Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Parent sues City Hall for refusing to release unredacted decision memo on class size

Decision memo p.2
For immediate release: July 17, 2018
For more information contact: Leonie Haimson; leoniehaimson@gmail.com; 917-435-9329.

On Monday, July 16, 2018, Brooke Parker, a NYC public school parent, filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York, challenging the almost complete redaction of a City Hall Decision Memo that contained a discussion of the reasons for the city’s rejection of several recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group, including a proposal to align the school capacity formula with smaller class sizes.  She is represented in court by Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel of Advocates for Justice, a pro-bono law firm.
Brooke is also a member of NYC Kids PAC, which had sent a candidate survey to Bill de Blasio when he first ran for Mayor.  In June 2013, his campaign returned the survey, in which he promised to  Reform the blue book formula so it more accurately reflects overcrowding and incorporates the need for smaller classes.”
In February 2014, his newly-appointed Chancellor Carmen Farina appointed a working group to come up with proposals to improve the accuracy of the formula used to devise school capacity and utilization. The working group contained administrators, teachers and parents, and was co-chaired by Lorraine Grillo, the President of the School Construction Authority and Shino Tanikawa,  a parent leader and then-President of the Community Education Council in District 2 in Manhattan.
As explained by a NYC DOE spokesperson, “"Over the last decade, communities across the city have been cut out of decision-making processes that undermined the voices of educators and families. That approach is now gone—and we're replacing it with one that reflects a genuine desire to engage with communities.  With new leadership that will listen, it's a new era for our system. Families and educators need to know that we're going to seek their feedback and engage with them as much as we can."
The Blue Book Working Group made its first round of proposals that were accepted by the DOE in June 2014, including that trailers would no longer be counted in estimating school capacity.  In December 2014, the Working Group proposed thirteen more changes to the formula, including that the DOE should align the school capacity formula to the smaller class sizes in their original, state-approved Contract for Excellence class size reduction plan.  This would require a formula that assume no more than 20 students per classroom in grades K-3, 23 students in grades 4-8 and 25 students in high school, to ensure adequate space to lower class size to those levels. 
On July 28, 2015, without explanation, the City sent an email to reporters, in which the seven recommendations that were accepted were noted, as well as three proposals it would “study.” The email omitted any mention of the three proposals it had rejected outright, including the one that several members of the Working Group said was the most important: to align school capacity with smaller classes.
As Lisa Donlan, a member of the BBWG and the President of the Community Education Council in District 1 said at the time, “Certainly for me and for many of us, the class size issue was the biggest issue that we felt would have the greatest impact on bringing us to painting an accurate picture of reality and making sure that all kids got access to an adequate education — hands down.”
When reporters asked why the City had rejected the proposal on class size, the only answer offered by a Department of Education spokesman was that schools would "continue to work toward this critical goal" of reducing class sizes.
Following up on an earlier Freedom of Information request by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, Brooke Parker filed a FOIL request in on January 24, 2018 seeking “The City Hall 2015 decision memo about which proposals of the Blue Book working group to accept or reject, with the reasons for this decision included.” 

On February 2, 2018, the Mayor’s office sent in response an eight-page document entitled “Decision memo” that was almost completely blacked out, with no mention of the proposals rejected and no information provided on why certain proposals were accepted and others not.  The rationale offered for the redactions was that the items redacted were “inter-agency discussions” and thus exempt from FOIL, pursuant to Public Officers Law § 87(2)(g).  

Yet this law also states that any “final agency policy or determinations” are not exempt from FOIL, as this memo certainly was.  It also makes clear that any inter-agency materials that contain factual data or instructions to staff that affect the public are not exempt, and it is extremely unlikely that no data or facts were cited in the discussion of these decisions. Ms. Parker appealed the redactions to the City, and on March 15, 2018, Henry T. Berger of the Mayor’s Office responded, “Your appeal is denied because I have determined that the redactions were proper.”  Thus, she had no further option but to file an appeal in court.

