemingly endless supply of Teach-for-America and teaching-fellows once they finish their initial 2-3 years in the regular school system. Is the system sustainable in the long run as a life-long career for these teachers: the answer to that is not clear. Maybe our country needs an army of teachers instead of soldiers, most of whom would serve for 5-10 years-- only an exceptional few would make a career out of it.

Lilibeth said...

Excuse me, but I happen to go to one of the schools, Harlem Village Academy Leadership, and I will be going to the high school next year. I advise that you don't base your opinion by just some facts. Have you ever been to one of our schools? Have you ever looked into the classrooms and see how focused we are, how hard we have worked all year? Today was our last day of school and guess what? Today the 8th graders took REGENTS, the same ones that our high school students were taking at the exact moment. We were taking 9th grade Integrated Algebra regents AND 11th grade US History and Government Regents and I'm pretty sure that we aced it. Yes, we have more suspensions, but we have stricter rules than any other school and it helps us shape our character. Yes, classes decrease in size as they move up in grades, but thats because kids who didnt care about their education CHOSE to leave and we cant stop them from leaving because its not in our control. We dont kick out students, we try to help them succeed to the very end. Remember that we have hundreds of more students who will do all that it takes to get the education that they deserve. Yes, some of our teachers are without certification or are teaching outside of their certification, but every single teacher cares about every single student and thats what really matters. They try their best, spend hours, HOURS, on lessons for us and are so dedicated to their work. Kids are picked by lottery, which means by random, so its only by chance that we dont have any LEP students. Yes, we have a less percentage of kids with free meals in our school, but our school is young, we are still growing, that percentage will increase. Yes, we get very large donations and more money is spent on each student, but thats because the DOE is not enough for the price of success and our teachers want the absolute best for us. You say that Bob Herbert wrote about something that he didnt know about but you should not be talking because you know nothing about us until you really look at us, and not just some reviews from the DOE, because they are only there to grade, and they dont see the deeper meaning of our school.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, this school filters those on track from the struggling students. My son was in public school for 5 years from kindergarten to 4th grade and he had never been suspended or even given a warning before and he did very well. He spent 2 years in this charter school from 5th to
6th grade. Within those 2 years, he was detained 4 times and suspended 2 times for nothing. I tranfered him to another charter school and I have been at peace of mind since then. Kids can never be kids in this school. They have no tolerance for kids at all. Parents should think twice before sending their children to this school.

Anonymous said...

My son attends the Village Academy that is located on 144th street in Harlem. At this school there is no rule about cell phones as long as they are not seen or heard. I seen are heard they are taking from the student and are held for a parents pickup. My problem is the school does not secure the property well enough by listing the students name/make and color of cellphone. My son phone was recovered by a teacher who allegedly secured it. When it came time for his Mom to pick it up, first she was told it was secured by the teacher who had taking it and that when the teacher return the property would be giving back to the student. Today a message was sent with the student that there was an alleged break in and the cell phone is missing. I plan on filing a Police Report against the teacher who took the property, due to the fact that the teacher became responsible for the property once he/she took it from the student and should've secured it.

LesleyAnne said...

To the Anonymous post, I advise actually looking at the numbers in this article. Charter schools are initially opened up as a lottery but they are infamous for making it VERY uncomfortable for children with behavioral issues and learning challenges to continue there. The students that are difficult to educate and that lack sufficient family support are the ones in that enormous, and frankly attrocious attrition rate! Of course you can work "miracles" when all you have left are the best, brightest, and hardest working. What happens to those "problem" students? They get sent back to the underfunded, understaffed and much maligned public schools who then must work a REAL miracle with them. The story of Harlem Village Academy is not at all surprising. It is an example of how the media latches onto a story without researching it fully and providing the public with a complete picture. Research clearly shows (And yes, I read research journals in education and educational policy, so I know what I'm talking about. Until you regularly read research journals in education, do not deign to argue with me.) perform at the same level as public schools or below. Of course, like in the traditional public system, there are always individuals schools that shine and achieve beyond the norm. What angers me most about the focus on schools like HVA is that it succeeds, not in in enlightening the public and helping to improve education over-all, but instead succeeds in perpetuating a harmful myth. Charter schools are NOT inherently better than public schools and MANY of them fail utterly. The public schools are one of the few institutions in this country to actually address the needs of all people regardless of their background, beliefs, and ability... or at least try to on their meager budgets and under the misguided hand of legislators that want to dabble in something they know nothing about. The one good thing we can take from the Herbert story... leave education to the educators. In large part, the success of this school is owed to the fact that a trained and experienced teacher heads and that their staff is given respect and commensurate compensation. Teachers are trained and have studied intensely in order to understand the way students learn. People in education do not go into education for the money or prestige. Those that thought it would be "easy" quickly drop out. Only the toughest and most passionate individuals can spend an entire career in the public schools. Let the moral of the HVA story be - leave educational policy to the people that understand it; to the people that went into this field because they had a passion for making a difference in a child's life and not because they wanted to have benefits for life, lots of money, and their faces plastered on signs... yes, I'm talking about politicians both local and federal.

bokaz said...

