Success Academy and their wealthy allies would have you believe that all parents are lining up on sidewalks to get their children into a high scoring Success Academy. SA would also have us believe that their schools are “public schools” that meet the needs of all students.
Having worked at a public school in competition with a nearby Success school for the past 5 years, I know the truth. It is not parents who are desperate to get their children into Success, but rather, Success is desperate to enroll our students to keep up with their high attrition rates.
Fundamental to how Success operates and “succeeds” is their high student turnover, targeting of students with disabilities, and their ability to hold on to funding for students they no longer serve. Every time SA recruits and enrolls a new student that child’s per pupil funding gets redirected from a public school to Success. If it is a child with a disability, the per pupil funding can be almost double that of a gen-ed student. Once the funding is redirected, if that student un-enrolls and returns to their local public school anytime after October, the funding stays with Success Academy.
There is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks like SA intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6%-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. Success Academy is one of many chains that intentionally weeds out lower-performing students early in the school year, retains the per-pupil funding that came with the students they forced out and then leaves seats empty to maintain the illusion of high achievement.
In other words, Success Academy thrives by poaching public school students and their per-pupil funding, weeding out the low-achievers and then hitting repeat.
I see this process at work every year. Each summer, Success actively poaches our students. Parents have told me that they get calls from Success Academy EVERY DAY, pressuring them to pull their children out of our school. I’ve had parents of 2nd and 3rd graders report being told by SA officials “this is your last chance to get your child into middle school,” “we just have one more seat, this is your last chance.” None of this is true. Because Success Academy Schools typically lose a huge proportion of their students between 3rd and 8th grade, there are almost always open seats in the upper grades. Many of my students who are recruited by Success are thriving in our school- at grade level, happy & well adjusted. The parents that cave to the pressure are not pulling their children out and enrolling them in Success out of desperation; they are victims of emotional manipulation and misinformation.
Meanwhile, some of these students end up back at my public school after a month or two because they and their parents are so miserable at Success Academy. I hear their parents complain that they got calls from the “charter” every day about misbehaviors as harmless as not sitting up straight, or tapping a pencil on a desk. Most parents don’t have time to show up to school every day and meet with their child’s principal about pencil tapping. So come October or November, parents pull their kids out and re-enroll in their local public school. If a student un-enrolls after October, Success retains the funding for the students they have recruited and then lost, while our class sizes balloon to accommodate SA’s left overs, without any extra funding.
More egregiously, every year we enroll new students with disabilities who have been intentionally pushed out of Success. These are kids with ADHD, ADD, Autism and other disabilities. One student told me, “the principal told my mom that it [Success Academy] wasn’t a good fit for me so I came here.” Another student with a learning disability got recruited by Success last summer. He enrolled in August, attended for a few weeks, and then come September was back at our school. Again “it wasn’t a good fit.”
Let’s be clear. If you force (or counsel or pressure) out your children with disabilities, you are NOT a public school. And no matter what Success Academy says, parents in my neighborhood are not desperately seeking an alternative to their zoned school, rather, Success Academy is desperate for our students.