Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tory Frye on the questionable claims of supporters of Success Academy and charters in general

On Thursday, as the NY Times revealed, Eva Moskowitz closed her Success Charters for the day, and told parents that they had to accompany their children to a rally near City Hall or find alternate baby-sitting for them. NY1 reported that all 32 of her schools had the morning off and parents got a wake-up call reminding them to attend. She bussed parents, students and staff to the rally; as did Achievement First charters.  One can only imagine the criticism in the media if any public school had called off classes and demanded that parents do the same for a political rally.

Here is an analysis of Victoria Frye, parent and CEC member in District 6 in Washington Heights on the claims of those who support Success Academy and charters more generally, with data and links for those who want to explore the issue further.

Looking at “demand” data for schools is obviously a market-based approach to education.  Even if one does believe that market or business models are ideal for educating children, waitlists prove nothing.  Guess how many kids are on the wait list for District 6 schools? Over 3,000.  How is that possible? The same families applied to multiple schools, probably including charter schools. 

 Charter school waitlists are equally inflated.  Even a D6 elementary school that is labeled as failing by “Families for Excellent Education” in their laughable “research” report TheForgotten Fourth,  PS 132 (The Juan Pablo Duarte School) had 152 applicants for just 50 seats; what does that demonstrate?  Some D6 schools had hundreds of students wait listed last spring. School acceptance rates were  18 and 14% for PS 311 and 314 -- both smaller than the acceptance rates of 19% percent claimed by Success Academy in its SUNY application, asking for the authority to establish 14 new charters across the city. 

Data on enrollment at the Success Academies in D2 shows that good portions, from a quarter to a third of students, come from outside the district.  How does that demonstrate “demand” within D2 for a Success Academy?  So the “evidence” (if you choose to interpret it that way) is clear: the demand for public schools eclipses the demand for charters.  So, no, charters should not get space or resources until we replicate the "high demand" and "high performing" public schools in our city.  For more on this see this analysis.

Apples to Apples Comparisons
Luckily some serious researchers have looked at this issue.  Bruce Baker, a professor Education at Rutgers, for example put together this chart: 

According to 2013 school report cards, “PS 149 has nearly double the number of special needs students compared to Academy 1: 20.6% compared to 12.6%, and more than four times the number of English Language learners  --18.9% compared to only 4.1% at Success Academy.”  (As described here: )  Success also suspends students at double the rate of their local public schools, for example Harlem Success 1, 2, 3, and 4 suspended students at a rate of 22, 15, 14 and 19% as compared with 6, 7, and 9% in Districts 3, 4, and 5. And again the IBO reports that special needs students leave charters at a much higher rate than comparable public school students (). And when charter students leave or are counseled out of a charter they do not go to another charter, they go to a public school.  Even SUNY, as the charter authorizer, acknowledges that attrition at Success is problematic.  

Regarding inclusion at public schools, we have a citywide policy of inclusion that mandates that local neighborhood schools must accommodate special needs students.  Budget realities constitute real barriers to schools being able to do this, so there is a tension between the relatively new inclusion policy and years and years of budget cuts.  The Chancellor has acknowledged this issue; but as of yet, I have heard of no solution to it.

Our D6 public schools do not have space – FULL STOP.  We are over 90% capacity district-wide with the faulty capacity formula and we have numerous schools that are desperately in need of new facilities. We have the largest average class size in D6 since 2006. Last year, 6 D6 schools have K class averages of 25+. Ten D6 schools had grade 1-3 class averages of 25+. Five D6 schools had at least one 1-3 class with 30+. 14 D6 had at least one 4-8 class with 30+. PS 366 had a K class with 28 students. PS 153 had a 1st grade class with 32 students. PS 28 had a 2nd grade class with 31 students. PS 132, a struggling school, had a 3rd grade class with 29 students. The average D6 utilization rate is 94%.  
Thirteen schools are over 100% utilization, including PS/IS 187, which is blocks away from the Mother Cabrini High School, which the DOE handed over to Success Academy.  D6 also has 19 “TCUs” (aka trailers) at 3 schools, not including the “mini buildings” at schools like PS 192/325.  Mott Hall is in a building that is dilapidated and dangerous; it ought to be condemned. So someone please explain to me how our D6 public schools have “space” for charter schools?  Taking space from D6 schools will HARM D6 students.

