Sunday, September 27, 2020

Principals vote "no confidence" in Mayor; ability of DOE to provide an adequate education to NYC kids more in doubt than ever

Mark Cannizzaro, President of the CSA, the administrator's union, just announced that they had unanimously approved a resolution this morning, saying they had lost trust in the Mayor, and calling him to cede control over NYC schools and let the NY State Education Department take over.  

It is clear from the CSA resolution, press release and subsequent press conference that the frustration of principals has reached a boiling point, given all the repeated last minute changes in DOE's reopening plans and how they were not  included in any of the discussions that has made their attempt to staff their schools even more difficult that it was already, with three different teachers required for in-person learning, remote blended learning, and 100% remote learning.

The lengthy resolution says, among other things,  that DOE had "entered into grossly irresponsible staffing agreements that fail to prioritize needs of school children and families" & district superintendents have pressured principals "to falsely report their staffing needs already met."

The straw that broke the camel's back, according to President Mark Cannizzaro at a press conference this afternoon, was the latest DOE MOU with the UFT, released on Friday, that will allow teachers to stay home if they are teaching remotely,  which he said makes the orderly staffing of schools even more difficult.  He also cited a DOE email that went out to administrators, saying that they would have teach classes, even though the Chancellor had earlier agreed that this would be a voluntary decision on their part. 

FACE (DoE's office of Family and Community Empowerment) also emailed parents late on Friday, linking to the new UFT agreement and highlighting the new role of paraprofessional classroom manager within it, described this way:

This new job description implies that the DOE and UFT are now moving towards a plan where teachers will be able to stream classes from their homes, including to blended learning students who have opted into attending school.  Instead of being taught by a teacher in their classrooms, they may instead be getting their instruction on a computer, while being overseen in-person by a paraprofessional.

Also in the email, FACE provided parents a list of “free or low-cost” internet providers, implying that DOE no longer intends to be responsible for providing free internet to all students who need it.  Moreover the supposedly “ free providers” the email linked to  only offer access for free for 60 days and only for subscribers without a current subscription, which would leave most families out. 

FACE also recommended the use of internet at the following places:

       All branches of the New York Public Library (Open external link)

Several public spaces in Lower Manhattan (Open external link)

LinkNYC kiosks (Open external link) across the City

The email linked to a New York Public Library website, which only lists the main library and offers  no information about internet access.  Here is more useful webpag, which makes it clear that all the NYPL branches in Manhattan and Bronx are still closed except for grab and go books, adding this:

 “…there will be no computer use inside open branches.  The Library has left the Wi-Fi on at all its libraries, and patrons can use it outside the branch.”

That particular NYPL website also offers links to the websites of the Brooklyn and Queens public libraries.  The BPL homepage is confusing and tells  nothing about access, but another click gets  you to a page that says their libraries still open only allow “lobby services” – again meaning grab and go books.

The Queens Public Library homepage is even more confusing,  but a click takes you to its “blog” which reveals that any branch that is open only allows “to-go service”. 

You have to find this article from The City to learn that 20 Queens branches have outdoor WiFI extenders (though it doesn’t say which ones) and that many Brooklyn branch libraries also offer internet access outside.

The City article  cites a NYC Comptroller’s report,  which  found that 44% of New Yorkers in poverty lack broadband access at home, compared to 22% living above the poverty line.”  Apparently there was a public library program which lent hot spots to certain families with kids in the public schools over the summer, but it doesn't seem to be going anymore.

All these issues are further complicated by the fact that parents without internet service wouldn’t receive this FACE email anyway.

So it seems that now children opting into blended learning may not receive any real in-person instruction from their teachers, even when they’re in school.  When they’re home, they along with 100% remote students may not be guaranteed access to instruction via the internet, unless they sit near Link NYC kiosks, outside certain public libraries, or in a plaza in Lower Manhattan. 

Not to mention their online class sizes will be allowed to balloon to as many as 68 students or more.   

At the press conference today, Mark Cannizzaro was asked what help he expected or wanted from the NY State Education Department.  He responded, rather plaintively, it would be helpful for fresh eyes to take a look and figure out how a better education might be provided to NYC kids.  That's certainly true. 

