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The Great Distance-Learning Experiment

The Philanthropy Round Table

Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City decided to shift to virtual education even before the government ordered children […]

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The Secret of Success



On Aug. 13, while his mother, Jenna Sternbach, was meeting other parents and teachers, 4-year-old August went to “dress rehearsal” at his new school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. “He hadn’t been particularly excited about school before,” says Sternbach, a freelance publicist and stay-at-home mom. “Now he can’t stop talking about it.”

August was one of 1,429 applying to Success Academy Cobble Hill, which is in the basement of an existing school building (two other schools are upstairs) on Baltic Street. Places were allocated by lottery, with 20% of seats set aside for English learners.

Success Academy now operates 12 of New York City’s dozens of charter schools, which are funded by the public purse but are run without the input of the United Federation of Teachers. Sternbach, 32, visited a Success school that opened last year on the Upper West Side and came away enchanted.

Sternbach, who also has a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old, is zoned for PS 261 in Boerum Hill and thought, “It was OK.” But, “When I toured Success Academy on the Upper West Side, I thought, this facility is beautiful and the teachers are very energetic and engaged with the kids.

“Everything was very bright and cheerful.

“I love the energy of the school. When they meet a standard, they keep raising the bar.”

Tomorrow, Success Academy Cobble Hill opens to 165 kindergartners and first graders. Along with other charter outfits, such as Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and the Knowledge is Power Program, Success gets inundated with applications every time it opens a new school. Seats are allocated by lottery, with priority given to locals.

Founded by former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, Success has a topsy-turvy idea about how schools should be run: to please customers instead of employees.

Success Academy Cobble Hill (SACH) was bustling on a recent visit. It took over most of a basement that three months ago was a dingy storage area. A greenhouse outside in the courtyard wasn’t being used; they put it to work, too.

New, bright-blue flooring has been installed. The tiles are neatly inscribed with vocabulary words and numbers, so kids learn even as they shuttle between classes. A huge room is filling up with boxes of blocks for play time. Brand-new, little desks and chairs are being taken out of their wrapping.

Because a principal shouldn’t have to spend her time on budgets and purchasing, Success schools divide the role into a chief educator (a career art teacher, Kerri Tabarcea) and an operations manager (Dawn Antoine, an MBA and former J.P. Morgan banker). At the start of the school year, parents get a sheet listing the teachers’ cellphone numbers, and Anne Osmon, the chipper community-relations coordinator, is also available to talk after-hours. School policy is all calls get returned within 24 hours, except on weekends. “My generation is used to being on call all the time,” she says with a shrug.

Arriving in SACH isn’t quite like arriving in Oz from Kansas. It’s more like arriving in Oz from Rahway State Penitentiary.

Most of the building is occupied by the seemingly redundant Brooklyn School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, both serving grades six through 12. Much in the way Wile E. Coyote’s business card used to say, “Genius,” these schools’ titles compare uneasily with their accomplishments.

The Brooklyn School for Global Studies, which barely escaped being closed by the city for gross incompetence earlier this year, rates 18% of its students as proficient in reading, 33% in math. The number of students who passed a “college preparatory course” under the city’s definition: zero.

Yet recently it rewarded itself by spending your money buying iPads for its teachers (who at this school are paid an average of $71,000).

At the School for International Studies (“very few classes with an international theme,” dryly notes, 23% of students are rated as proficient in reading and 54% in math.

That’s “proficient,” not “prepared for college,” much less “employable.” Lead off your résumé with “proficient in English,” see how many job offers roll in. Last year zero students passed an AP exam. The school mainly seems to serve as an employment agency: The student/teacher ratio is 12 to 1.

At the Success schools, it’s more like 28 to 1. Fewer teachers does not necessarily mean worse results.

