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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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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.

Teachers want the role of unions to change, survey says


By Sarah Butrymowicz

Critics have portrayed teachers unions as impediments to reform efforts around the country because they have fought against changes such as pay-for-performance and the abolition of tenure. But stories of unions working with school district officials to craft new teacher quality initiatives are slowly becoming more common. And, according to a new study that surveyed more than 1,000 teachers, that’s exactly what a growing number of teachers think unions should be doing.

“Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession,” released Tuesday by Education Sector, a nonprofit education think tank located in Washington, D.C., reveals that teachers are more likely to think unions should help with and even lead reform efforts than they were five years ago.

In 2007, 32 percent of teachers said that unions should focus more on improving teacher quality. In 2011, that number was 43 percent. Just 14 percent of teachers thought that union involvement would be an obstacle in reform efforts while 62 percent said unions could be “helpful partners in improving schools.”

Yet, when it came down to the specifics of how the teaching profession should be improved, teachers didn’t necessarily agree with many of the in-vogue education trends, such as merit pay, overhauling teacher evaluations to include student test scores and eliminating tenure.

For instance, only a third of teachers are in favor of rewarding those whose students get high test scores. Forty-six percent liked the idea of giving more money to teachers whose students make more academic progress than other similar students, which is similar to how many merit pay programs across the country are structured.

Far more teachers were in favor of raising the salaries of teachers who work in low-performing schools (83 percent) or who teach in hard-to-fill subject areas like math or science (58 percent). In other words, teachers are likely to support differentiated pay, but in the areas where they have the most control, said Sarah Rosenberg, a co-author of the study.

Few teachers are happy with the idea of eliminating tenure altogether, which traditionally is earned after a certain number of years in the profession and provides a degree of job protection. Critics argue tenure policies make it nearly impossible to fire poor teachers. While teachers agree that tenure shouldn’t protect bad teachers, only a third would be willing to trade it for a $5,000 bonus, according to the survey.

Still, a growing number of teachers believe that unions should play a role in making it easier to fire ineffective teachers. “Teachers pay the greatest price for incompetent teachers,” one teacher wrote in response to the survey. “Year after year, [other teachers] pick up the slack.”

Play Time Contributes to Success of Success Academy


By Megan Rosker

As a parent of three school-age children living in New York City it is hard to avoid all the talk about the success of Success Academy. Success Academy is a New York City-based free charter school with some of the highest test scores in the state of New York. As they state on their site, “Our schools are founded on a simple premise: Every child can achieve success when they have access to a high-quality, free public education.”

Here in the city, parents chatter about the difficult admissions process and the slim chance of getting in. I have been to orientation meetings where parents cried because their children were on the waiting list. For those living outside New York City, one may wonder what all the fuss is about. As a parent and former teacher as well as play and education advocate, all I can say is, the schools work. As soon as you enter the doors, one senses there is something different. Teachers are on their toes, politely and efficiently directing where you need to go. All are well dressed, well informed and carry themselves with an absolute commitment to providing the best possible education for students in attendance of one of the 14 Success Academies in New York City. This isn’t to say one couldn’t find this kind of enthusiasm in a different kind of school, but it’s rare. Personally, there are only two times I have ever seen it: as a teacher and staff member for Teach for America and walking through the doors of a Success Academy school.

Even with proof of how well her students perform, Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, has had ongoing opposition to their existence. While the media likes to run story after story about the drama of Success Academy’s legal battles, quietly, day after day, in well-maintained and orderly classrooms, kids are learning. That is the story I would like to share.Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Ms. Moskowitz about her schools and specifically about the inspiration she instills in her staff and students, as well as her strong belief in the power of play. Yes, this stern, dedicated educator is a huge play advocate. In a time when more and more schools are cutting recess and free play as something frivolous and unnecessary, Ms. Moskowitz believes that play time is as important as math, reading science and social studies. In other words, if a child isn’t receiving play time, then we are not educating the whole child.

Students at SA receive recess all the way through eighth grade and in kindergarten twice a day. They also have a block room in which they play imaginatively for fifteen minutes. Students learn chess, play Monopoly and Ms. Moskowitz promotes kids playing with Hot Wheels. Each school as a minimum of one creative learning class, like art or music. More of these classes are added as the school grows. Children participate in sports and P.E. as well.