Whether NYSED or any other agency or institution will actually help in this process or even mediate to ensure that the Mayor works more effectively with school leaders is very uncertain at this point.  An article in today's WSJ recounts how the Mayor consistently ignored the suggestions of community leaders and even the members of his own School Reopening Task force  throughout the spring and summer months.

All one can say is that the Mayor and Chancellor had six months to come up with a better plan, and completely botched it, to the tragic detriment of NYC kids.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Student discontent and high attrition at Success Academy; hearings next week about their intent to ditch three planned high schools in Brooklyn

 The following post is by Brooke Parker of NYC Kids PAC.  Public hearings will take place next week, Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 on Success Academy's request to revise their charter by eliminating three previously planned Brooklyn high schools.  In this post, Brooke speculates about the real reasons for this charter revision below.  The images are screenshots taken from the Instagram account @survivors_of_successacademy.  and include comments of current and former Success students and staff.

While most New Yorkers may not know what goes on behind the blue doors of  Success Academy charter schools (more on that later), their relentless demand for more space and expansion definitely rings familiar, including many well-publicized events when Success Academy closed all of its schools to have their students and parents lobby in Albany for expansion and more space in public schools.

Any public school advocate will tell you that Success Academy almost always wins their fights for space. Eva Moskowitz, the firebrand CEO of Success Academies has Governor Cuomo’s ear, and the organization has access to boat loads of money. [Note from LH: not in this one case though --where DOE wanted to give them the entire PS 25 school building  in Bed-Stuy without going through the legal process required – assuming their attempt to close PS 25 would go through, before a judge blocked this closure.]

In 2014, Success Academy held multiple press conferences and sued the city, demanding public school space for three of its schools while granting space for five other of its schools. Mayor de Blasio explained that these three would mean displacing disabled D75 students.  The city ended up renting and paying for private space for these schools at great expense.  In 2017, Success launched a $5M television ad campaign for more middle school space in DOE buildings.

Success Academy’s argument has always been that they just don’t have enough room for the huge wait lists of families clamoring to be in their schools. We must open more!  [And yet studies show that half of the students accepted at the school never enroll.]

Yet now Success has quietly requested revisions to their charter authorizer, SUNY, with announced hearings on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 , to cancel the opening of all three planned high schools in Brooklyn: Success Academy Williamsburg, Success Academy Cobble Hill, and Success Academy Bed Stuy 2.  [You can sign up to speak or attend these online hearings here.]

Last June, they requested that their total planned high school enrollment from these schools be eliminated, and instead 118 additional students be added to Success Academy Harlem 1, located in the Norman Thomas building on E. 33 St. in District 2 this fall.  Success Academy’s ostensible reason for the closing of the three planned high schools in Brooklyn is “due to facility constraints.” Yet as far as we can tell, they never requested more space from DOE, so this excuse seems questionable. 

Moreover, because of a state law passed in 2014, the city is required to help pay the rent for private space of any new or expanding charter school if they are not provided with space in a public school.  As detailed in this report issued last year by Class Size Matters, DOE spent $2.9 million in FY 2019 alone, leasing nine buildings for Success charters.  In addition, they spent $2.2 million that same year for two Success Academy charter schools to rent space in the Hudson Yards complex on the west side of Manhattan, even though the Success Academy charter management organization owns the space. Not to mention that Success CMO enjoyed a huge surplus in 2018 of more than $60 million according to the IRS data  and $12 million for the charter schools themselves.  In 2019, they received an additional $9.8 million to expand and open new schools, including  a new high school. 

Revising their charters and moving students around  isn’t new to Success Academy. In recent years, they’ve changed planned enrollments at their middle schools  and shuffled students from one area to another. What is notable about this hearing is there will be NO Success Academy high school in Brooklyn in spite of having five Success Academy middle schools in the borough.

Given what we know about Success Academy, and their promises to families that they will continue to offer high school seats to all graduating 8th graders, combined with their relentless push for space in public school buildings regardless of community opposition, we were curious why Success Academy didn’t just ask for more space for their high schools in Brooklyn or go out and rent space that the city would have to then subsidize.

Success Academy opened in 2006 with just one school and 83 Kindergartners. They now boast 47 schools serving 18,000 students. The charter chain doesn’t admit students from outside their system after 4th grade, so middle schools and high school entry is exclusive to students who have been enrolled in their elementary schools. 


