Monday, October 4, 2010

We’re still waiting for Superman here in Charterland

Magicians often use smoke to distract their audience and achieve illusion. The result leaves audiences not only captivated but also mystified. In the film “Waiting for Superman,” charters are held out as the potential saviors of our public school system, despite the fact that nationally, they do no better and often worse than district public schools. (See this study, for example.)

Moreover, because they float outside the normal governance system and are privately managed, terrible charter schools sometimes are allowed to continue, despite poor performance. Too often, their wealthy supporters use their money and their influence to evade accountability. My family’s experience with Ross Global Academy (RGA) charter school is indicative of the problems that often hide behind the smoke and mirrors in Charterland.

Charter schools have been in existence in New York State for over a decade. They appear to offer what every parent wants for their child, which is a private school education at no additional cost. Small class sizes, sciences, arts, and enriched activities are what have drawn countless parents to charters, and me to Ross Global Academy charter school, for my three children.

Ross Global was founded by Courtney Ross in 2006. Ms. Ross is the wealthy widow of the Steve Ross, former head of Time Warner. In Forbes she was recently profiled as “ a role model for the charter school business.” On the school’s board sit many powerful and influential people. The walls of the school are covered with paintings and glossy nature photos, and the children are served gourmet meals with organic vegetables. They take music, dance and Chinese, and start the day with either yoga or t'ai chi. Michael Duffy, the former head of charter schools is quoted in the Forbes article as saying about Courtney Ross, "What she has done is remarkable.”

Yet the reality is quite different. There have been numerous problems with this school, chronicled in magazines and newspapers. NY magazine ran a profile, describing Ms. Ross’ imperious and impulsive leadership style (said one ex-employee, “It was as if Donald Trump were a school principal.” The NY Sun reported on a scandal linked to test tampering.

Even worse, the school has had 20 percent student attrition rate for each of the first three years of its operation. During 2009-2010, the year my children first enrolled, the attrition rate soared even higher. As the NY Post reported, “Village school students take charter flight”, 91 out of 410 students had left RGA by February of 2010, because of bullying and the counseling out of special education students.

There has also been extremely high turnover of teachers, according to the NY state school report cards -- 82% and 75% during the first two years of operation. RGA is currently on its 7th principal in four years! Other teachers and top administrators have vanished, including the assistant principals from the middle and lower schools. Last June, my daughter was on her sixth English teacher of the year.

The teacher turnover rate at charters is very high, both nationally and in NYC. Why should teachers leave in such high numbers if the charters create such ideal environments for teaching and learning?

Last year, our former Principal, Julie Johnson, assured parents that despite the massive turnover of school staff, our children were receiving strong academic support, ensuring that they were on track to succeed on the state exams. We realized only after the release of Ross Global’s scores this summer this could not be further from the truth. RGA performed way below average .. My daughter’s 6th grade class performed horrifically. Only 9% of her class scored at grade level in ELA (the state average is 81%) and only 11% at grade level in math ( the state average is 61%).

Though the grades on the school progress reports are not fully reliable, the lowest score of all was received by Ross Global Charter School. It also received an “F” for environment, based on teacher and parent surveys. I can vouch for the accuracy of those surveys.

I still have not received my children’s individual scores, but due to the dismal scores for the 6th grade, I felt I had no choice but to remove my daughter from RGA’s middle school. I have since placed her in a district public school.

According to the charter lobby and authorizers, there are supposed to be multiple levels of oversight and accountability for charter schools. According to the SUNY charter institute, “When one considers the legislatively mandated oversight of each charter school by its own board of trustees, its charter authorizer, and the New York State Board of Regents…. it becomes clear that accountability is more than a goal for charter schools, it is a non-negotiable requirement. “

Yet where are these multiple levels of oversight when it comes to Ross Global? The school was authorized by NYC Department of Education, and the State Education Department is also supposed to oversee its operation and ensure its performance. Where is their accountability in this fiasco?

Many school leaders and other charter officials will tell parents that if they don’t like the school, they should leave. It is far from easy for parents to simply uproot their children from their schools. I still have two of my children attending the RGA lower school because I believe in choice. I have a special needs child, and I hope that RGA makes the effort to not only to retain my child but educate him. If charters are truly PUBLIC schools, they need to serve ALL students, including the special needs student population.

This is also why I am working with NY Charter Parents Association, an independent organization that supports the improvement and reform of charter schools, because we recognize that involved parents help make GREAT schools. We want to ensure that all charter schools are delivering on their promises to parents.

