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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.”

In Gentrified Brooklyn, Hopes for More School Alternatives


By Anna M. Phillips

Seated in the living room of a stylish Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, three teachers from a popular Brooklyn charter school last month made their pitch for a new school to a room full of young or soon-to-be parents.
In the front of the room, a baby quietly drank from a bottle. In the back, a woman breastfed an infant. These parents and the many others in attendance were four years or more away from signing up for kindergarten, but the crowded living room suggested that concerns had already surfaced.

Like many other gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvesant has an influx of new residents who have a complex relationship with the public schools. On the whole, the newcomers are a progressive group, committed, at least in principle, to the idea of public education for their children. But many are also dismayed by the quality of their options, which include elementary schools where half of the students — in some cases, fewer — passed the state’s reading and math exams last year.
At the home of Chris Antista, a graphic designer and wine distributor, they gathered in late March to express their concerns and hear about an alternative from three teachers at the Community Roots Charter School.

The three are planning to open a new charter school in Brooklyn in September 2014. Eric Grannis, a lawyer in private practice and the husband of Eva Moskowitz, founder and C.E.O. of a chain of schools, the Success Academy Charter Schools, organized the meeting.
A firm believer that New York City needs more charter schools like Community Roots that are racially and economically diverse, Mr. Grannis started an organization called the Tapestry Project to find and help people who want to open integrated charter schools.

The first school to be shepherded into New York by Mr. Grannis, Citizens of the World Charter School, has applied to open in Brooklyn next fall.
Mr. Grannis has taken aim at Northern Brooklyn, where neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Bushwick are experiencing an influx of young, upper middle class families who want to send their children to public schools but are discouraged by the performance of the zoned schools and the existing charter schools, many of which are predominantly black and Hispanic.

Mr. Antista has a son who is 2 years old and another child on the way. Next year, his son will attend The Coop School, but after that it’s an open question.
“We bought this home six or seven years ago, we were young, it seemed limiting to say, what would we do if we had a kid?” he said.

While he’s not at the panic point of having to find a school — “I’m always like ‘it’s good, I’ll home school him if I have to’ — he and his wife are concerned about the local options. The nearby schools are not nearly as diverse as they would like.
“I would say I generally disagree with traditional education,” he said. “I don’t believe in rote learning. And it’s not that we need to have a certain racial or socioeconomic spread, we want a school that has a lot of different people and ways of thinking.”

Others in the room expressed similar desires.
The three Community Roots Charter School teachers — Todd Sutler, Michelle Healy and Brooke Peters — have jumped into the breach, with hopes of opening a charter elementary school in Brooklyn in September 2014. But first, they plan to spend a year traveling, visiting two schools a week and writing about what they learn.

They’re calling it their odyssey and their project, The Odyssey Initiative. The teachers are paying for their own travel, Mr. Sutler said, and asking for outside donations on their Web site.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Sutler was a bond trader at a New York City investment bank for several years. Ms. Peters got her start in Los Angeles with Teach for America, and Ms. Healy began as a teacher at the Future Leaders Institute in Harlem.

“We’re going to travel to all 50 states and visit some of the best schools and some of the best classrooms,” he said. “Then we can take that and put that into a school model that we implement in Brooklyn, New York.”
In a year, when they return, the group will apply to open a progressive charter school, one where students’ standardized test scores matter, but are “secondary” to creative thinking, Mr. Sutler said. In many ways, it will be modeled on Community Roots, a school with a long waiting list that is expanding into the middle school grades this year.

“We’ve been looking at a couple of districts that are in a need of a school,” Ms. Healy said. “Right here is definitely in need of more options.”
Anna M. Phillips is a member of the SchoolBook staff. Follow her on Twitter @annamphillips.

54 New Schools Will Open This Fall, Bloomberg Says


By Kate Taylor and Anna M. Phillips

Brushing aside criticism of his longstanding policy to close poorly performing schools and replace them with new ones, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that the city would open 54 new schools in the fall, many of them in spaces vacated by schools being closed.

“Students and parents deserve top-quality school choices, and we’re going to continue to ensure that they have even more of them,” the mayor said at a news conference, which was held in the library of Washington Irving High School, one of the schools being closed.