Moskowitz’s charter schools take some private money while they’re getting off the ground, but after the third year they are self-sustaining, run entirely on public funds. They don’t even allow parents to raise additional money for the school — a familiar feature of many of New York’s better public schools, whose parent groups tirelessly rattle the tin cup — on the reasoning that lower-income parents shouldn’t be burdened or made to feel that their kids are on an unequal footing.

Many of the charter-school teachers are refugees from the ordinary public schools. The good news for them is they get paid about 15% more at Success schools, in exchange for which the charters don’t have to deal with the ironclad, innovation-stifling 165-page contract enforced by the United Federation of Teachers. That means, among other things, a longer school day (until 4:30) and more flexibility to get rid of bad teachers, reward good ones and continuously direct and train them.

Actual passage from the UFT Web site: “The contract expressly forbids supervisors to discipline you for the appearance and format of your bulletin boards, the arrangement of your room or the length of segments of your lesson. If your evaluation is rated ‘U’ [unsatisfactory] for any of those reasons, see your chapter leader about filing a grievance or pursuing professional conciliation.”

New York’s much-vaunted changes to teacher tenure, which traditionally has made it virtually impossible to fire someone after three years on the job, are more hype than reality. This year “ only” 55% got tenure — what other gig offers lifetime job security for being average? — but only 3% were outright rejected.

Thanks to engaged teachers, Success students, who wear bright orange and blue uniforms (financial aid is available for those who can’t afford them), are notably enthusiastic about school, according to observers such as

“Every moment is packed with purpose and structure,” InsideSchools ruled of the Success Academy on the Upper West Side, which opened last fall. “During block time, students are given activities and goals. In art, before they paint a full picture, students practice skills such as how to use a brush, how to make different marks with the brush and how to clean a brush before dipping it into another color. We observed one teacher playing a math game with her students while they waited on line to use the bathroom . . . We met students displaying impressive skills.”

“We call it joyful rigor,” says Moskowitz, taking a break from scrambling to open similar schools in two other Brooklyn neighborhoods: largely middle-class Williamsburg and impoverished Bedford-Stuyvesant. Moskowitz holds a Ph.D. in history and helps teach intensive teacher-prep classes in the weeks before school starts.

She has produced blockbuster results: The first four Success schools to receive state ratings all got an A last fall. Success schools rank in the top 1% in the state in math and in the top 3% in English.

By now there should be a statue of Moskowitz in Harlem (where she grew up and lives). But no true revolutionary lacks enemies.

The United Federation of Teachers, correctly perceiving market-based competition to be a dire threat, organizes front groups to kick up a fuss at community board meetings. One SACH information session at a public library last October was greeted with protesters screaming “co-location kills public schools” and ended abruptly when hecklers shouted down Moskowitz.

“It was crazy,” says Sternbach, a parent who was there. “I wasn’t aware of the level of opposition at that point. It was all teachers’ contract stuff. I sort of need to be more focused on the education aspect.”

Unionistas bring frivolous lawsuits (they keep getting dismissed by judges) and wage a furious war in the press, enjoying seemingly limitless access to the pages of The New York Times. Only in the public-education system would anyone argue that failure should be rewarded with more money, that monopoly is good or that choice is bad.

Success students are self-selecting, given that it takes a bit of initiative to apply, and some students are easier to discipline than others. By their nature, charters attract motivated families.

But so what? If there aren’t enough life boats for everyone, does that mean everyone should drown in the interest of “fairness?” The obvious answer is more lifeboats. Not suing the boat makers.

“This shouldn’t be so threatening,” Moskowitz says with a sigh. “We’re just offering parents one other option. You don’t have to go to the school, but if you want an alternative that is academically rigorous, this is one more addition in the neighborhood.

“And yet we have to defend ourselves in court. That’s a little wacky. We should be making it easier, not harder, to access academic excellence.” Of just over 1,000 public schools in the city, Moskowitz notes, 60% are “abysmal failures” in which most students cannot read at grade level.