As Ms. Parker points out, “The decision made by the Mayor’s office to reject the recommendation of the Blue Book working group to align school capacity with smaller classes was terribly unfortunate, and will make it far more difficult to achieve the smaller classes that NYC children need to receive their constitutional right to a sound basic education, according to the State’s highest court in the CFE case.  But then to suppress any of the reasons for this decision and black out the entire discussion explaining the reasons for it makes the original decision even worse.“

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, adds: “When he was running for office, the  Mayor promised parents that he would reduce class size and align the school capacity formula with smaller classes.  He also promised to bring more transparency and community involvement to decision-making, especially when it came to our schools.  He has so far failed at all three.  Hopefully, the Court will agree that his administration can no longer hide their damaging decisions in a flurry of redactions, but will have to spell out the reasoning behind them.  New York City parents and other stakeholders deserve no less.“

The verified complaint is posted here.
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Sunday, July 15, 2018

How the NYS Exams are Turning our Children into Zeroes

The following is from Fred Smith, testing expert who in earlier years worked for the NYC Board of Education in its Assessment office. You can also check out news articles about the findings of this report here and here.

The latest report issued by SUNY, New Paltz’s Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives, Tests are Turning Our Children into Zeroes: A Focus on Failing, confirms the misgivings of parents about problems with the state exams in 2012 and 2013, as well as the Common Core standards with which they were aligned. Robin Jacobowitz, the Center’s director of education projects, worked closely with me in preparing the report, but I take full responsibility for its contents.

Data for the study came from two sources, the New York State Education Department (SED) and the New York City Department of Education (DOE). Obtaining information from the state required several Freedom of Information law requests, was difficult, time-consuming and only partially successful. The DOE provided our data promptly without a FOIL.

Background and Rationale. We studied the results of state exams for grades 3-8 from 2012 through 2016, starting when SED transitioned to the Common Core Learning Standards.

NCS Pearson, Inc. was awarded a $32 million contract to develop Core-aligned measures for students in grades 3 to 8 in 2011. Pearson’s exams were billed as more “rigorous,” in keeping with the tougher learning standards, the heart of the so-called “education reform agenda” of Commissioner John B. King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

Test results were to be used to see where students stood in English and math, and to follow their progress in meeting the standards. In addition, overreaching efforts were made to incorporate the scores into formulas for rating teacher effectiveness, judging principal performance and justifying actions to reorganize or close schools.

The very first day of testing in 2012 saw 192,000 students take Pearson’s English Language Arts (ELA) tests in Grade 8. An eye-opener came two just days later when Leonie Haimson reported on this blog about “The Hare and the Pineapple,” a preposterous reading passage, a story which quickly went viral. The next day, Education Commissioner King, a champion of the more stringent testing, threw out the rotten pineapple along with its six confusing multiple-choice (MC) items. This led to colorful parent-children protests outside Pearson’s New York City offices and gave impetus to the growth of the opt out movement.

The next year, 2013, was SED/Pearson’s foundational year, to establish a Common Core baseline against which to measure growth. Parents in growing numbers throughout the state began to realize that testing was becoming the expanding center of the school universe—too much classroom time spent in preparing students for the exams and conducting them; too much import given to the results of a single test on which to base high-stakes decisions; consequent concern over the pressure children felt during the lengthy testing period. A watchword was born: “My child is more than a test score!”

After the April 2013 ELA was given, further criticisms arose from a larger number of parents, teachers and principals, including that the tests were too long; many items didn’t have clear answers; reading passages were developmentally inappropriate for the students, especially the youngest ones; English Language Learners and students with disabilities were left in a daze; and too many children were experiencing stress before, during and after the exams. The scaling of these exams was also controversial and linked to excessively high SAT scores.

SED dismissed the negative reactions as being anecdotal, coming from the usual naysayers and not backed up by any evidence. Yet at the same time, SED had stopped revealing the kind of data needed to evaluate the quality of the exams and to determine whether the parents’ charges were well-founded. This Catch-22 fueled my indignation.

Up until 2011, SED had posted complete copies of the exams on its website shortly after they had been given. [See this page for 2006-2008 ELA exams, for example, when CTB/ McGraw-Hill was the test publisher.] In addition, statistics for all questions were made available in annual Technical Reports a few months after test administration. Anyone with a certain level of expertise could see how many students chose the “right answer” on multiple choice questions, how many chose each distractor (wrong answer), as well as how many failed to answer at all.

The other part of the ELA consisted of open-ended questions, referred to as constructed response questions (CRQs). These require students to read texts and write answers, which are scored by teachers trained to rate them. In the years prior to the new standards, SED also released these questions and presented a breakdown of the scores for all CRQs, making them openly reviewable in a manner parallel to the multiple-choice items.

SED gave the score distributions for each CRQ, which were worth either two to four points, depending on the question. In all cases, children’s answers could be scored zero, if the writing was judged to be incoherent, irrelevant or unintelligible.