It really baffles me that professional reporters like Bob Herbert and Nick Kristof, so dogged and incisive on certain stories, can be so credulous in simply repeating the narrative they're handed by the corporate privateers who are determined to take over our public school system. Admirable as these journalists are in defending the most vulnerable among us, in other contexts, they really fall down on the job when it comes to our public school children by not asking the right (or even very many) questions of those who advocate a "free-market" approach to education. Maybe it's as simple as not having their own children in the public school system (incredible that Kenney's kids are in private school-- but this seems to be true of every "kids first" phony)Still, the "corporate reform" movement is doing enormous damage to our schools and our children, and respected journalists like Herbert and Kristof do enormous damage by giving their stamp of approval to those who would subvert the notion that in order to live in a civil society where all "are created equal", it must be the inalienable right of every child to have a free-- and equal-- education.

saddleshoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
saddleshoe said...

I was a fan of Herbert's. When my school closed, I thought for sure he would be interested in weighing in on the loss of services to overage and under-credited students. Sadly, he took no interest in the story. I'm not sure how much he follows what really happens in New York City schools, and which students he envisions when he talks about reform. I'm interested in a system which helps a broad range of students to succeed, not just those who don't have a difficult adolescence or who are good at conforming.

VictoriaPT said...

It amazes me how efforts to do better in any venue is always met with the worst resistance (ie Healthcare reform et al.) Anyone commenting on this issue should have a child in the Charter School, and having dealt with the "regular" NYC Public School System. I am a product of a NYC Public School system of the 70's and 80's and whild I have obtained my BA and a nursing license I can honestly say I envy my brother, my daughter and my grandson. My brother and daughter are currently in Harlem Village Academy High School and have been in attendance since 5th grade. I have had my issues, including teacher turn-over with HVA and I can assure you the statistics are cold and do not adequately speak to why this occurs. I have PERSONALLY known and very often still keep in touch with many of the teachers who have left for VARIOUS reasons not limited to their realization that what is required of them as a HVA educator was more than they were able to give at that given time. Not one teacher has expressed to me their dislike for the school, other faculty and most assuredly not the students. Was I annoyed at the disciplinary standards, absolutely! Have I found them unfair at times, certainly. Has my child and my brother become more discplined, consciencious and dedicated human beings, without a doubt.

VictoriaPT said...

Just like any FINE institution, they raise the bar, push the children and require more of them, because you know what, this world does also! Children from our neighborhood are expected to have to work twice as hard for half the recognition "other" children get. I am not looking at statistics, I am a prodict of that environment and a parent who wants the best for her child. I am living this life, not reporting on it to see my name. My daughter attending the elementary school down the block from HVA, could not read by January of her 1st grade year and I was disturbed by it yet the teacher simply told me in JANUARY that she would have to just repeat the grade but it's not uncommon. I was floored. I paid for Sylvan to assist me in teaching my child to read and in June she was reading on a third grade level. All aprents cannot afford to do that. When she graduated from 2nd grade the teached begged me not to put her in the neighborhood public school. "She will get lost and written off in there."

VictoriaPT said...

I paid for Catholic School until the end of 5th grade. At that point she was struggling in Math and Reading comprehension. I asked the school i was paying $350.00 a month to - to have her repeat the grade. They responded that since she passed the standardized test with a 66, they could not leave her back under the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND guidelines. i responded, " You mean to tell me that even if i request it you cannot have her repeat the grade? She is struggling in a lake and you want her to swim the English Channel? their response was, Yes. I was BLESSED enough to find HVA, explained the situation, apply for the lottery and she was picked with the understanding that yes, they start at 5th grade and she would have to repeat it. In her first year her Math and Reading shot up to above grade level and she was a happier child. the teachers made her feel welcome and special and they helped me nurture my baby. She is going to be a HS Senior the Fall of 2012 and has a slew of colleges who are interested in her. Her choice of institution. I know of parents who pulled their children out and for reasons like, the uniforms are too expensive, or they require too much from these students and us as parents. PARENTS are complaining about being an active part of their child's education. RIDICULOUS! Nevertheless, this type of education is not for people who cannot sacrifice the time, energy and emotional stress that happens when you strive for ABOVE THE BAR. My brother has grown and even with his ups and downs and emotional issues found comfort in the very real care and attention he gets at HVA. He has allowed his grades to drop below standard this year but did not leave HVA and was not "kicked out" as the article implies. he will be repeating the 11th grade and WILL graduate HS if that school has anything to say about it. They encourage the children to finish and let them know they are ENTITLED to college. It is the gift they can give to themselves and no one should be able to make them feel otherwise. THAT's why every child raised their hand, NY CHILD DID ALSO and she most assuredly being recruited by wonderful colleges and universities and she is limited only by her own criteria! I have met Deborah Kenny and Eva Moskowitz (my grandson attends Upper West Success Academy) and while outsides complain about the money celebrities and private funding pours into these schools they should be doing less complaining roll up their sleeves and help improve the regular NYC BOE non-charter public schools. Work in the school system, volunteer your time instead of your opinions. I have and I have seen, and lived the difference. I thank God above for HVA and Success Academies and I am willing to do what it takes to make sure the children in my life not only attend but graduate from exceptional colleges. That is what being a HVA and Success Academy parent has taught me. (Side note: compare what regular public schools in NYC, charter schools in NYC, public schools in NC and public schools in China are teaching 5th graders and the success rates. You will wonder how anyone is successful in life with a NYC public school education. Again, I have a BA and still i say the same thing).

VictoriaPT said...

Sorry for any spelling errors, typing fast... and annoyed. :)