Contrary to what its opponents would have you believe, SACH, and the Success schools in general, are progressive-minded. They venerate science (Moskowitz believes hers are the only public schools in the country that feature science five days a week from kindergarten on), they welcome special needs and English language learners and disproportionately serve the poor and people of color (11 of the 14 Success schools are in predominantly minority neighborhoods).

They also provide a partial remedy to one of the great shames of New York City, which is that our schools are de facto segregated. “I wish there were more outrage,” says Moskowitz. “There was a time in this country when that was important to us and people lost a lot of literally blood and tears over that problem.”

At the Success on the Upper West Side, two-thirds of the school’s students are black and Latino, compared with 30% at PS 9 across the street. Yet SACH has been castigated as an unfair perk for the rich. Its union-backed enemies argued absurdly that it was marketed so that only white families would hear about it (in fact Success takes out ads on buses and other public spaces), that it was taking away space from a needy school (but there is so much wasted space within existing city schools that 200,000 students could be accommodated by charters without adding a single brick to a building).

Moskowitz is confident that common sense will prevail, and that the charter movement will continue to grow even after its most powerful champion, Mayor Bloomberg, departs office in 16 months. Even if, unfortunately, any would-be successor will be begging the UFT for campaign support.

“I think parents are very powerful, and I think any mayoral candidate or future mayor who tries to reduce parent choice is going to be a little caught off guard by the power of the response,” she says.

After all, this is a love story, and love conquers all. “If you put teaching and learning front and center and you have a very high rigor bar,” Moskowitz says, “the kids are not only going to learn more and faster but the kids are going to fall in love with learning.”

Christie Signs Bill Overhauling Job Guarantees for Teachers


By Kate Zernike

It will be harder for public-school teachers in New Jersey to get tenure and easier to fire bad ones under legislation signed on Monday by Gov. Chris Christie that overhauls the state’s century-old tenure law.
The new law suggests how much the landscape has changed on revising education, and on tenure, long among the most contentious issues for teachers’ unions and legislators.

A bipartisan coalition in the Democratic-controlled Legislature proposed the bill, which was passed unanimously in June. In signing the measure, Mr. Christie, a Republican, credited the leadership of the state’s teachers’ unions, which had spent heavily on television advertisements against him after he took office and forced changes to their pensions and benefits.
“This proves that education reform need not be a partisan issue,” the state’s education commissioner, Christopher D. Cerf, said.

Under the old law, tenure had been all but guaranteed for teachers after three years on the job. The new law requires teachers to work for four years, one of which must be under a mentor, and to earn ratings of “effective” or “highly effective” in at least two years.
Teachers who fail to earn high ratings for two consecutive years will automatically face revocation of tenure, unless they have shown some improvement.

The previous law allowed school districts to dismiss teachers for “inefficiency,” but the procedure for doing so took several years and could cost districts more than $100,000, which state officials said discouraged attempts to remove bad teachers. Only 20 teachers have been fired for inefficiency in the last 10 years, state officials said.
Under the new law, teachers will have 105 days after a school district files tenure revocation orders to fight it, and the arbitration costs will be capped at $7,500, to be paid by the state.

Signing the bill at a school in Middlesex Borough, the governor called it “a great day for good teachers.”
“Good teachers will do very well under this system,” he said.

Mr. Christie had made changing the system a centerpiece of his agenda this year. But he did not get everything he wanted. In particular, he argued to change the system of “last in, first out,” which requires districts to lay off teachers by seniority, not merit. The governor had threatened not to sign the bill unless it changed that provision. But the unions had made their support conditional on keeping it.
Some superintendents in the state’s big-city school districts, particularly Cami Anderson, who was brought in by the Christie administration to try to turn around Newark’s schools, have argued that without ending seniority rights, they cannot afford other meaningful changes.

Ms. Anderson has said that Newark spends $8.5 million a year to maintain about 100 teachers in an “excess teacher pool” of teachers who are deemed not qualified to teach but have been hard to fire.