Gary Rubinstein has written about Success Academy’s attrition, calculating the rate per year at 17% after 4th grade when there is no more back-filling of students. Rubinstein analyzed the graduating class of 2020 and found: 

“…there was a combined 353 students in the cohort [2nd grade].  By 6th grade, they were down to 263 students and by 9th grade it was 191.  In 10th grade they were 161 students and in 11th grade, 146.  And now, according to the New York Post article based on a Success Academy press release, they have 114 seniors.  So only 32% of the students who were there in second grade made it through their program.  And even more startling is that of the 191 9th graders that had been at Success Academy for 10 years, only 59% of them are on track to graduate three years later.”

Still, given the network’s rapid expansion, one would anticipate enough rising 8th graders for a Brooklyn high school. That is, unless you look at Bed Stuy 1, where the 2019-2020 8th grade class of 75 began as a 5th grade class of 105. That’s a 29% attrition rate within one cohort. They just can’t seem to hold onto their students.

So far Success has only two high schools, Harlem 1 and Harlem 3, both housed in the Norman Thomas
building.  For the last three years, at Harlem 3, the 9th grade enrollment first increased from 106 to 152, but then fell to 137, an increase of only 31 students over that period, according to the DOE’s demographic snapshots. At Harlem  1, the 9th grade cohort has declined from 192 in 2016-2017, to 134 in 2017-2018, stayed at 134 the following year, and then dropped to only 114 last year – a decline of 78 students over this period, despite all the middle school students they enroll.

This year, with the planned addition of the 118 students coming from the three proposed Brooklyn high schools, we should expect Harlem 1’s 9th grade class to hover around at least 232 students. 

Strangely, we could not find out how many students are in the 9th grade at Harlem 1 this fall. After numerous requests, the DOE refuses to share the enrollment numbers. They have them, but they will not release them. Could it be that Success Academy couldn’t even get those planned 118 Brooklyn students?  If the Harlem 1 high school enrollment numbers were high, Success Academy would use those numbers as political muscle and advertise them, not conceal them.

The information about enrollment at Harlem 1 is critical to the upcoming hearings SUNY on September 29 and 30th. Even without having confirmation of decreased enrollment, there doesn’t seem to be enough interest in Success Academy to garner a high school in Brooklyn, and no matter how much they quietly declare to SUNY that they can’t find the “adequate facilities,” it looks like what’s really happening is that they just can’t keep their students. 

What could be behind the exponentially decreasing interest in remaining at Success Academy through high school? 

Public school advocates have always struggled to get information about Success Academy and their board meetings are rarely made public. But there is some information that we have been able to glean from public data when it’s available. We know that their teacher turnover rate was the highest of any charter at 42%.

We know that they enroll hardly any English Language Learners (ELLs) in areas where their neighboring public schools have ELL percentages in the double digits. We know about the inequities of any public school that is cursed with being co-located with a Success Academy charter school.  We know about the harsh punishments and zero-tolerance policies for children as young as 5 years old.  We know about the continual and flagrant violations of student privacy, which is how the Success CEO Eva Moskowitz retaliates against parents who go public about the abuse their children suffer at her schools.

Moreover in recent years, Success Academy has had mainstream media coverage of truly disturbing practices in their elementary schools, from the NY Times video footage of a teacher verbally abusing a first grader, to the infamous “got to go list -- for which the families of the students who were pushed out recently received a settlement of $1.1 million in damages before even going to trial.  There have been countless other  lawsuits, outlining a range of abuses towards children.

In 2018, Success Academy high school students staged a series of protests against their school with a

list of grievances, ranging from draconian punishments for petty issues to excessive student homework. In the fall of the following year, only 20 out of the 67 high school teachers returned. 

In  August 2018, Chalkbeat published an in-depth expose of the many problems that had arisen in their high school, with students rebelling against the school's abusive policies.  In November and December, Gimlet media ran a series about Success charters for their popular Start-up podcast.  The episode about Success high school students protesting the school's rise in suspensions and their practice of sending students back to earlier grades for minor issues was especially shocking, including reporting on a decision by Eva Moskowitz to ban head scarfs. Here is a quote from the narrator:

And Eva kept shifting the school's policies — tightening enforcement, changing the punishment. She added dress code violations and misbehavior at dismissal to the list of offenses that were punishable with a holdover. Kids and teachers, their heads were spinning. As more and more students were told that they might have to go back to the previous grade, the student body grew increasingly frustrated... 