Earlier in the day, the issue of school closings was drawn into the fray of mayoral politics, when several expected mayoral candidates criticized Mr. Bloomberg’s policies.

William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller and a 2009 Democratic candidate for mayor, called the closing of schools a “shell game” and a “Ponzi scheme,” and urged the State Legislature to issue a moratorium on such closings.

Two other possible candidates, Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, did not call for a moratorium but said that they would like to see fewer school closings.

The three were speaking at a forum at New York University, where a group critical of Mr. Bloomberg’s policies released a report showing that the 23 schools targeted for closing this year had higher proportions of special-education students, students who were over age for their grade and students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, as well as lower proportions of students proficient in math and language arts, than the city’s school system as a whole.

One expected candidate, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a frequent ally of Mr. Bloomberg’s, did not attend the forum. In a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, she said she had decided not to attend because she opposed one of the recommendations in the report, which called for the city to select a group of struggling schools that would receive additional support. She described that as a throwback to a 1990s initiative whose success has been questioned.

By this fall, the Bloomberg administration will have closed, or will have begun phasing out, 140 schools since 2002 and will have opened 589 new ones — many of them small schools that share space in old school buildings. Teachers at closed schools cannot be fired, but they are often not hired by the new schools, and can wind up as substitute teachers for years before finding permanent positions.

The new schools generally have higher graduation rates than the schools they replace, and their students score better on exams. But critics, including the teachers’ union, argue that the reason the new schools appear to be superior is that their students have fewer challenges, like poverty and special needs.

However, the mayor and the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, pushed back sharply against that argument on Tuesday.

“The student bodies of these new schools mirror those of the schools they replace,” the mayor said, “with similar percentages of black and Latino students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.”

According to Education Department data, in 2011 the percentage of students with disabilities at new schools opened by the Bloomberg administration was 15.2, compared with 10.7 percent at schools citywide. The percentage of English-language learners at the new schools was roughly equivalent to the percentage citywide; the percentage of black and Latino students was significantly higher at the new schools.

The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, noted in a statement that 9 out of the 23 schools targeted for closing this year had been created by the Bloomberg administration since 2002.

“We intend to fight to make sure these new schools get the supports they need,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “Nearly 40 percent of the schools on the current closing list were created by Bloomberg, and we’d hate to see him try to close these at the same rate before he leaves office.”

Of the 54 schools being opened in the fall, 24 will be charter schools and 30 will be regular public schools. Most of the new schools will fill space either being vacated by closing schools or in currently underused school buildings. Only 10 of them will be new school spaces.

New Study Identifies ‘Opportunity Gap’ for Students


By Beth Fertig

Educators have long studied the achievement gap, in which black and Hispanic pupils and low-income students of all races perform at much lower levels than their white, Asian and better-off peers. A new study released on Tuesday by a group that supported efforts to attain for more money for city schools looked at the educational opportunities available to poor and minority students and found the choices lacking.

The report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that poor and minority students have fewer opportunities to attend the city’s best public schools largely because of where they live.

The study’s authors looked at state math and English scores at 500 middle schools in the 2009-2010 school year. The schools were sorted into four groups from highest to lowest test scores, with an equal number of schools in each. The authors then looked at how many students in each of the city’s 32 community school districts are able to attend local middle schools that scored in the 75th percentile, or top quarter.

The study did not include charter schools. Most of the charters are in low-income and minority communities, and some of them have impressive test scores.

The study found that wealthier neighborhoods have more access to better schools. For example, all of the students in District 26 in Queens — which includes Douglaston and Little Neck — have an opportunity to attend a high-performing middle school. Most students can also attend high-scoring schools in Manhattan’s District 2 and 3.

But in five districts, which include Harlem, the Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant, no students can attend a middle school that performs in the top quarter. The local middle schools just don’t have the test scores. The report also found that, within the 32 districts, whites and Asians are more likely to attend high-scoring schools than blacks and Hispanics.

The Schott Foundation helped finance the now defunct Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won a lawsuit finding New York City’s public schools were shortchanged by the state. It also gives grants to the Alliance for Quality Education and the New York State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P.