New York’s Charter Schools Get an A+


By Joel Klein

During the eight years I served as chancellor of New York City’s public schools, the naysayers and the apologists for the status quo kept telling me “we’ll never fix education in America until we fix poverty.”

I always thought they had it backward, that “we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education.” Let me be clear. Poverty matters: Its debilitating psychological and physical effects often make it much harder to successfully educate kids who grow up in challenged environments. And we should do everything we can to ameliorate the effects of poverty by giving kids and families the support they need. But that said, I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.

And I’m equally convinced that pointing to poverty as an excuse for why we fail to properly educate poor kids only serves to condemn more of them to lives of poverty.

Last week’s test scores in New York City and state demonstrate, once again, that it doesn’t have to be this way. Although the traditional public schools in the city have about the same ratio of poor children—and a significantly smaller ratio of black and Latino children—the charter schools outperformed the traditional schools by 12 points in math and five points in reading. Those are substantial differences.

Even more remarkable, the charter schools slightly outperformed the entire state of New York, which has far fewer poor children and minorities. While the poverty rate for NYC charters is more than 75%, for the state as a whole it is about 50%. Yet the charters beat the state average by 7.2 points in math and were only 3.6 points below in reading. It’s hard to explain how unexpected—and significant—these results are.

Charter schools are not private schools. They are publicly funded schools that families can choose instead of their traditional neighborhood public school. But unlike traditional public schools, charters are run by independent boards (rather than a government bureaucracy) and are not constrained by oppressive union contracts. When they’re oversubscribed, as they are in New York, charters must admit kids by lottery.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has opened well over 100 charter schools during his tenure, mostly in high-poverty communities. The response has been overwhelming. This spring, for example, some 67,000 kids applied for fewer than 15,000 openings in charters. These kids are almost entirely from low-income African-American and Latino families. Those families, desperately in search of a better education for their kids, are clearly voting with their feet. The recent test scores confirm they know what they’re doing.

But what really puts the lie to the notion that poverty prevents dramatically better student outcomes than we are now generally seeing in public education is the performance of several individual charter schools or groups of such schools. For example, Success Academies, a charter group whose students are almost 100% minority and about 75% poor, had 97% of the kids at its four schools proficient in math and 88% in English. Miraculously, that’s more than 30% higher in both math and reading than the state as a whole.

The Success schools are performing at the same level as NYC’s best schools—gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests—even though gifted schools have far fewer low-income and minority students. In short, with a population that is considered much harder to educate, Success is getting champion-league results.

Rest assured, the status-quo, poverty-is-destiny crowd will try to explain away these remarkable results. They will selectively point to small differences and argue that the charter schools are “creaming” the better students, i.e., not accepting kids with greater needs or lower test scores.

But the dramatic difference in results renders these nitpicks trivial. Let’s get real here: If anyone is creaming kids in NYC, it’s the gifted and talented schools that are designed to select kids solely based on performance, not the Success schools or other high-performing charters that are located in high-poverty communities where they admit mostly poor kids based exclusively on lotteries.

So let’s stop the excuse-making and start celebrating the success of the Success schools. And let’s ask ourselves the tough questions: If it is happening in New York City, why isn’t it happening throughout the nation? Why do we tolerate a public education system that fails our neediest kids when we know that significantly better outcomes are possible?

Given the deep resistance to change built into the current public-school system, it won’t be easy to take to scale results like those achieved at the Success schools. But it’s doable—if we’re willing to increase incentives for excellence, encourage innovation, and stop protecting teachers who are not up to the job.

The teachers at Success work hard, are better compensated than other public school teachers, and move on if they can’t cut the mustard. Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things. They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.

This isn’t rocket science, though it is more important to our nation’s future than any rocket out there.

Mr. Klein, former chancellor of New York City’s public schools, is the CEO of Amplify, News Corporation’s educational division. News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.