Though the NY Post touted the fact that the 2020 high school class had an 100% college acceptance rate, they failed to mention that  one third of the students in that class had left Success Academy after their junior year, and the school had lost roughly one-seventh of their seniors during their final year, according to an analysis by Gary Rubinstein.

Staff and student anger against the racist aspect of the school's practices and policies became even more explosive with the Black Lives Matter protests over George Floyd's murder.  In June 2020, a new Instagram account was created, called  @survivors_of_successacademy described as  "A place for current and former Success Academy employees, students, and families to share their stories” with the hashtag #insidesuccess.

Three days later came this single post: “Over 200 current and past employees, students, and parents have shared their stories with us.” A little later that same day, “For those attending Eva’s town halls today: Don’t let them ignore you! Demand that they answer your questions. We don’t want to hear talking points; we want change.” #evamustresign.

On June 16, the account posted a disturbing photo taken three years previously at a Success charter school, of black children’s
headless bodies hanging upside down from a tree below the cheery phrase, “Hang in there… It’s almost summer!” 

Less than a week later, after fielding a barrage of complaints from students and staff of racist practices at the school, and the refusal of Eva Moskowitz to put out a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matters, Liz Baker, who worked in Success Academy’s Public Relations office, publicly quit, writing:

I am resigning because I can no longer continue working for an organization that allows and rewards the systemic abuse of students, parents, and employees… As the organization’s press associate, I no longer wish to defend Success Academy in response to any media inquiries,” the letter continued. “I do not believe that Success Academy has scholars’ best interests at heart, and I strongly believe that attending any Success Academy school is detrimental to the emotional well-being of children.”

Since then, the @survivors_of_successacademy Instagram page has ramped up their posts, revealing more discontent and  devastating truths about Success Academies, from racist policies to emotional abuse of children to regularly shaming children and parents.  Many of the comments come directly from middle and high school students, who also launched a different account: @sa.vanguards. As of this writing, the Instagram account has almost 6,000 followers.

There has never been a platform like this for charter school students, parents and staff to speak out and share their experiences. Within the comments you can read both outrage and relief from feeling heard. Let’s hope that SUNY is listening. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Yet another last minute DOE revision of their school reopening plan & even more crowded classes & less live teaching for NYC kids

UPDATE (9/17/20):  This morning, the Mayor announced that in-person learning for students opting into blended education would be delayed once again.  The new schedule is below.

  • Kids in 3K, preK and District 75 ONLY will return to school on Monday.
  • Kids in K-5, K-8 schools will return on Sept 29.
  • Kids in middle and high school will return on Oct 1.

At the same time, the Mayor and Chancellor said they had already hired or reassigned 2,000 more teachers; and were in the process of hiring 2,600 additional educators from CUNY adjuncts and graduate students to address the staffing shortages.  Meanwhile the IBO came out with an estimate that schools need 11,000 more teachers, at an approximate cost of $20.4M per week.

While phasing-in school attendance is a good idea, and is being done in other districts including Boston, this delay creates even more chaos and confusion.  Again, DOE had six months to come up with a safe, orderly and sustainable plan and utterly failed.  Also unacceptable is the fact that they are allowing class size limits for students receiving remote learning to double, to 64-68 kids per class, when research and experience shows that even smaller classes than usual are necessary for remote learning to have any chance of success.

Yesterday, we also heard from parents that their children’s remote learning classes were even bigger than this – including reports of 72 -129 students per class, which is outrageous and a complete violation of their right to an adequate education.  Please email me at to let me know what class sizes your children are getting.

As DOE announced yesterday, students who are doing blended learning will no longer be guaranteed any live instruction while at home.  And some of them will be on computers the whole time while in school, getting remote instruction with huge class sizes, that is, if they are provided any live classes at all.

I hope that some of these thousands of educators stick around to help reduce class sizes when NYC schools get back to normal.  Our kids deserve a better education and will need those small classes more than ever.


