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
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
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
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
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
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
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
““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.