With the advent of Pearson and the emergence of Common Core-based testing, the disclosure of material and data contained in prior Technical Reports was abruptly curtailed, starting in 2011. After 2015, SED stopped posting the annual Technical Reports.

The Common Core-based exams attached increased importance to the CRQs. They represented the highest reflection of the learning standards intended to assess students’ ability to think critically, analyze reading matter, use evidence to support their answers, and respond in an organized and logical way. And, from 2012 through 2016, the CRQ scores assumed greater weight in determining overall performance on the ELA. They accounted for 30% of the points students could earn in 2012, rising to 41% in 2016. Their weight was heaviest—47%—Grades 3 and 4 in 2016.

Because the ELA exams bore the brunt of parental complaints, coupled with my curiosity, CRQs became my area of interest. When we finally received data from the state and the city, we looked at the unanswered CRQs, in addition to the percentage of students who gave answers to questions but received scores of zero.

Findings.

Here are seven takeaway points with regard to student performance on the ELA exams, more specifically how many students received zeros on the CRQs:
  • There was a steep and immediate increase in the percentage of zeroes that New York state students received on the CRQs in 2013, when the Common Core-aligned tests debuted.
  • Particularly sharp increases were evidenced over time in the percentage of zeroes for students in Grades 3 and 4 statewide; this was also true for English Language Learners and students with disabilities in New York City. (The data DOE provided allowed us to analyze the ELA’s impact on subgroups of students.)
  • For 3rd graders, the percentage of zero scores rose from 11% in 2012 to a plateau of 21% in the state and city from 2013 to 2016.
  • In addition to zero scores, there were increasing percentages of unanswered questions statewide (a different category than zeroes) in 2013 over 2012, particularly for Grade 3.
  • SED removed time limits from the state exams in 2016. This reduced the number of unanswered CRQs but the number of zeros stayed the same.
  • There were high percentages of students in grades 3 citywide who got zeroes on half or more of the CRQs, ranging from 5% in 2012 to 13% in 2016. The percentages who got five or more zeroes were much higher for ELLs (33%) and students with disabilities (35%).
  • DOE data revealed that higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students wrote answers deemed incoherent, irrelevant or incomprehensible than did their Asian-Caucasian counterparts. The gap in zero scores between minority group and white students widened between 2012 and 2015, especially in Grades 3 and 4.
Though our findings for subgroups are based on New York City data, a reasonable assumption can be made that they hold for groups statewide since the city forms a major share (37%) of the state’s test population and its constituent groups. Parents throughout the state must let education officials in Albany, their legislators and the Governor know they are dissatisfied with an unaccountable, damaging testing system that has devolved over time. We cannot let another year go by without significant changes in the testing program.


Thoughts, Warnings and Suggested Follow-Up.

Lack of Transparency - Clearly, SED’s suppression of data and lack of transparency is a policy that must be reversed. Lack of timely information allows poor practices to continue unchallenged by objective data. While SED may be the custodian of the information, it is owned and paid for by New York taxpayers. We must demand that NYSED post complete Technical Reports, along with full information about item responses and scoring distributions, promptly after tests are given, as occurred in the past. Questar, the current test vendor, replaced Pearson in 2017, and must provide the kind of item-level data that were previously made public and eventually obtained concerning Pearson’s exams during its five-year run.

Many complaints about current Questar’s exams are similar to those concerning Pearson’s tests. See the observations of teachers who participated in NYSUT’s “Share Your Story” campaign, as compiled in their report, The Tyranny of Testing.

Yet new problems have emerged with the untimed exams. Some children took up to six hours or more to complete the exams, missing lunch in the process. In the many of the 263 New York schools conducting Questar’s computer-based exams, there were glitches and disruptions. It was later revealed that there were Questar breaches of student personal data, in New York and Mississippi. In other words, children were subjected to beta testing for SED and its vendor.

Tennessee has announced it will seek a new test vendor because of all the problems with the administration of the Questar computerized exams. What mechanism exists in New York State to recover money from Questar for poor performance or to terminate the contract? Is SED’s working relationship with test publishers so close that they are, in effect, partners and SED cannot reject Questar without implicating itself in any misdeeds? Can the offices of the State Comptroller and AG intervene?

Warning# 1 – Stand-Alone Field Tests. SED continues to target a large number of schools to try out test material for future operational tests. Separate, no-count field tests are administered at the end of the year on school time. Data gained in this process comes from unmotivated students and yields items that don’t predict how students will respond when publishers select items to go on the “real” exams. This has led to poor operational tests being built by the likes of Pearson and Questar.