Rain, snow, cold or warm weather children at SA schools go outside to play. Ms. Moskowitz said there is very little indoor recess for students, even in NYC in the winter. She encourages her staff to bundle up the kids, put on ponchos and rain boots and head outside. As she sees it, most often it is the adults who complain about the weather, not the children. Teachers at SA believe splashing in puddles is valuable learning time too and there is much to be gained about leadership and social skills on the playground. “Games and play are not a waste of time,” she says. “Kids learn valuable skills in conflict resolution during this time.”

Did I mention that SA has some of the best test scores in the state of New York? I think I did. I don’t think this is an accident. Yes, students at SA work hard, much is expected of them. SA staff members don’t believe in limiting what a child should learn based on the assumptions of adults. Instead SA starts from an empirical point of view, meaning they base their unit planning on their firsthand experience of what they know works in the classroom. Because of the rigorous academics, paired with the belief that children need to play and learn through sports and games, kids are succeeding far beyond their peers from similar socio-economic backgrounds and schools.

What SA demands of students and parents is nothing short of excellence, but what we must also keep in mind is that what we now consider excellence, is what in the past was considered the norm. Students of SA must get up early to make to school at 7:45am. They don’t get out of school until 4pm. In our culture that errs on the side of coddling children, this seems too long, abusive some might say, but how are our schools supposed to fit in rigorous academics, play time and the arts and still get out by 2pm? Our kids can do more. In past generations it was expected of them. Now we feel that what Ms. Moskowitz has created is radical.

Excellence is a word we rarely say in education these days. We criticize, we demoralize, but seldom do we talk about the excellence that we should expect from students. “We have completely underestimated students. There is a total lack of rigor,” said Moskowitz . The mediocrity that prevails in modern education is a huge problem, she believes. I can’t say that I disagree.

Modern education needs to take on the motto “Work Hard, Play Hard.” This embodies the kind of rigor and excellence that is demanded of students in the twenty-first century. It is only with this kind of dedication to both academics and play, that we will rise again to lead our nation and the world in providing quality public education. Ms. Moskowitz provides a powerful example of how the marriage of play and academics benefits our children. How will we begin to restore this balance to schools across our country? How will you take action in your own community to push our children to become strong, successful innovative leaders and thinkers?

2 strikes and you’re out for bad teachers


By Yoav Gonen

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced yesterday he’s taking a harder line against a sliver of poorly performing teachers by automatically pulling those with two consecutive years of low ratings from the classroom — and seeking to fire them.

The decision to try to boot incompetent teachers had typically been left up to principals.

Walcott also said he’s going to ensure that no elementary-school kid gets stuck with a poorly rated teacher for two straight years, starting this fall.

For example, a student who was taught by a low-rated educator in second grade would have to be assigned a well-rated teacher in third grade.

“If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can’t accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years,” Walcott said at an Association for a Better New York breakfast in Midtown.

The initiatives actually cover a very small percentage of educators.

Only 104 teachers currently in classrooms have been rated poorly for incompetent instruction for two straight years, according to the Department of Education.

And just 217 elementary- school teachers were hit with so-called U ratings last year — meaning the likelihood that a student would be assigned to two of their classrooms in consecutive years is close to zero.

United Federation of Teachers officials noted that the DOE has had the power to make these changes without union input for years.

“If all you want to do is give speeches about political rhetoric, about how you’re going to go after the worst teachers . . . you’re not going to fix our school system,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

The city’s move was prompted by concerns over whether a new teacher-evaluation system — which factors in student performance on state exams — would be implemented in time for the coming school year.

The more stringent rating system requires a deal between the union and the city, which have been at each other’s throat for months.

Despite using the common refrain that he was an “eternal optimist,” Walcott repeatedly painted the union as an obstacle to an agreement.

The union countered that it had been compelled to ask a state panel to force the city to the negotiating table on a new evaluation system at just a small subset of schools.

Walcott also announced yesterday that the city would offer buyouts to hundreds of teachers who don’t have permanent school assignments but who earn full pay as day-to-day substitutes. These are typically teachers who are cut from closing schools or shrinking programs.

If the incentives were offered today, 475 of the 831 teachers in the substitute pool would be eligible because they have been unassigned for at least a year, according to the DOE.

The union says it’s been expressing interest for years in the buyouts — which could top $20,000 for veteran teachers.

In New Book, Success Academy Operator Promotes Charter Schools and Offers Advice


By Kyle Spencer

Eva Moskowitz, the charter chain operator, has been planting schools in New York City at a breakneck pace, with five expected to open in August.

But that hasn’t kept Ms. Moskowitz, a well-known workaholic, from taking on another job: that of author.

