Thursday, February 23, 2012

Michael Duffy and the "turnaround" of Victory charter schools

A new charter school called Great Oaks is applying to the state to start in NYC’s District 2, to be located on Governors Island, though Downtown Express reports that the Education Committee of Community Board I opposes it.  The charter school’s letter of intent to NYSED lists as the lead applicant Benjamin B. Carson, described as a former “statistician” for the NYC DOE charter office, as well as the Co-Founder of the Great Oaks Charter School in Newark.
The Newark branch only started last August and has no track record, but the letter of intent says the network has formed to “replicate the successful methods of the MATCH Public Charter School in Boston," featuring “high academic expectations, a No Excuses school culture, a focus on engaging classroom instruction and individualized attention to students’ needs via high-dosage tutoring.”
One of the co-founders of the proposed NYC school and a board member will be Michael Duffy, who is the former head of the NYC DOE charter office, well known for his blase attitude towards protesting parents during intense co-location hearings.   Duffy is also listed as the key contact for the Great Oaks Charter School in Newark on the NJ State website. 
Michael Duffy
Duffy is now employed by a company called Victory, which has started at least 16 charter schools in NYC, Philadelphia and Chicago.  
Victory has had a generally dismal reputation in NYC for charging large management fees while running some of the lowest-performing charters in the city. Here is what Kim Gittleson of GothamSchools wrote about the chain in 2010, after analyzing their management fees and results:
“I found that the five Victory Schools that had progress report scores in 2008-2009 placed in the bottom 35 percent of all charter schools and in the bottom 20 percent of schools citywide… These middling performance numbers come despite the fact that the seven schools paid around $2,163 per pupil to Victory Schools for the company’s services. This is 17 percent of these charter schools’ per pupil revenues from the state.”
DOE now intends to close Peninsula Prep charter, a school run by Victory until recently.  Unfortunately when NYT /School Book ran a story about DOE’s plan to close the school, Duffy was quoted as a approving of the decision, as an apparently disinterested observer, without noting that he currently works for the company that ran the school until June 30, 2010.  Indeed, in Peninsula Prep’s  most recent annual report to DOE, dated July 2011, the board made clear that they had dropped Victory as their management company, in an apparent attempt to persuade DOE to allow the school to stay open:

a. Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School disassociated itself from Victory Schools as a management company.
b. PPACS adopted the New York City Department of Education scope and sequence for Social Studies instruction instead of the Victory proprietary Core Knowledge Program. and: c. PPACS increased the student enrollment to from 300 to 350.

In the NYT/Schoolbook article, Duffy supported DOE closing of the school:
“I definitely think in 2012, what was good enough even five years ago is no longer good enough,” Mr. Duffy said.  (He should know!)
Duffy left DOE to work for Victory in July 2010, shortly after Victory’s Albany charter school, New Covenant, was shut down by SUNY because of poor performance.   
In October 2010, Victory converted to a management company, now called Victory Education Partners, that would “contract” with charter schools to provide services to their schools – in an apparent attempt to exploit a loophole in the new charter law, which bans any new charters in New York State that are operated by for-profit companies. 
According to GothamSchools, “The group [Victory’ will retain its for-profit status, but will continue to work in schools by offering a variety of services, from professional development to back-office support, that schools can choose to purchase.”
Victory’s website says that they can provide full service support for charter schools with “a wide selection of individual services to choose from”, including New School Development, Academic Support, Operations, Finance and Accounting.   
The exact arrangement between Great Oaks and Victory, financial or otherwise, is mentioned nowhere that I can find on the Great Oaks website or in the documents they have filed with the state.   
Yet in a recent bio, Michael Duffy is described as “the Managing Director for Victory Education Partners, a privately held company that advises governments and schools. In this role he has spearheaded an initiative to launch a new network of charter schools, the Great Oaks Charter Schools, the first of which will opened [sic] in Newark, New Jersey this year.”
Duffy is also listed as the President of the Great Oaks Foundation Board, along with Steven Klinsky, the Board Chair, who is the “founder and chief executive of New Mountain Capital, LLC, a private equity firm ” who “founded Victory Schools to serve these [charter] schools and to act as an advisor for other schools and school districts.”
Question: if a for-profit company is launching a network of charters, including one in NYC, doesn’t this violate the intent of the new charter law?  Even the logo of the Great Oaks charter school resembles the logo of Victory Education Partners. 

Here is an excerpt from guidelines for responsible charter governance, suggested by Greg Richmond, chief executive officer of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, based in Chicago:
• Members of a charter school governing board should not be employees of the management organization running their school, nor should they be compensated for their service or selected by the management organization. 
In this case, Duffy will sit on the NYC Great Oaks charter school board, while heading the Great Oaks Foundation board, and remain the Managing Director of Victory.
Other warning signals: One of the members of the Great Oaks Foundation board is listed as Jay Cross, “President of Related Hudson Yards, leading the Related Companies’ development efforts of the 26-acre HudsonYards site on the west side of New York City” NYC parents should beware of a Victory-connected charter school proposed for Hudson Yards, where a public school is currently supposed to go.

Yet another board member is a top aide to Bloomberg: Gregorio Mayers, who “joined the Administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2006 as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development. In his current capacity as a member of the Mayor’s senior team at City Hall, Mr Mayers serves as the lead member overseeing the School Construction Authority’s $11.5 billion  capital plan and its strategic plan; all public/private partnership initiatives.” [italics added.]  Watch to see if taxpayer funds are expended on proliferating this charter chain throughout the city. 

But Victory is not limited to the Northeast.  Last spring, it was announced that the company had received the contract to run two more charters in Chicago, and the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, made a key policy announcement about lengthening the school day at one of their charter schools last fall.
Amazing how an overcharging, poorly performing for-profit charter management company can turn around its fortunes, seemingly overnight.


in a quandary said...

This is just one more outrage in an endless litany of outrages! Why and how can these charters continue to have carte blanche when their mere existence defies all economic, educational, and societal reason!

Anonymous said...

Once again, these business minds invading the education market, which is a market on FIRE, are clearly skilled at earning money for themselves. I want to know what Mr. Duffy will be earning when his charter begins in NYC. Eva Moskowitz earns more than any superintendent in NY State.

Leonie Haimson said...

I don't think we will ever find out how much Duffy is making since this is a privately held for-profit company, and its profits and (I assume) salaries are not disclosed. But if someone knows how to figure this stuff out, please contact me offline at thanks!

walt sautter said...

Go to and read about "Students First" and "NJ4Kids" I think they too are entering the education "market" through the back door and pick the system clean. Read "Profitable Non-Profits (For Some!)" and you will see what I mean!

Anonymous said...

Since taking over the two schools in Chicago, this management company and the their so-called administration has been pure hell!!!! They run the schools like a miltary boot-camp, constantly yelling and berating the kids. Having them walking down the hall on a colored tape, constant eye contact with the teacher, meaning the kids have to sit up straight in their seats all day, cannot turn around to look at another student, or say anything if another student sneezes, let along say hello to another teacher or student in the hallway. I can't even begin to type what has been happening in these two school being run by this managemet company. It's horrible!!! And the kids grades are horrible!!!