Warning#2 – Don’t Attach New Purposes To Bad Tests. Amidst the controversy over the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), the Mayor has proposed using students’ state test scores as part of the selection process. This would put higher stakes on these unreliable exams and add an excuse to keep the state testing program alive in its present form.

In addition, the 4th grade ELA is used to screen children for middle schools. Our report finds this test has posed sharp problems for many fourth graders. In effect, the 4th grade test has become a gatekeeper for the “better” New York City middle schools—which are known for getting their kids into the selective high schools. Would any of this solve the underlying problem of quality education for all children?

As long as an ill-conceived testing program exists, reasons will be found to justify its continuance. Though federal law requires standardized tests for grades 3-8 and once in high school, we should ask ourselves what constitutes a legitimate assessment process. Eliminating standardized tests would save vast amounts of money, lower the fever caused by tests, focus on the whole child, and value teachers, other subject matter and different forms of expression..

Having spent 50 years in the testing trenches, and as I look at two dust-covered books, Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991) and Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations (1992), I would hate to see us wake up in three years, up to our eyeballs in computerized testing, with an ever-increasing achievement gap, still enslaved by the simple-minded dogma that we must have quantitative data, however unreliable and invalid, to make decisions. We have to be smart enough to change an injurious mindset—one that has struck me over time as more intentional than misguided.

~Fred Smith 7-15-18

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My love letter to Diane Ravitch on her 80th birthday

Today is Diane Ravitch's 80th birthday.  Her sons gave her a small party on Thursday night which I was lucky to attend and which filled me with memories.

I recall how I met her in 2006 or 2007.  I found out from a friend that she had attended a fundraiser in Brooklyn for the United Parents Association, a now vanished organization on whose board I served.  I asked another board member what Diane was like, and she told me she was very nice. 

Up to that point I had admired her from afar, as many did, for her brilliant intellect and her courage in opposing Joel Klein's destructive education policies, but feared she might be scary and aloof.

My husband encouraged me to email her, which I did.  I asked if we could have have lunch at a location of her choosing.  We met in Brooklyn and immediately hit it off.  She was super-smart of course, but also very warm, funny, unpretentious and direct.  The connection was immediate; we had so much to talk about there wasn't a second of silence, and we began a vibrant conversation which has continued to this day.

There was much we agreed upon, but also some things we disagreed about.  She was much more of a supporter of standardized testing than I was in those days, and thought the NAEPs should become a  national exam used for accountability purposes.  I argued that this would make the results far less useful and reliable, as there would be test prep and gaming of the test, a la Campbell's Law.  She replied the NAEPs couldn't be gamed. But she didn't flinch or become defensive when I argued with her.  She was so much fun to talk to that I was eager for the next opportunity.

(Our disagreement in retrospect is ironic, because now she's far more opposed to all standardized testing than I am, as I still believe that well-designed exams with no stakes attached can be useful for research and evaluation purposes.)

Then in 2008, I meekly asked her if she would consider serving on the board of Class Size Matters; and was thrilled when she agreed. This was reciprocated in 2013, when she asked me to serve on the board of the Network for Public Education, the advocacy organization which she had just started and I gladly accepted.

I remember how in 2009, after Michael Bloomberg renewed mayoral control, upended term limits and was re-elected for the third time, I was very depressed.  I told her I didn't know whether I could go on fighting him, Joel Klein and their ruthless privatization policies for another four years.  She told me of course I had to continue, there was no giving up and she would help and support me all she could.  Of course she was right.

There is no one in the world whom I respect more, and I remain in awe of her prolific, prodigious productivity.  She blogs ten times a day, writing about the latest political and educational news quicker than I can read, at the same time as she is working on another book, this one about the grassroots resistance to corporate reform.  I send her bits of news daily that I think she might be interested in, as well as animal videos, as she adores animals as much as she loves public education.

As I grow older, and become apprehensive about the aging process, she provides me with the most inspiring example of someone whom age has not slowed down one whit.  I am so lucky to have her in my life, and I know many others feel the same way.