According to the recent school grades, twice the percentage of charters got failing grades last year than district public schools (8% compared to 4%). Not only the school grades, but also the recent election results show that not all is right in Charterland. The hedge fund moguls, the daily papers, and Education Reform Now and its associated lobbyists all tried to silence the dissenting voice of Senator Bill Perkins, who has been working for more accountable charter schools.

On September 14, 2010, the people of Harlem spoke up, and Senator Perkins won in a landslide, showing that our children and communities cannot be bought. I hope this is a warning to DOE, the charter lobbyists, their funders, and the authorizers, to remember this: it is our children you are supposed to serve.

-- Mariama Sanoh, Vice President of the NY Charter Parents Association


Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing your story Ms. Sanoh.

Pogue said...

Fascinating piece, Ms. Sanoh. It's wonderful to hear diverging viewpoints about the privatization of schools during this tsunami of charter school propaganda. You point about educating ALL children is truly poignant. Great job.

NYC Educator said...

Incredible. This is the sort of thing the Waiting for Superman crowd doesn't want us to hear. I've just arrived here from Huffington Post, where I read the most abysmal nonsense from John Legend. Legend knows nothing about this, or Green Dot, or research, or Finland, and should probably stick to music if indeed he's any good at it.

It's amazing that a piece like this winds up in a blog, while outrageous nonsense is plastered all over the papers. The status quo, as articulated by Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Gates, Broad and Walmart masquerades as a revolutionary new idea in a repugnant propaganda film and is embraced by a public with no access to the truth.

Thanks so much for providing us with it.

Anonymous said...

The lack of protection afforded by the current governance structure and parallel universe of privately managed, board-run charters, created, and sustained with our public dollars is truly abhorrent!

Every day I seem to hear from unhappy charter parents of the unacceptable and even inhumane conditions their children are subjected to in these schools- from substandard conditions (lack of heat and leaking roofs; high teacher, staff, leadership and student turn over) to emotional and physical abuses masked as "discipline" programs.
Charters are starting to feel like the new Tuskegee- a grand, colonialist experiment unleashed on our most vulnerable, in the name of "choice', justified by "robust demand" that results from crass moneyed marketing and manipulation of double-counted waiting lists.
McDonald's can boast "billions served" but that does NOT make the Big Mac a sound nutritional choice!

where is the oversight?
where is the protection of these kids and parents civil rights?
where is their human right to a high quality education?

Unknown said...

I saw this link on twitter and I'm so glad I could read your point of view. It's great to hear the other side of charter schools...the side real American parents, teachers and kids see, but apparently politicians and billionaire "philanthropists" don't. Thank you so much for sharing.

wholesale Juicy Handbags said...
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Georgia Drivers Ed said...

I haven't experience with charter schools as my child not learning over their, but still it's too horrible to here that those schools are far below to the nation average, really their is something going wrong from school management, parents and education department, at least now we parents pressure the education department to take some steps, so that those schools at least catch up with national average figures.

Anonymous said...

I am parent at RGA and the school has a new and wonderful administration,great and caring teachers and strong curriculum and a new positive PTA. My children strive and love there school. I believe that every school has its place..and we should all have a choice. If you don't like charter schools put your kids in regular school.why would keep your your children in an environment you don't believe contradict yourself. you go around bad mouthing the school and yet you kept your children in Ross Global Academy a charter school. it is hard for me to take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

The Board of Education has failed our kids for decades..finally we have some choices...alternative,charter,Private,regular and special education...pick what you like or need for your child and let everyone have the opportunity to make there own are a parent from what I understand in the daily news in the school you criticizes. I question your are a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

Shame on the daily news Rachel Monahan you only got one parents views of RGA (Ross Global Academy) why don't you give the parents that love the school equal time...if you want to be a good reporter show both sides of the story...

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher that has been at RGA for the past three years. I have watched the school go through so many changes this year. We all know that last year was a rough year but it's time to focus on the present. You will honestly never find a more dedicated staff and group of teachers who want to make this an amazing school. We had three weeks of professional development and so much was accomplished. The administration this year is new to our school but are not new to the field of education. They are experienced, knowledgeable, and responsive. They have been visible and the change has already been noticed. Things are better and you really need to see it to believe it. I'm so excited to be part of RGA this year.
Submitted by a teacher

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting piece, Ms. Sanoh, You say you are interested in changing the school yet you are not involved in the PTA or have not organized RGA parents to make changes from within. You identify yourself as a parent who has only been at the school for two years,yet you have decided to take your fight externally, expressing it to local newspapers, who only give exploited views of the truth as opposed to organizing parents internally to make a change.

You decide to keep your children at a schoolthat you identify as failing, doesn't seen to make sense from a rational point of view.

There are many parents, teachers and students at RGA who are about positive change and are working closely with the administration to make such changes. RGA parents have met with administration over the summer and the last few months and have seen the changes that will lead our children to academic excellence. By the way where you in thes discussion?