Two-Thirds of District 2 Voters Support Opening Success Academy in Their Neighborhood

New Poll Shows District 2 Parents Dissatisfied with Current Schools, Demand Better Education Options

July 24, 2012

(New York, NY) – Nearly two thirds of voters who reside in School District 2 in Manhattan support plans to open Success Academy Charter Schools in their neighborhoods, according to poll results the public school organization released today. The survey of 400 registered voters found that 61% of residents support bringing Success Academy to their school district, including 67% of parents. Success plans to open two schools in District 2 in August 2013, beginning with kindergarten and first grade and expanding through eighth grade. The city’s Education Department recently proposed locating the schools on the Washington Irving campus near Union Square and at the Graphic Communications Arts High School campus on West 49th Street.

“It’s clear that families in these neighborhoods are looking for additional options for educating their children and we look forward to working with community over the next year to bring them two more high performing public schools with a strong track record of success,” said Eva Moskowitz, Founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools.

The poll also found that parents in District 2 aren’t satisfied with their current public school choices: 77% of parents say there are not enough high-quality education options in their neighborhood and more than half (56%) want to send their children to a different school than the one they currently attend. In fact, this past year, 100 families living in District 2 applied to Success Academy Upper West, which is located in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“After a year and a half of searching for the best school for my son, I found the best option was in District 3,” said Jennifer Tran, a District 2 parent whose son applied to Success Academy Upper West but wasn’t accepted in the random lottery. “District 2 desperately needs better schools and a new Success Academy would provide the opportunities our kids need to ensure they are given every tool to succeed.”

Success Academy Charter Schools consistently perform among the city’s top public schools and have eradicated the racial and ethnic achievement gap. On state test results released last week, 88% of Success Academy students met or exceeded standards in English and 97% of students were proficient in math.

*Full poll available upon request

The numbers show our kids can thrive


By Stanley Crouch

When looking at the statistics for the Harlem Educational Activities Fund and Success Academy Charter Schools, two public education efforts in New York City — one a supplement to the system, the other a constellation of charter schools — we see how well things can be done by leaders and teachers who make themselves indispensable to their young charges.

They do that, in part, by using objective measures to evaluate their students — and refining their methods when the efforts fall short. They are not swayed by dubious political battles that too often distract us from what should be the fundamental and unchanging objective: reaching effectively across the lines of class, color, religion and gender to achieve real learning.

Our nation needs such people, and such organizations, if we are going to compete against countries like India and China. The same old schools, fighting their same old battles, will only leave our children further and further behind. Essentially, quality education is as important to the citizenry today as quality medicine.

The briefest look at modern medicine shows that, for all of the failures and all of the mistakes, all of the snake oil and incompetence, our unrivaled ability today to diagnose, cure and prevent disease makes us better off than we have ever been.

Now’s the time for our schools.

That is exactly why the numbers for HEAF and the Success schools provide us with substantial morale. They quite simply prove that good education can work anywhere, with anyone.

Eva Moskowitz started her charter network in Harlem, to show critics what she can do with so-called disadvantaged children. The city recently released standardized test data for grades 3 through 8, and the kids in Success Academy schools easily outdid their public school peers, where union rules make it hard to retain the best teachers — and fire the worst.

While citywide 47% of kids were at or above grade level in English and 60% in math, the kids at four Harlem Success Academy schools did much better, with 80% at or above grade level in English and a whopping 95% in math. These schools are 99% black or Latino, with 80% of the students on free or reduced lunch.

Moskowitz said in a statement: “I could not be more proud of our teachers, leaders, scholars and parents who collectively work their hearts out every day to show the heights that all children can reach in the classroom. They are showing that we can not only narrow the achievement gap, we can shatter it through a combination of excellent teacher training, rigorous and well-rounded curricula and time in the day to allow kids to just be kids.”

HEAF also does what is an astonishingly successful job. It serves students beginning in the sixth grade with after-school, weekend and summer programs and stays with them until they graduate college.

All of its participating students graduate from high school, while 98% enroll in college and 95% graduate — far above national numbers that have only about 70% of American students graduating high school.