Ms. Moskowitz’s book, “Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School,” which she wrote with Arin Lavinia, a former public school teacher and the literacy coach for the Success Academy Charter schools, will be released June 26. The publisher is Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley.

The slender book – Ms. Moskowitz’s second – is part polemic on school choice, with Ms. Moskowitz and Ms. Lavinia extolling the virtues of competition as a means of improving the nation’s failing public schools.

It is part how-to guide, with the authors offering specific teacher-training tips and information about the Success Academy literacy
program, THINK literacy, and including the tenets of what Ms. Moskowitz terms “joyful rigor.”

But the book also provides personal tidbits interesting to anyone who has followed Ms. Moskowitz¹s career from college professor to city
councilwoman to operator of a chain of nine schools.

In it, Ms. Moskowitz says she was well-trained in math and science at the New York City public high school she attended – Stuyvesant – but did not graduate with stellar writing skills. She tells the story of writing her first paper at the University of Pennsylvania and receiving a D.

She was directed to the university’s writing center, where she spent countless hours during her four years there toiling over papers for various classes. “It was an uphill battle,” she wrote. “But I worked incredibly hard on it and came out the other end knowing how to write.”

News of the book release has sent frissons through the education blogosphere, with fans posting invitations to a Washington book launch at
the end of the month. It is being hosted, in part, by a pro-charter advocacy group, Democrats for Education Reform.

Online critics have insisted that Ms. Moskowitz is having the book signing there because her hometown is filled with detractors.

Jenny Sedlis, a Success Academy spokeswoman, said Ms. Moskowitz was also holding a private book launch at a supporter’s apartment in New York City.

Asked about the writing of the book, Ms. Moskowitz said in a telephone interview that the process was “a lot of fun.”

She said the book was not directed just at charter operators, but at any educator who wants to improve a school.

Ms. Moskowitz is said to be considering running for mayor next year.

Kyle Spencer is a freelancer writer in New York City.

Charter Schools Prepare for a New Regime at City Hall


By Kyle Spencer

Seeking to convince mayoral candidates, months before the 2013 election, to take a stand in support of the growth of charter schools — a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration — charter advocates and students gathered on Wednesday in front of City Hall, for a spirited, after-school rally.

Students from 80 different charter schools nibbled on popcorn and played with colorful balloons, while parents and charter operators — many wearing purple Parents for Progress t-shirts — implored candidates to hear them out.

“Mayoral candidates, we are here and we vote,” Kathleen Kernizan, the mother of two students in the Uncommon Schools chain, boomed. “Do not ignore us.”

Some told the crowd of several thousands that they were scared that once Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office, there will be no one to champion their 130-plus schools and ensure that new ones continue to open.

Others told stories of having to lie to get their children into decent schools in other neighborhoods before charters opened in their own. And still others said that before charters their children had been unable to “escape” attending failing schools.

Charter operators who helped organize the event said parents were rallying to ensure that public school buildings remain open to charter school operators and that new ones continue to open around the city.

Natasha Shannon, 34, the mother of two girls, a third and a fifth grader at Harlem Success 1, said she was there to tell to candidates that she was a voice to be reckoned with.

“I will vote for the candidate who supports my right to choose,” she said. “I am a taxpayer and I want the right to be able to choose the best school for my children.”

She said she was concerned that candidates had so far been reluctant to come out in full support of charters because of their concern that by doing so they might alienate other voters.

Indeed with less than a year to go before the election, the city’s mayoral candidates have made few public comments about the future of charter schools, which are beloved by some parents, particularly ones who have seen them as an attractive option to low-performing neighborhood schools. Charter schools are opposed by some parents of children in traditional public schools who believe they take resources from their schools and resent that their schools have been forced to share sometimes cramped buildings with them.

Representatives from the United Federation of Teachers, which has over 200,000 members, some of them retired, have also fought the rapid growth of charters. And they, too, have jumped into the race in recent months, making it clear that they intend to use their considerable political might to elect a mayoral ally.

Not surprisingly, this is of concern to charter advocates who have enjoyed a tight-knit relationship with Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein, who helped to launch The New York City Charter School Center, an eight-year-old non-profit that both raises money for and disseminates information about charters.

They also fought in 2010 in Albany to raise the city’s charter cap to 214, despite the union’s attempt to thwart them.