In the future open your mind or move on!!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

From one RGA Parent to Another: You're a sad example of a parent.

Patrick J. Sullivan said...

I've removed a comment above. If readers want to make critical comments of the posts that's fine but we're not going to tolerate attacks on children. Perhaps some of those not happy with the post could respond with actual facts or counter-arguments to the post. The school survey has a few areas of very negative findings related to safety, bullying, discipline, respect for students, lack of confidence in the administration, cleanliness, etc.

These types of issues suggest failure of the administration and board of directors. Is there anyone who would actually will willing to reveal their identity who will express how the survey issues and many other problems at the school are being addressed?

Anonymous said...

I am a RGA parent and I'm actively looking for a new school for my daughter. RGA IS A FAILING SCHOOL! Parents and teachers know the truth, that is why on the DOE survey, we told the truth about how awful RGA is.

That survey was completed by RGA parents and teachers who anonymously were able to tell the DOE the truth about what is going on at our FAILING SCHOOL.

We're on our 7th principal!!!! Every year we're told that the new administration is going to be different and give the school a chance.

Well, 7 principals and 5 years later, time's up. RGA is not serving OUR children. Thank goodness with charters there's accountability and RGA after 5 years of failing our kids will be shut down.

I am sorry that I and all the countless other RGA parents are afraid to speak the truth in public the way we did on the DOE survey. If we do, the administration and staff will retaliate by attacking and penalizing our children.


God Bless You.

Anonymous said...

We haven't even be told how much our kids got on the state ELA and Math tests. RGA doesn't want parents to know the MAJORITY of kids FAILED those tests.

All the parents attacking Ms. Sanoh are living in denial and neglecting their own kids by not demanding RGA notify the parents on their kids scores.

I asked for my child's scores and was told somebody will get back to me. They don't want us to know. How can we make sure our kids receive a great education when they're keeping us in the dark and unaware of the truth - RGA kids are failing because the kids are failing.

Why are parents defending a school that's been failing for 5 years? Wake up and start looking for a good school for your child.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Anonymous must have missed the meeting where the principal talked about the test scores.

Again get involved, be a part of the solution, not the problem. Lack of information does not excuse ignorance.

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Anonymous said...

My son just transferred to RGA from a local Gifted & Talented middle school in Queens last week. The classes at RGA are more challenging then the G&T program in his old school. I can't speak for other students but this has been a very good start for my son so far.

I would suggest all parents to ask themselves, "what would we like RGA to accomplish for our children?" As parents, we are just as responsible for our children's education as the school. If we don't get involved in educating our kids, then don't expect the school to motivate the students to excel in school.

We have been paying for weekend classes which are two to three years more advanced than my son's grade level just so he could continue to learn. It was just too depressing to see how his old school kept on "teaching" topics than he had already mastered years ago.

If RGA succeeds in providing individualize support for his advanced academic needs in the coming weeks, then I'll post a follow up to his story...

BTW, all state tests scores are readily available online for all NYS students via this site

The school officials should be able to provide the student id and password to the site.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Why are you guys sticking up for a school to which I'm sure that a majority of you don't have a copy of the 900+ page charter? I checked the website of RGA and the charter is not posted there. I would think that the school of widowed a multi millionaire would have a better site than that. Apparently public money goes where it counts; to the salaries of those that have't done much to establish RGA as a credible school but also to ads on prime time radio stations to attract more students. Now that is truly sad!!!!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous with the transferred G&T student:

Charter schools are NOT on ARIS Parent Link!! Only district schools are that's why you were able to access your child's scores when they were a district student.

Get your facts straight.

If I were you, I'd start looking for another school because RGA is going to be shut down. RGA is a black eye for the charter movement - has been since they opened.

For the sake of the movement, bad charters like RGA must be shut down.

Good luck with your search for another school for your child.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... It really gets me thinking quite a bit. Why would anyone urge my son to transfer out of RGA when he had a positive experience so far?

So should we all blindly accept your "anonymous" suggestion and run with our tails between out legs? We are in a much better position to evaluate the current school administration than any parents of former students. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

7 administrations later in only 5 years. Through each new administration, RGA parents are told the same thing - "this year will be different and better" but it never is.

RGA is not going to be renewed. They're an embarrassment to the NYC charter community. RGA is a bad charter school. Why don't you call your authorizer and ask them point blank if your school is going to be renewed? See what they tell you :-)

In case you don't know who your authorizer is -- It's the DoE.

Good Luck

Anonymous said...

anonymous obviously your ignorance about RGA or the current state of affairs is sad. Thank God you are gone,good luck.

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