So I salute educators like Eva Moskowitz. They are leading the way by proving that our population always remains our most valuable resource. School leaders like Moskowitz dedicate themselves to facts that are able to overshadow all meaningless whining and cynicism about our children.

They know that realized potential, astute self-criticism, imagination and consistency will save the day — not all the time but often enough to heat the shared morale that underlies our civilization.

Charter-school envy


By Eva Moskowitz

The Success Academy Charter Schools, which I run, are criticized for taking advantage of Mayor Bloomberg’s policy allowing us to use excess space available in the buildings of district-run schools.

It’s painful, charge our critics, for the families that these schools serve to see the contrast between their dreary classrooms and ours, which we spruce up with cheery paint jobs, new carpets and extensive technology.

Actually, it’s far worse than that: 88 percent of our students read proficiently; fewer than a third do at these district schools. Our students also get two hours more instruction per day, science daily and teachers who receive far more professional development.

So forget the cheery paint. Our students are getting an education that will give them a fair shot at fulfilling the hopes and dreams of their parents — while most of those attending our co-located schools aren’t.

But our critics are wrong to think we’re oblivious to the pain this causes. As a mother of three and a public-school parent, I know that all parents feel a profound responsibility to give their children every opportunity to succeed and are justifiably furious to learn that other children have been given opportunities their own kids have not.

In fact, many of my schools’ parents have an older child at a district school and have told me of their feelings at one day seeing their younger child start teaching their older child how to read.

Until then, they hadn’t truly appreciated how inadequate their older child’s education had been; they feel anger and even guilt.

Where I differ with my critics is what to do about all this. They brand charter schools “separate and unequal” in a demagogic effort to equate them with racial segregation and propose that charter schools stop sharing buildings with district schools — or, better yet, stop existing entirely.

But that won’t brighten the district schools’ hallways or help their students read. It will just lessen parents’ awareness of these inadequacies.

Sadly, that’s exactly what the critics want. They’re afraid that parents may ask why the district schools can’t be better — and not like the answer.

The critics tell parents that we have more money. Good try: Actually, charter schools run on less funding than do the district schools.

The real answer is that we aren’t hampered by the union rules and government bureaucracy from which the district schools suffer.

The district routinely pays teachers who don’t actually teach because no principal will put them in front of students. It prohibits custodians from painting anything above 10 feet, to appease the painters’ union. It buys fluorescent bulbs that are marginally cheaper than the ones used by my schools but are far dimmer and ultimately more expensive because they don’t last as long.

It buys paint in bizarre murky greens and browns, because cheery colors cost a little more. It buys computers that stay locked in closets until they are discarded as obsolete. It pays for useless workers, such as the bathroom monitor at one of my schools who sleeps all day. I could give a hundred more examples.

When I was chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I sought to draw attention to these problems. But people doubted they mattered; they believed only more money and smaller class size could improve schools.

That’s one reason I chose to start charter schools — to demonstrate the incredible difference it truly makes when a school is run free from crushing bureaucracy and outlandish labor contracts.

Sure, putting charter schools in separate buildings would spare district parents the pain of pressing their noses up against the glass of high-functioning charters. However, to improve our public-school system, parents must know things could be better, no matter how painful that knowledge is.

Consider it one more service charter schools do — communicating one simple message to the families whom the district schools so profoundly fail: It need not be so.

Eva Moskowitz is founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools.

For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle


By Geoff Decker

Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated “proficient” on the state’s reading tests. It wasn’t exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a “no excuses” network.

But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide.

Bushwick’s gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent.  The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state.

“Policy makers and legislators should take note” of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association.”It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children.”

“We can’t possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. “They’re just off the charts.”

Several charter operators announced their schools’ test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year.

The charter school sector wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.

Across the city, the charter school sector had stalled on boosting student performance. In 2010, 42 percent of students scored proficient on the state reading tests, virtually identical to the city’s district average. The results were not what the charter sector had hoped for at a time when when advocates were trying to make the case that more charter schools were necessary in the city and state.