Hedge Fund supporters
Hedge fund people do not donate to systems that educate the masses; if they did, they would have been donating to public schools all along and/or advocating for increasing taxes on capital gains and investment incomes to levels that would fund public schools at the same levels of private schools.  Why have they not been doing this?  I thought they cared deeply about public school students?  Why do they only donate to charter schools or PACS that advocate vouchers and charters?  They see a business opportunity wrapped in a bogus charitable donation; they are about creating new “markets” and the best way to do this is to engage in "disruption," which is exactly what charters do.  The fact is they see public education as a 700 billion dollar (now 1T?) industry waiting to be privatized; and they need an education "crisis," a private-public "solution" (created by ALEC) and then lobbyists and politicians to pave the way for them.  This is well documented, for example here.  
Just a taste of what they have in store for children in the future: virtual schools. “Baird Equity Research, in a giddy note to investors this year about the potential growth of K12 Inc., noted, “capturing just two million (3.5%) of the addressable market yields a market opportunity of approximately $12 billion … Over the next three years, we believe that the company is capable of 7%+ organic revenue growth with modest margin expansion.” How will it achieve this growth? According to Baird, K12 Inc.’s “competency in lobbying in new states” is “another key point of differentiation.” The analyst note describes “K12’s success in working closely with state policymakers and school districts to enable the expansion of virtual schools into new states or districts” as a key asset. “The company has years of experience in successfully lobbying to get legislation passed to allow virtual schools to operate,” Baird concludes.”

The Independent Budget Office, which is just what its name says, reports that charters get more money per student than public schools. As well, each new charter gets $500K to start up, along with renovations etc.  This new round will cost us a cool 7M just to start.  If we accept that a competition-/market-based model of education is the way to go, and schools should be marketing to and competing for students, then we need an even playing field where public schools can offer the same programs and resources that charters do, with their hedge fund donor-money and extended days.  

 Eva Moskowitz earns 475K per year and according to Wikipedia has 4 assistants.  She runs 22 schools.  The NYC schools Chancellor earns $200K.  Eva also moved her offices to Wall Street recently.  So let's start paying public school teachers and administrators similar salaries and see what happens.  The truth is that Eva is getting paid this much because it is expensive to be the face of the destruction of the public education in the US, which is what she will go down in history as, if we let her do it.

Quality Schools
First, I have to point out that one of the schools included in The Forgotten Fourth report is D6’s Harbor Heights middle school, which is a school for new arrivals to the US.  The research was so sloppy that they did not even eliminate schools where students who just arrived in the US and do not speak English AT ALL attend and - as would be expected - do miserably on the state ENGLISH tests.  It’s also incredibly disrespectful to the educators and students in the school. 

According to CEC1 President, a D1 school for new arrivals was also included in the report.  Ignoring this, but accepting charters’ definition of “success,” if they are doing something unique, why is it not being replicated in public schools? If some children flourish under this model, then we do not need to remove the charter school cap statewide; we can just start doing what charters do.  If it is the longer school day, then lengthen it and pay teachers for their time.  If it is instruction that has been replicated many times over at various charter schools, then teach public school teachers to do it and implement it in magnet public schools to which parents can choose to send their children.  
But the truth is that this is not about implementing successful strategies in a public system to the benefit of all public school students.  It is about privatizing public education in the US and opening up a trillion dollar market to investors.  And the best way to go about this is to make it look like and to help public schools “fail” and that there is a “demand” for charters and thus we should just turn the whole system over to charters.  That’s what today’s rally was about; next is to try to lift the charter cap. 
 And, finally, teacher attrition…
Teacher attrition at Success is stunning.  As noted in this recent article: “In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.”  The model is clearly unsustainable and obviously not “family-friendly” (which may explain their relatively young and inexperienced teachers and principals), but then again they only have to sustain it long enough to disrupt the system, buy the politicians, pass the legislation and open the market…

Plenty of NYC public schools stink and need very serious attention - don't get me wrong.  The current state of racial, ethnic and social class-based segregation must be addressed.  School funding must be addressed and child poverty must be addressed.  And no we cannot wait to get all of that right before we implement evidence-based education strategies that drive student achievement, like integrated schools and small class sizes (both shown to drive performance).  And if the research shows (using apples to apples comparisons) that some charters use techniques that improve achievement that public schools do not, given the same students, resources and environments, then we should implement the techniques in public schools.  

-- Victoria (Tory) Frye

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great Post Tory.
Just to clarify- as I may have misspoken. Included in the list of schools that were winnowed by only two metrics- conveniently the ones that make charter schools appear to measure up to district schools- are some D1 schools that serve hugely disproportionate numbers of at risk students:students with disabilities, English language learners, students in temporary housing and newcomers.