Happy Birthday, Diane.  You mean so much to so many of us.  Thank you for everything; your mind, your heart and your soul.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Brooke Parker exposes the sham of Century Foundation report on "diversity by design" & Citizens of the World charter schools

Here is a column by Brooke Dunn Parker, Brooklyn parent activist, about a recent controversial report by the Century Foundation, which identified 125 charter schools that are supposedly “diverse by design” – though on the whole, most analysts find that charters have  had a segregating effect, according to the AP, NBC News, and the UCLA Civil Rights Project.
Moreover, this list of 125 schools was selected from 5,692 charter schools – only a tiny number.  The methodology is also questionable.  The authors identify these schools by analyzing their enrollment, websites and survey responses from school leaders.  Though the Century Foundation sent their survey about diversity to 971 charter schools, only 86 responded – which means that nearly 40 schools were put on the list even though the school leaders couldn’t be bothered to answer their survey.  

Several Success Academy charter schools were included on their list, including Success Academy Upper West, which has had multiple civil  rights complaints lodged by parents against it.  Finally, the report was financed by the Walton Foundation, the largest private funder of charter schools, who no doubt would like to whitewash their poor record of civil rights abuses.  Please read  the Network for Public Education and Schott Foundation report on how many charter schools violate students’ civil rights.
Check out Brooke’s dive into the issue, informed by her experience with one of the supposedly “diverse by design” charter networks highlighted in the report, Citizens of the World Charter Schools. Brooke has previously written about these schools on our blog, here and here.

I’m always disappointed and baffled when self-described “progressives” support charter schools. These same people and organizations often implicitly understand the serious problems related to privatizing prisons or the military yet offer their unquestioned support to privatizing schools.  They rarely hear, let alone seek out, voices that might contradict that support. The Century Foundation is, sadly, a perfect example of this disconnect as shown by their recent report, “Diverse by Design Charter Schools ” that claims that charter schools, with their lack of regulation or “flexibility,” are ideally positioned to create integrated schools.
The “Diverse by Design Charter Schools” report describes a growing movement of intentionally diverse charter schools that the researchers, Halley Potter and Kimberly Quick, believe are leading the charge to school integration in our nation’s segregated school districts. Much like the promise that charter schools will share their academic best practices with neighborhood public schools, they argue that “diverse by design” charter schools will show us all how to undo segregation. Leaving aside that public school students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers are still waiting for those charter schools whose “best practices” aren’t marketing, creaming, suspending, or cheating their way to high profits and test scores, the Century Foundation’s report on integrated charter schools is poorly researched and its policy recommendations are irresponsible.
Notably, the only data that the Century Foundation gathered was the “racial and socioeconomic demographics of schools, school leader responses on a survey, and analysis of charter schools’ websites.” Can you imagine if one tried to assess the safety and efficacy of a pharmaceutical drug by a select sample of users, the website of the drug manufacturer, and the CEO’s responses to a survey?
In contrast, a recent report by the New School, “How School Choice Divides New York City Elementary Schools” (see also this NY Times article about its findings) supports what many others have found: the overall pattern of choice (public and charter) in NYC increases segregation and concentrates the effects of poverty in zoned schools that would otherwise be less segregated had parents enrolled in them.
The “Diverse by Design Charter Schools” report was followed up with separate studies on four individual “diverse by design” charter schools and/or networks.  The study of Citizens of the World Charter Schools (CWC), was truly rankling. My community’s experience with CWC bears witness to the gross inaccuracies of the Century Foundation’s report and the hazards of believing in the claims of charter schools, rather than listening to on-the-ground voices and other research that may contradict the story they want to tell.
The author of the report, Haley Potter, relates how CWC charter network staff, headquartered in Los Angeles, “began meeting with a group of parents in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn,” but the truth is a lot more complex.  In Williamsburg and Greenpoint, gentrification was gradually desegregating our schools, but instead, charter school carpetbaggers attempted to exploit some of the fears of white parents moving into an area with public schools composed of mostly Black and Hispanic students.
In early 2011, Eric Grannis, husband of Success Academy Charter School’s CEO Eva Moskowitz, ran a real estate website called “School Fisher,” which described itself as helping “parents find great schools in affordable neighborhoods.”  He began soliciting advertising from landlords and developers, and said, "Anyone who has something for sale or rent in the zone of one of these schools is our target.” Real estate brokers are prohibited by the Fair Housing act from explicitly steering clients to certain neighborhoods based on their schools:

Discussions about schools can raise questions about steering if there is a correlation between the quality of the schools and neighborhood racial composition--or if characterizations such as “a school with low test scores” or “a community with declining schools” become code words for racial or other differences in the community. Similarly, making unspoken distinctions by promoting a school in one district while keeping silent about the quality of another school can have the same effect. These become fair housing issues.