After last year’s results barely budged, many charter school leaders realized they had to change their approach.

“I know that people put in a very hard look at this time last year and said we’re not getting the job done,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, an organization that advocates for and offers support to charter schools.

One of those schools was Achievement First Bushwick, where scores on the reading tests were low enough that its authorizer slapped the school with a shortened charter renewal. Principal Amy D’Angelo told GothamSchools last year that in response to its 2010 test scores, it began overhauling its approach to teaching literacy.

“AF Bushwick launched an intensive effort to strength curriculum and instruction in ELA and services for ELL students,” D’Angelo told us last year. She said she had hired an English specialist to work independently with students who struggled the most on reading and writing.

In her press release, Kenny also said her schools had bolstered instruction to meet higher standards on the test. “As the tests have become more difficult, our teachers have developed and improved instructional strategies to help all students reach their highest potential,” she said.

One of the criticisms about charter schools is that they don’t serve comparable numbers of students with high needs, an assessment that was largely supported by a report that Merriman’s office released earlier this year. So far, disaggregated charter school data for these types of students aren’t available.

But in a press release after the test scores were announced, Merriman noted that the schools do serve groups of students who typically have lower test scores. ”Even though New York City charter schools serve students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged economically and largely African-American and Hispanic, they are proficient in math at nearly the same rate as white students are across New York,” he wrote.

For now, the Charter Center has put together a useful interactive tool to browse the latest performance of charter schools. The scatter graph shows how each school performed on both the English and the math tests. Schools located high up in the right quadrant had the highest combined proficiency rates. We took the numbers one step further and added the proficiency rates for each school to determine which ones performed the best for both subjects.

Here’s the list of the top-10 scoring charter schools. Their combined proficiency is in parentheses:

1. Icahn Charter School 4 (195)

2. Icahn Charter School 2 (192.4)

3. Success Academy 1 (187.4)

4. Success Academy 4 (185.9)

5. Success Academy 3 (184)

6. Bronx Charter School for Excellence (182)

7. Success Academy 2 (178.6)

8. Williamsburg Collegiate (157)

9. Icahn Charter School (166)

10. Brooklyn Ascend (153)

Real school reforms will let the kids shine


By Brian Whitley

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announcing city students’ scores on state English and math exams.

You can only imagine how much more New York’s children could have achieved had they the good fortune to attend public schools that were freed from the fetters of mediocrity and failure.

The kids made progress on this year¹s reading and math exams. They solidified a slow upward trend by increasing the number who are counted as proficient in both subjects by about 3 percentage points – to 47% at or above grade level in English and 60% in that category in math.
While welcome indeed, those gains pale in comparison to the strides taken by the 47,000 students enrolled in charter schools. Their pass rate jumped a whopping 7 points to 52% on the English exam, and fully 72% made the grade in math.

Charter gains were particularly impressive because, selected by lottery, the students are by and large poorer than the student population of the city as a whole.

At four Harlem Success Academy charters, better than 95% of the kids aced the math test, as did more than 80% in English. Those sky-high numbers include students counted as English-language learners: 85% passed English, compared with 12% of those in the general school population.

The clear lesson is that public school administrators must gain the flexibility enjoyed by charter leaders, adopt the single-minded focus on achievement that imbues most charters and be able to hold teachers accountable for raising performance.

Thanks to ingrained habits and a United Federation of Teachers mind-set that holds sacrosanct a member’s right to let kids down, traditional public schools have few of those ingredients of success. Instead, the UFT defends contract rights while blaming bosses and a supposed lack of money.

Cash is not the answer, as documented by a new study from Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and the journal Education Next. New York led the nation in raising school spending from 1990 to 2009 while racking up subpar test score gains compared with other states.