On Wednesday, UFT president Michael Mulgrew denounced organizers, particularly charter operator Eva Moskowitz, who runs the city’s largest chain of schools, for “using parents” to push forward political goals and to give off the impression that more parents supported charters than really did. Most parents, he said, “are looking forward to a day when education in New York City works for all students,” he said.

Ms. Moskowitz, the CEO of the Success Academy network, has long pointed to waiting lists for her nine schools as an indicator that her schools — and charters in general — are popular choices for parents.

Candidate Tom Allon, a former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, said charter schools are not incompatible with traditional public schools. “But charter schools are not a replacement,” he said.

In an email, Mayoral hopeful Christine C. Quinn, City Council Speaker and the leading candidate said she did not oppose charters either. “They play a positive and important role in our school system and have become a critical choice for tens of thousands of families who feel that the system has failed them,” she wrote.

But she said the city needed to focus on all its 1.1 million children, not just the ones in charter schools.

Kyle Spencer is a freelancer writer in New York City

Thousands pack downtown Manhattan for charter school rally


By Geoff Decker

In what organizers are calling the largest gathering of public school parents ever in New York City, thousands turned out for a rally to support the charter school movement and to warn future politicians that their constituency is a sleeping giant in upcoming elections.

“We will vote and we will be heard,” said Tara Brown Arnell, a parent in the Success Academy network.

Plenty of charter schools stayed home from the rally, including some that did so over ideological differences with the leadership that organized the event. But their absence wasn’t immediately apparent based on crowds that packed the sidewalks for four city blocks next to City Hall.

Most of the parents, students and staff were bused in from one of the large charter school networks that helped organize the event: Success Academy, Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Achievement First.

Organizers estimated that the crowds reached 5,100, more than double the audience that turned out for a similar rally around the same time last year. But unlike last year’s rally, which became a heated protest against a co-location lawsuit, this year’s event was more festive. Face painters, magicians and clowns lined the sidewalk and entertained children while music blared on the loudspeakers.

Politics still dominated the day. Parents spoke about the threat that they believed they faced under a new mayor whose education policies differed from that of Mayor Bloomberg’s.

“I want to be able to have a choice for where my daughter can go to schools,” said Kam Das, whose daughter attends the Harlem Success Academy. “I don’t want that choice made for me.”

The event showed few signs of tension that in recent months has divided the sector. One of the reasons some charter schools declined to attend was the fear that Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success network, would dominate the event. Moskowitz attended but did not speak and spent most of the time speaking with parents in the audience.

The parents also pledged to vote as a base for any candidate who supported their preferred education policies, which include closing down low-performing schools and replacing them with charter schools.

“Do not sign onto the United Federation of Teachers platform,” said Joe Herrera, a parent from Coney Island Preparatory Charter School. “Sign on to the Parents for Progress platform.”

Bx. families run for classroom exits


By Yoav Gonen and Frank Rosario

It was like a Bronx stampede.

Two South Bronx charter schools in the Success Academy network attracted a stunning 5,900 applications last month from families seeking to avoid the local public schools — even though there were only 190 open charter slots available.

The unprecedented demand of more than 30 applicants per seat — more than six times the average among charter schools citywide — left close to 5,700 families anxiously stuck on wait lists at Success Academy Bronx 1 or 2.

It also left a host of parents going to great lengths to keep their kids out of the local traditional public schools.

“I drive my kids an hour to school every day just to stay away from the schools here. They neglect our kids. They don’t help them grow. So I’m trying to give them an alternative,” said Agnes Diaz, a 28-year-old customer service rep who lives in Mott Haven but enrolls her kids at PS 188 in the East Village.

Her son, Evan, 5, and daughter, Illumirosa, 8, are both wait-listed at Success Academy Bronx 1.

“Honestly the entire public school system needs to be revamped . . . but until then I will keep applying to charters, because it feels like they gave us that ultimatum: Apply or die,” said Diaz.

Diaz was not alone among shut-out parents who said their eagerness to give their kids an educational leg up was driving them to desperation.

Zakiya Mitchell said she commutes by subway an hour each way every day — from the South Bronx to Williamsburg — to keep her 6-year-old daughter in a decent public school, PS 147.

She moved to The Bronx last summer but is hoping a charter school will give her a better local option.

Audit finds teachers regularly work less than their contract requires


By Yoav Gonen

Recess isn’t just for kids.

Nearly one in four city public-school teachers whose schedules were audited by the Department of Education last year weren’t teaching the minimum number of classes their contracts require, The Post has learned.