Yet brokers could advise clients to refer to Grannis' website for the same purpose. When someone plugged in rental figures, certain neighborhoods and local schools would pop up with school grades, based on their test scores.  Rather than controlling for the background of the student, as the DOE school grades attempted to do, the grades were solely determined by the raw test scores, which would tend to steer parents to schools with white or Asian students and wealthier socio-economic backgrounds.  Grannis explained the system on Fox News.
His website also had a special page promoting charter schools , including his wife's Harlem Success Academy charter,  calling it  an "incredible school", and Girls Prep charter, on whose board he sits, without disclosing his personal connection to either. (The site went defunct sometime between March 2012 and June 2013 according to the Wayback Machine.)
Grannis also formed an organization called Tapestry Project, to bring more charter schools into NYC.  He began posting on a local neighborhood listserv for Williamsburg parents of young children, inviting them to be a part of an opportunity to create a “progressive” new public school. He brought in CWC network staff, who met with families in baby boutiques, yoga studios, and in new luxury condominiums along the waterfront.  The announcements for these meetings were made on a private listserv.  If you weren't part of a particular network of parents, you would never know about them. That’s how it started.
Grannis himself lived in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and had never visited any of our schools to assess whether we needed a new one. We already had several neighborhood “Blue Ribbon” public schools, some of the best in New York City, that were slowly becoming more integrated, as white families were moving in.  Still, most of our schools were under-enrolled because there had been a sharp decline of about 3,000 in the number of children under the age of five between 2000 and 2010.
CWC claimed that there was a need for their “diverse” charter model in Williamsburg because the community was majority white, and our schools didn’t reflect that. This was implied in their proposal to the SUNY charter institute, one of the two charter authorizers in New York state.  Their proposal included a graphic showing that the neighborhood was 55% white, though the schools were only 8% white, and then added: "We hope to offer families a public school option in CSD 14 that more closely mirrors their neighborhood composition."

While it is true that our schools are less white than the overall population of Williamsburg, this was due to two factors: a large Hasidic Orthodox Jewish community that isn’t interested in enrolling their children in public schools, and many young single “hipsters” without any kids at all.  If CWC had achieved its goal of 55% white students, this would have drawn so many white parents out of our public schools to make them even more segregated.  We also were aware that there were not enough students of any background to open two new charters without hurting enrollment and thus funding at our neighborhood public schools. It just wasn’t smart planning.