The report’s main author, researcher Michael Holzman, called the findings evidence of educational “redlining,” because of the disparities, and said they were “an embarrassment to the city,”

“What we have is a situation where children who are most in need of what New York City public education can offer them are the least-likely to be able to have access to it,” he said.

The report challenges the Bloomberg administration’s argument that it is providing more high quality choices for families by opening about 500 schools in the past decade, including more than a hundred privately managed charter schools.

But by not including the charters, the study failed to take into account the full range of options available to students, especially in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Mr. Holzman said charters were not included because they only served only 2 percent of all city students in the 2009-2010 school year, though the percentile is higher in low-income areas.

The study also did not provide any comparison data to previous years to show whether things have gotten better or worse. And it did not say how many students from each district had the opportunity to attend a school in the top 50th to 74th percentile, meaning their scores aren’t in the very top but are still better than average.

Department of Education spokesman Frank Thomas said the city is making progress in closing achievement gaps.

“Over the last ten years, our reforms have focused almost entirely on creating better schools for students who were failed by the system for decades,” he said. “While there is much more work to do, the reality is that black and Hispanic students in New York City are graduating at their highest rates ever, and continue to narrow the achievement gap year after year. A report that fails to acknowledge this progress is shortsighted and overlooks the gains made by thousands of students during that time.”

The Schott study, however, also found evidence of disparity in teacher quality. It found that districts with high poverty rates have fewer experienced and highly educated teachers (those with a masters degree plus 30 additional credits) than wealthier districts, where teachers tend to stay for a long time. The report says the city winds up spending 19 percent more educating students in the wealthier districts because their teachers make more money.

Meanwhile, the same districts that have the lowest performing middle schools also send few children to gifted and talented programs and specialized high schools. This was confirmed in data released last week by the Department of Education finding that so many more children from Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn qualify for gifted and talented programs than students in low-income neighborhoods such as District 7 of the South Bronx, where fewer than 100 prekindergarten children took the test and only six were eligible.

The Schott Foundation is calling on the city to expand tutoring and test-preparation services so that more students can take the admissions test for specialized high schools. It also wants the city to test all incoming kindergarten students for gifted and talented programs, because so many families in poor communities don’t even have their children tested.

It also proposes a cap on the percentage of new teachers who are allowed to work in high-poverty districts, and for the state to restore and increase aid to New York City.

The Department of Education says testing all pre-K students would result in a significant loss of instructional time because it takes about an hour to test each of these children one-on-one. It has also questioned the logistics of capping the percentage of new teachers working in low-performing districts, which tend to have the most vacancies.

“We are always working to attract the highest quality teachers to our lower performing schools,” said the spokesman, Mr. Thomas, adding that this is the city’s plan for the 26 schools it plans to close and reopen this fall.

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter at WNYC. Follow her on Twitter @bethfertig

Queens kindergarten waiting lists up at zoned schools


By Clare Trapasso

The number of incoming Queens kindergartners who were wait-listed to get into their zoned public schools rose this year, according to city data.

About 950 of the borough’s prospective kindergartners were on waiting lists. The longest in the borough was at Public School 307 in Corona where 109 were on the list — making it the city’s third-largest wait.

The number of new Queens kindergartners waiting for seats is up roughly 7% over last year.

City Department of Education officials stressed that wait-lists are down citywide and that the lists typically dwindle or disappear before classes start in the fall.

But education advocates said they fear the situation could get even worse when more families attempt to enroll their children at the last minute.

“We’re falling further and further behind every year because the city is not building enough schools fast enough,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of the educational advocacy group Class Size Matters. “The population is growing faster than the number of seats.”

That’s a problem for Anthony Lombardi, principal of Public School/Intermediate School 49, in Middle Village, who has 57 incoming kindergartners on a waiting list.

“I’m flattered that so many kids want to come to the school,” said Lombardi, who has been forced to turn office space into classrooms. “Last year, I was able to accommodate everybody. But we’ve become a very overcrowded school.”

He attributed the surge of applications to the school’s high scores and the poor economy — which has led many parents to pull their children out of private or parochial schools.