Mayor Bloomberg, former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and current Chancellor Dennis Walcott have fought to accomplish school reform over steadfast opposition. That they’ve gotten this far is testament to a sustained drive, while the latest scores document that gains are real.

The destructiveness of the UFT and its allies leaps from the scores. Schools slated by Bloomberg and Walcott for closure – efforts blocked by the union – posted a pathetic 21% proficiency in English and a 27% in math, another mark of shame on already dismal educational records.

Too many wars like that are still to be fought. Next year, the schools will begin to introduce instructional materials that are designed to raise standards and may well cause scores to fall.

At the same time, the state has ordered the start of teacher performance assessments – provided Bloomberg can win UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s blessing on a rating system. Even then, the barriers to achievement will remain high and the kids behind them will be denied the opportunity to learn as much as their friends in charter schools.

Charters top


By Sallkmnkoy Goldenberg and Beth Defalco

New York City charter-school students whizzed past their traditional counterparts this year — making greater gains in math and science, new data shows.

Nearly three-quarters of charter students — about 72 percent — in Grades 3 to 8 passed the math test this year, up 3.5 points from last year.

And charter proficiency in English increased by a staggering 7 points — to 51.5 percent.

Charters “are better able to tailor the product that they need to their customers,” Mayor Bloomberg said.

“They demonstrate again and again and again that the model gives superior results.”

And those results are being noticed.

“We can’t possibly handle the demand from parents for charter schools — it’s just off the charts,” Bloomberg said.

Meanwhile, slight improvements were seen this year in traditional schools — after a dismal showing last year when only 35 percent of eighth-graders passed the English exam, the lowest mark for that group since 2006.

This year, 60 percent of students met the state’s standard for proficiency in math, up 2.7 points.

That outpaced the rest of the state, the city Department of Education said.

“New York City school students have once again risen to the occasion,” said city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

But there’s still room for improvement when it comes to reading.

More than half the students in Grades 3 to 8 continued to fail in English, with only 47 percent passing, up from 44 percent last year.

Overall, this year’s numbers remain far below those in 2009 — when 82 percent of students passed math and 69 percent passed reading — in part because of changes to the tests.

In 2010, students had to correctly answer more questions to pass, and last year additional questions lengthened the exam.

And this spring some 30 questions included in last year’s exam had to be thrown out after they were deemed to be confusing and even nonsensical.

Bloomberg warned that next year’s tests will be re-engineered to raise the bar even higher.

“We expect them to be more difficult,” the mayor said. “Our administration’s core philosophy is that if we raise our expectations, our kids will reach them.”

Reform can


By Todd Engdahl

Charter school advocate Eva Moskowitz pumped up a friendly Denver crowd Tuesday evening with a talk that stressed the importance and urgency of education reform for the future of the nation.

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz makes a point during a conversation at a Denver event on Tuesday.

Moskowitz is CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools, a group of schools in New York City that primarily serves low-income students and whose students have recorded impressive gains in academic achievement.

She was in Denver to promote her new book, “Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School.”

Tony Lewis, executive director of the Denver-based Donnell-Kay Foundation, introduced Moskowitz as “a rock star” of education reform and “a force of nature.”

During a rapid-fire talk to a crowd of about 80 at downtown Denver’s Space Gallery, Moskowitz argued that education reform is vital to the nation’s future.

“This country will not have a fighting chance … unless we address the crisis in American public education,” she said.

Urging a fast pace of reform, she said, “Our schools aren’t going to have a fighting chance unless we reform more quickly.”

She also said, “The kids are the easiest part of the equation” in improving schools. Getting “the grownups” to improve is the challenge.

Moskowitz is a former New York city council member and has been mentioned as a future mayoral candidate. She has been a high-profile and sometimes polarizing figure in New York education circles, and one of her charters was featured in the 2010 film “The Lottery.”

The Denver event, hosted by Donnell-Kay and other education advocacy groups, also included brief remarks by Alex Hernandez, partner and vice president of the Charter School Growth Fund, and Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools.

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