Considering that the Citizens of the World network at that point had only a single charter school in Los Angeles for one academic year, we questioned why they were trying to expand across the country so quickly.  They didn’t have any record of success to build on. And though CWC boasted of “a progressive learning model, including project-based learning, a focus on social-emotional development, and a robust arts program”, when we looked at the proposed curriculum in their charter application, our public schools were using similar programs and curriculum.  The plan for the CWC charter wasn’t any more progressive; they just had a larger marketing budget to try to convince parents that it was.
In May 2012, our parent organization, Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS) sent a detailed letter to the SUNY board, urging them to reject the CWC application. We brought up many of the points made above.  Among the questions we asked were how important diversity could be for the charter network, if, as the packet given to new parents at their proposed Hollywood charter school at the time said:  CWC depends on significant support from families to sustain our program of small class sizes, teachers’ assistants for every class, art, music and p.e. CWC asks all families to pledge at whatever level they can. CWC depends on an average family contribution of $1,300 a year per child recognizing that some families have the ability to give substantially more and others are not able to make a pledge of this size.”
Precious few public school families in Williamsburg at that time could have contributed anything near $1,300 a year per child to their public school.  In the end, CWC was only approved by SUNY to open one school in Williamsburg, and another one in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  Both schools were designed to share an Executive Director and a Board of Directors. A diverse group of public school parents from across the district launched a lawsuit in January 2013, ultimately unsuccessful, to prevent SUNY from authorizing CWC. When the schools we send our children to and love are under-enrolled and underfunded, why should the state require the city to expend additional resources to open a charter school?   We also pointed out that its proposed co-location with JHS 156 and Northside Charter School would deprive the other institutions of resources and space.
In our lawsuit, we cited Education Law section 2852, which requires the charter authorizer to consider the demand for charter schools in the community when deciding whether to approve new schools, and yet SUNY had ignored how little demand there was in our district.  In fact, SUNY had completely ignored the overwhelming opposition to this charter school among public school parents, community-based organizations and all our elected officials.
We further questioned the sincerity of CWC’s interest in desegregation after we discovered their recruitment and enrollment plan. For all their talk of diversity, their internal leaked “marketing plan” identified their primary targets in Williamsburg as “Middle/Upper income/predominantly White” and in Crown Heights, “middle/upper income" parents.
We started to investigate who these CWC charter people were, and, armed with Google, we quickly found seemingly serious problems with CWC and their board. Kriste Dragon, the CEO of the Citizens of the World charter network, and Board member Chris Forman were involved in the Wonder of Reading, an organization that had been contracted to renovate public libraries in the Los Angeles public schools.  Yet Wonder of Reading hired subcontractors were found to have engaged in kickbacks, leading to huge cost overruns. It also appeared that when Wonder of Reading closed, they funneled all its money and resources into CWC. Both organizations used the same address and were run by the same executives and board members. Yet none of these problems were mentioned by Potter in the interviews with Dragon that make up the bulk of her reporting on her schools.
There were many former employees and CWC families who were concerned about questionable practices by the Board and neglect of students within their Los Angeles schools.  They sought us out, some risking violation of the non-disclosure agreements that CWC had made them sign. (Seriously. why would any school need NDAs?) We soon discovered that Dragon had planned to expand the school to targeted cities from the beginning and to become a franchise operation.  
CWC registered as a charitable corporation in California  and promised that they would  facilitate the creation and operation of  nonprofit  charter schools through planning, fundraising, academic support” and “to provide its services at no cost.“ Yet as soon as their non-profit status was granted, they quietly pushed through an exorbitant “licensing agreement” that would enable millions of dollars to flow directly into the hands of its California corporation.
Almost immediately after registering as a nonprofit, in November 2012, a leaked document shows they had specific plans to expand to expand to four districts across the country between 2012 and 2017, with four schools in each district, including NYC (with two schools listed as “public” and two as “private”, whatever that means), Nashville, Los Angeles and Washington DC.
Each planned school was listed as a “high ADA”, “marginal ADA” or “low ADA” – with the acronym presumably standing for Area Development Agreement, which is a term used for the fees paid by franchises of a commercial operation.

NYC was the one district listed as providing a “high ADA” or management fee charged per school, starting at 8% in 2013, declining to 6.5%-7% in 2016 and to 1.5% in 2017.  In contrast, the Citizens of the World CMO intended to charge their schools in Los Angeles a “Low ADA” ranging from 1.7% to 1.3%, depending on the year.  They planned to charge their four DC charter schools a “Marginal ADA” ranging from 5% to 2.5%, and their Nashville schools a “Marginal ADA” with a management fee of 5% declining to 1.5%.
In all, the corporation was projected to receive a total of about $5.6 million dollars by 2016, with more than half of these funds to be provided by NYC taxpayers. 


Why the fees would range so widely from own district to another is unclear; perhaps these were the fees they felt they could get away with from their authorizers.  What is evident from this document that NYC was projected to be the “cash cow” for the entire franchise operation, with by far the largest percent fees per student, multiplied by the greatest per student amount that NYC allocates to charter school students.
In October 2013, the Citizens of the World Charter Management Organization subsequently raised these projected fees in NYC for year five in their licensing agreement with the schools’ local  boards. Instead of charging fees of only 1.5% of revenue in year five, the fees would remain at 5.5% per student, for a total of nearly three million dollars flowing from their NYC franchises over five years alone.  