Brenda Zuckerman, co-president of the Parent Association at PS 196, said there are families who have moved to Forest Hills to get a spot at the top school and are denied due to a lack of seats.

There are 73 children on the school’s kindergarten waiting list.

“I feel for the parents who live so close to their zoned schools, but there’s not enough room for them,” Zuckerman said. “We wish the school was even bigger to accommodate everybody.”

Education Department officials said these lists shouldn’t cause alarm.

“We know that this can be an anxious time for parents, and we will continue to work with all of our schools to help them reduce waitlists,” agency spokesman Frank Thomas said in a statement. “As in the past we will see these wait-lists shrink and disappear by the time class begins.”

An Education Success in Harlem


By Kevin P. Chavous

Last month I visited the Harlem Success Academy Charter School in New York City. Led by former NYC Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, the school promotes a model of success based on individualized curriculum, merit-based teacher incentives, and specialized testing from day one. The results speak for themselves — with students performing in the highest percentile in reading, math, and science. Parents report high satisfaction rates, and children are provided the opportunity to gain a quality education in an environment based on their needs.

The Success Academy Charter Schools program provides a core curriculum based on innovation, curiosity, accountability, and creativity. The model for each student varies on their needs, and parents are encouraged to be active participants in their child’s education. This program is determined to be the change in New York City. What’s not to love?

Well, for some, it may just be the change itself. Several traditional institutional forces, including the NAACP, have engaged in a death match with Harlem Success to stop their expansion and shut them down. This is occurring in spite of the fact that Harlem Success regularly outperforms most of the schools in NYC, and their mostly low-income minority parents continue to rave about the school. I saw it firsthand while visiting Harlem Success and hearing testimonial after testimonial from satisfied parents.

I visit schools all over the nation and every time I walk the halls of a good school, I can’t help but wonder why we’ve settled with defeat. The severity of the situation and the daunting task of taking on the special interest groups have prevented our culture from facing the facts.

Well, the facts were clear on this day in February. As I spoke to over 400 engaged parents, teachers, and students, I was able to meet families who benefited from the Harlem Success program.

One mother stood out as the example of success. With about forty other parents waiting in line to speak to me after my speech, she continuously moved to the back of the line to ensure she “wanted to make sure she had my full time and attention.” She was eager to share with me the joy she felt over the progress of her 9-year-old son, a fourth grader at Harlem Success.

Just three years ago, she was told by teachers and administrators at his former traditional public school that she needed to prepare herself for the fact that her son would never be in a classroom setting because of his special needs. Those administrators said her boy didn’t have the requisite ability to work productively in a mainstream learning environment.

Today, at Harlem Success, he is among the best students in his class, he works patiently and studiously. While at home he regularly plays chess three days a week with a 7-year-old girl who also attends Harlem Success. Overall, her son is now achieving greatness. And because of the previous struggles he faced, his mother was intent on getting his story out there.

But the most poignant story of this particular trip involves a Harlem grandmother. During our conversation, she shared with me that just about everyone in her family grew up in Harlem and subsequently experienced the hardships of growing up in poverty and ultimately, attended failing schools. With one exception — her granddaughter.

Today, her granddaughter attends Harlem Success and is thriving. As she eloquently states: “Four generations of Harlem women and we finally have one who may make it to college.” She also shared with me that while proud of the achievements of her granddaughter she sometimes finds herself wondering “what might have been” if she too had the opportunity to learn.

This grandmother, and many other before her, attended a predictably failing school. For a century and a half, there has been little substantive change in the way we educate our children. The classic approach in America’s classrooms remains essentially a one size fits all undertaking.

How can we expect this archaic system to address the dynamic and ever-changing realities of our society and better yet, our global competition? Even still, how can the system in its current form help reverse the historical education shortfalls experienced by that Harlem grandmother? Perhaps the answer lies in exploding the one size fits all paradigms and being receptive to new ideas and approaches tailored to today’s student.

Visiting the Harlem Success Academy in New York City reminded me that we must do better and that we can do better. We have a moral obligation to see our children succeed, and it is only by opening ourselves to the possibility that we can reform our education system in a way in which they will truly have the opportunity to flourish.

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