9/16/20 Today was the  first day of remote orientation for NYC students.  Next week, part-time, in-person instruction will begin for those students that have opted into blended learning.  

Meanwhile, last week, 55 NYC teachers tested positive for COVID, raising some alarm, though as the Mayor pointed out, the figure is only .23% of the 17,000 or so teachers who were tested.  Still, staff at many schools are resisting entering their buildings, because of inadequate cleaning, PPE supplies, and/or ventilation.

One of the biggest problems is that principals say they still don’t have enough teachers to make the blend of in-person and remote classes work – as the system devised by DOE requires  three times as many full-time staffers as previously: one to teach full-time remote students; one to teach the part-time blended learning students when they’re at home, and one for the part-time in-person students.  A

Although the DOE now claims that they’ve hired and/or reassigned 2,000 more teachers and administrators to schools, the CSA, the principals union, said that schools require at least 10,000 additional teachers to make the scheduling work. What’s especially perverse is because of constrained budgets and funding cuts,  many schools have been forced to excess some of the teachers and other counselors and librarians they so desperately need who were already on staff.

In order to compensate for the staffing shortages, the UFT agreed that class sizes for the blended, remote learning could double  to as much as 64-68 students per class, which totally undermines any chance that these classes could be successful.

Then, last night, the night before remote orientation was to begin, the DOE announced that when they're at home, blended learning students would not be guaranteed of the one to two hours of live teaching per day that they had been previously promised.

Throughout the spring and summer, I had remained hopeful that the DOE would do everything they could to maximize the opportunity for students to interact with their teachers, either in-person or online, given how essential live human interaction is to academic and emotional development for most kids.  

The overall health conditions seemed to indicate this was possible.  In NYC, the positivity rates have been low around 1% for a month or more, and unlike elsewhere in the state, both social distancing and mask wearing  will be required in our schools; and here, all schools will be shut down if these rates reach 3% whereas the state benchmark for automatic closure is a less protective 5%.

Other countries with fewer restrictions have reopened schools without seeing a rise in transmission. And according to the DOE, the REC centers that opened in March for the children of essential workers had no major breakouts, despite the fact they opened at height of the pandemic in NYC, though unfortunately the city has so far failed to publicly release this data.

Yet it's shameful how the planning for reopening has been so late and so incoherent .  The Mayor and the DOE had nearly six months to come up with a better plan and utterly failed. 

Remember when de Blasio said this year would "have to be the best academic year we’ve ever had to help our kids move forward?"  Instead, it is likely that they will be subjected to more confusion, immense online class sizes and little actual teacher contact or feedback. They deserved better.

Today's "Talk out of School" on PreK reopening and how to improve online learning

This morning, on my “Talk out of School” podcast, I spoke to Alice Mulligan, director of a preschool in Brooklyn and head of CBOs for Equity, whose school reopened last week.  She described the changes and renovations she had to make to ensure proper safety precautions, without help or reimbursement from the DOE. 

Alice almost had to cancel the interview when right before the broadcast, one of her students developed a runny nose.  As she explained, she hurriedly put on PPE and waited outside for the parents to come to pick up and take the child home.  Luckily, Alice was able to return to her office right before 10 AM to speak on the show. Just one of the many unpredictable events that educators will have to deal with during this unpredictable year.

Then I interviewed Tom Liam Lynch, director of education policy for the Center for NYC affairs and editor in chief  of InsideSchools, who explained their new project, InsideSchools plus, an online community site for parents to share information about their schools and express their concerns.   

Tom also helped develop the iLearn learning platform when he worked for DOE several years ago.  iLearn was used during this past summer school with  inconsistent results. Tom explained how he believes remote learning could be strengthened from the version that was implemented over the summer and last year, that is, if teachers are properly supported. He has also developed a free online course for parents to let them know how to help their children succeed with learning remotely. 

As I made clear during our discussion, I’m not a fan of online learning, and strongly believe that at its best, learning is a collective, social endeavor and that most students need the steady in-person support of their teachers to thrive. And yet given the fact that most students will be relegated to remote instruction for much of their time, even if they opted into in-person learning, it is important to try to improve upon the method by analyzing the failures of the past .