How did they get away charging such exorbitant fees?  Perhaps a clue is the fact that Hillary Johnson, the “Founding Chief Learning Officer / Chief Academic Officer” of the CMO, had previously worked as a consultant for the SUNY Charter Institute, their authorizer in New York”, according to her Linked in profile.  (After leaving the CMO in 2016, Johnson continues to work for SUNY CSI as a consultant, evaluating schools for their charter renewal recommendations and reports.)
In short, the CWC push for establishing schools in New York City seems less about encouraging diversity, and more about amassing revenue that would accrue to their network. By July 2013, we had discovered enough incriminating information on CWC that Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez sent a request to the IRS to investigate their finances.  
When their charter schools did open in NYC, they had trouble attracting enough parents.  Most students who attended their Williamsburg charter school lived outside the district, with the city, again, paying the bill for their busing. The schools’ under enrollment put CWC on probation with SUNY, with a deadline for improvement that was continually pushed back.  Yet they continued recruiting without telling any of the parents that they were at risk of closure.
In 2014-2015 school year, CWC Williamsburg suspended 5% of their students, more than twice as high as the district average, and CWC Crown Heights suspended 10% of their students, five times as high as the district average, according to figures compiled by the United University Professions from state data. Note that these two charters schools only had enrolled K-2nd grade students at that time.
As Potter relates, CWC was able to open another charter school in Kansas City in the fall of 2016.  In  March 2017, they also applied to open a charter school in DC.  A few months later, in June 2017, the DC Public Charter School Board rejected their application, explaining  that the network’s “growth plan” was excessively “aggressive,” there was “inadequate support from the school management organization,” no “history of strong academic results with student populations … in NY and Kansas City,” and no “consistency in instructional approaches and implementation of the CWCS 'diversity by design' model.The Board also found that CWC had an inability to articulate the “non-academic benefits of this model.
The DC charter board recommended that before re-applying, Citizens of the World  should have “demonstrated indicators of improvement in CWC New York and success in CWC Kansas City.”  Even more critically, the board wrote:
DC PCSB also had concerns about CWC DC’s governance structure. Based on the proposed governance structure, CWCS, CWCDC’s management organization and sole member, would have significant power over the local school that does not strike the right balance between local board authority and necessary control by the school management organization to ensure fidelity to the model. After submitting the application, CWCDC agreed to certain revisions to its governance structure that would afford more power to the CWCDC board. Had DC PCSB approved CWCDC’s application, such approval would have been conditioned on CWCDC agreeing to these and other revisions to its governance structure.
Finally, in December 2017, five years after opening their doors in NYC, CWC was told by their authorizer, the SUNY Charter Institute, that they would not recommend the renewal of their NYC schools.  CWC decided not to fight SUNY’s recommendation. Let’s be clear: CWC New York schools did not “decide to withdraw their charter renewal application,” as Potter puts it, out of generosity to the parents or the children they promised to serve. Their schools were forced to close. Despite all the promises that CWC would be a superior school, based on their “model” leadership, skills, and supposedly progressive curriculum, test scores at both New York City schools were abysmal.
According to Potter, Kriste Dragon claimed the poor results were because their NYC local staff “did not fully implement the CWC model, in large part because they struggled to hire teachers and leaders with experience in project-based learning.” Yet what were those millions of dollars in licensing fees meant to accomplish, if the fault of the schools’ dismal performance lay with an inexperienced NYC school staff?
Potter glosses over the “sobering” experience of the CWC experiment in New York, claiming that “network leaders learned from that challenging experience and have shown a promising start to their second attempt at expansion, in Kansas City, Missouri.”
What Potter doesn’t mention is that their Kansas City charter school was started with the help of a cool million dollars donated by the Walton Family Foundation, which also helped paid for the Century Foundation report.  Neither does she report that one of the main reasons the Citizens of the World application for a charter school in DC was rejected was because of the inconsistent implementation of its “diverse by design” model, and the questionable relationship between the proposed DC charter school and the charter management organization, headquartered in Los Angeles.
In the wake of their failed NYC experiment, hundreds of Citizens of the World students had their lives disrupted, and millions of city tax dollars were funneled out of our neighborhood public schools into their California organization.  Unless someone stops them, more CWC charter schools will likely open throughout the country, with the story of their NYC experiments hidden from view, just as our community’s voice was ignored when we correctly warned that these schools would fail our children, while allowing the CMO to financially profit from them. Instead, this Century Foundation puff piece will be used to promote the network’s further expansion.
In a related report by the Century Foundation, “The Good Kind of School Choice: When Public Schools Integrate by Race and Class,” Richard Kahlenberg refers to the “good” charters that seek to end segregation through “a commitment to school integration by race and socioeconomic status.” Kahlenberg claims that these “diverse-by-design” charters demonstrate “small but important efforts are sprouting to show that it is possible to create integrated environments in public schools that provide what the authors of Brown (of Brown v. Board of Education) called “the very foundation of good citizenship.”
In other words, CWC, along with other examples that Potter and Quick profile, are “good” charters. I have to doubt their judgement about the other “good” charters if they consider CWC one of them.  I’m also concerned that if the Century Foundation is truly a “progressive, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to foster opportunity, reduce inequality, and promote security at home and abroad,” as they advertise themselves, why do they insist on promoting the privatization of education. There may be a small number of “good” privatized prisons, but one example doesn’t justify the existence of the rest. After all, as many of the parents of CWC New York charter schools have learned, a “good” charter school may be merely a matter of marketing and hype.