The Success Academy Scam

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 does not follow that student.

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,  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 gen-ed 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.

De Blasio and Farina: Stop Worrying About Testing and Coding. Worry About Student Homelessness.

It’s time for NYC to make child homelessness a priority.

There were more than 100,000 homeless children enrolled in NYC public schools in the 2015-2016 school year. That is a small city’s worth of homeless children. And that number is expected to rise.

As a public school teacher, I know first hand the effects of homelessness on children’s well-being and achievement. Homeless students are much more likely to miss numerous school days, making it hard for them to stay on grade level. When they do make it to school, they are often hungry and exhausted- in need of rest and emotional support, not primed for academic challenges. Homeless students also often face long commutes from their shelters to get to school, and are more likely to be late for school. It goes without saying that homeless children also typically lack the support and stability needed to complete homework.

This high rate of homelessness is both unacceptable and unnecessary. New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world. As the city grows wealthier by the day, there is no reason- beyond skewed priorities– for such a high proportion of child homelessness.

The inequality is staggering. While hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in shelters and on the streets, there are empty luxury condos in Manhattan owned by off-shore billionaires, high-rises going up every year, tax credits for developers who build drop-in the bucket numbers of barely affordable apartments and billions of dollars spent on vanity projects like the Hudson Yards path station. On the same block, brownstones sell for three million dollars right next to a bus station that shelters the homeless each night. In my classroom, my homeless students who commute from shelters in the Bronx are expect to perform as well as students who live in multi-million dollar lofts in gentrifying Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the NYC DOE and State Education department spends an exorbitant amount of money on testing, curriculum development and technology every year. Some of these initiatives are beneficial- but nothing should take precedence over meeting the basic needs of every child. Teaching a child to code doesn’t help them find a place to sleep comfortably at night. Spending millions on new instructional standards and resources is all well and good, but if our students are hungry, scared and tired we might as well throw that money out the window. Similarly, there is no point in pouring money into testing and accountability measures when our students don’t have homes. In an era in which we’re obsessed with data and student achievement, it is astounding to me that we are able to virtually ignore the epidemic of homelessness among NYC school children.

Mayor De Blasio did the right thing in bringing breakfast to classroom last year and making school lunch free for all children this fall. Children can’t learn when they are hungry. And they can’t achieve their full potential when they don’t have a home to go to at the end of the day. The needs of children should take precedence over the needs of developers, finance and testing companies. 100,000 homeless children should be declared a state of emergency by the DOE, the Mayor and the Governor, not ignored or treated as an inevitability. If Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo truly want to improve educational outcomes for all children, they must make ending child homelessness a priority in the coming year. If we pass the millionaire tax, close the LLC loophole and get our priorities straight we can  tackle the homelessness crisis in our city.  Every child needs and deserves a home. We have the means. We just need the will to change.

 

Why I don’t Care that Test Scores Went Up

My coworkers and I just found out that all of our ELA and Math scores went up this year. According my administration, I am supposed to be thrilled. But I could really care less. If anything, I’m concerned.

Higher test scores do not equal higher quality learning. Some amazing things did happen at my school this year- projects, events, celebrations, experiments, performances, parades, presentations, and yes some quality reading and math instruction. But that’s not why our scores went up. Our scores went up for at least one of the following reasons that have very little to do with meaningful learning:

  1. The demographics at my school have changed and continue to change. Like many schools in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, we started as a school serving entirely low income students of color with a high population of English language learners. A recent influx of mostly white, middle and upper class students has brought many changes- including, I would argue, these higher test scores. Because test scores first and foremost correlate to income, I worry  that prioritizing test scores inevitably makes those mostly white, upper class children more valuable to the school. Which is dangerous.
  2. While standardized tests can never truly capture authentic learning, they can and do reflect how much test prep a school is doing. And this year was all about testing. We sat through meetings about how to introduce testing language in kindergarten, powered through 2 months of “rigorous” test prep in the upper grades, sent home packets and packets of ELA and Math for homework and  stopped teaching science and social studies for weeks at a time. And I guess it “worked.” But at the expense of experiments, collaborative projects, joy, community building, field trips, meeting the individual needs of students and teachers- in short at the expense of what I would consider real learning. Not to mention healthy child development.
  3. These tests are opaque and corrupt as can be, but it is becoming clear that it was easier to get a 3 on this year’s test than last year. Meaning they were scored differently. So kids did better, justifying a future of even more common core test centric”rigor. ” Read this by Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters.

Yes I want all children in NYC to be proficient readers and mathematicians. And I am proud of how hard our students worked this year. But these high test scores have nothing to do with the quality of children’s learning. Moreover, looking ahead, this bump in test scores does not bode well for me, my fellow teachers or my students because it will undoubtedly lead to a renewed emphasis on mindless test prep and data come September- in my school and citywide.

Success Academy schools scored the highest in many grade levels this year.  What they do “works” according to their test scores. But what they actually do  is weed out needy students, endorse abusive classroom management techniques, and prioritize testing and data above all else.This is not real learning, it is not respectful of children and  families  and I would never send a child to a Success school, let alone teach in such an autocratic, inhumane environment.

So, with progressive schools with high opt out numbers like Central Park East under fire, all this celebration over high test scores has me worried. What if more and more schools are compelled to do what “works” to get those high score accolades? What if the few remaining progressive schools that champion child-centered, project based learning instead of test prep are also forced to do what “works”  to get those high scores? What if there is no where left for me to teach?