The underscheduling — based on a contract that says middle- and high-school teachers need to work a minimum of 22 to 25 class periods per week — cost taxpayers at the very least $934,000 for last year’s school year alone.

The review by the Auditor General’s Office examined only 17 schools — a sliver of the more than 1,700 public schools — so taxpayers were actually bilked out of much higher amounts.

The lightened work loads also deprived whole classes of students of 131 course periods and 218 hours of instruction, according to audit summaries obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law.

But past audits show that teachers have been getting undue prep or free periods for years — despite recommendations by the auditor general that the problem be fixed.

Audit summaries from 2006 through 2011 identified nearly $4 million in taxpayer funds lost to light teaching loads — and that was just in the 75 schools examined.

Entire classes of students were shorted nearly 1,500 course periods at those schools over the years.

The percentage of teachers whose schedules didn’t meet the required minimum ranged from a low of 5.8 percent in 2007-08 to a high of 22.4 percent last year.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the audit ignored the fact that teachers sometimes get assigned to nonteaching responsibilities — such as dean work — for a number of periods per week.

A spokeswoman for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators said the union wasn’t familiar with the audit findings.

“In our experience, principals schedule teachers fairly,” she said.

Yet teacher work loads were also found to be lacking during mandated after-school sessions for struggling students — extra time that got teachers a huge pay hike in the 2005 contract.

In eight of 40 schools reviewed by auditors last year, students were bilked out of 6,060 hours of small-group instruction.

“In some instances, teachers were not scheduled to perform the extended time session or, if scheduled, left early,” the audit found.

DOE officials said the findings can’t be extrapolated to the entire system because the audit was risk-based, even though the schools were targeted based on fiscal-management — rather than scheduling — red flags.

“These internal audits serve as a way to identify deficiencies in schools, provide additional support to help schools improve their procedures,” said DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan.

It took the DOE 14 months to fulfill The Post’s request for the data in late 2010 under a FOIL request. The state Education Department, which gets copies of the audits, failed to respond for four months and ignored a FOIL appeal seeking just two of the audits.

Hundreds of Brooklyn kids waitlisted for kindergarten


By Mark Morales

Hundreds of Brooklyn kids eligible for kindergarten in September have been placed on waiting lists for their local schools.

720 children have been put on waiting lists for public schools around the borough – 38 more than last year.

Two Sunset Park schools top the citywide waiting list – each with more than 100 children waiting to get in.

“It’s been so high for so long with virtually no action by the Dept. of Education,” said Jim Devor, Community Education Council president for District 15.

PS 169 on Seventh Ave. tops the citywide list, with 113 kids, while PS 94 on Sixth Ave nearly nearly doubled from 61 kids last year to 111 this year.

Though the Education Dept. leased St. Michael’s on Fourth Ave. to accommodate the neighborhood’s growing numbers of Asian and Hispanic residents, Devor said more schools need to be built in the area.

“The number of seats that will be added is woefully insufficient,” said Devor. “It’s the kind of inaction that would not be tolerated by the more affluent sections of District 15 , or even the city.”

2,406 kids are on waiting lists across the city, Education Dept. figures show.

In Brooklyn, the waiting lists have grown steadily in recent years – jumping from 220 in 2010; to 682 in 2011; to the current 720.

Education Dept. officials said they’ll be working with individual schools to make more room for additional classes and are working to fill any empty seats will children on the wait list.

“We can expect these lists to shrink and disappear by the first day of school in September, as they have every year,” said Dept. of Education spokesman Frank Thomas.

If their neighborhood school can’t accommodate them, families are offered a seat in another school in June.

Parents and school administrators are still angry over the long waiting lists.

“It’s frustrating for all of us. There’s very little we could do without adding additional space,” said PS 169 principal Josephine Santiago, who has converted the teachers’ lounge into a classroom and divided other rooms to fit in more kids.

“It’s really a bad feeling for us and for all the parents. Everyone wants their children in a school.”

Sunset Park mom Monica Vergara said her son, Nahum, was put on a waitlist for kindergarten at PS 94 and may have to settle for a school further away.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Vergara.

I walk up and down the streets and I see so many moms walking with their kids because they couldn’t get them into school.”

  • Stay in Touch!

    Prospective Parents: If your child will be entering Kindergarten through 4th grade for the 2018-19 school year, please register below to receive more information regarding your neighborhood Success Academies.

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    Prospective Parents: Register below to be notified when the application for the 2017-18 school year becomes available and to receive more information about Success Academy Charter Schools.