Posted in Charters, reform

A Tough Month for Charters

Charters are in the news this month, and not in a good way. Eva Moskowitz, the queen of New York City’s Success Academies, was featured in a PBS News Hour Report by John Merrow. The video report, embedded below, discusses Moskowitz’s charter schools and their tendency to freely use student suspensions as a means to discipline students.

Once the report was aired, Moskowitz immediately demanded an apology – apparently for telling the truth about her schools – and in the process, inappropriately revealed confidential information about a student for which a Cease and Desist letter has been sent. PBS then issued a clarification, agreeing that it should have given Moskowitz a chance to respond, but essentially standing by its report as accurate.

In addition to the PBS/Moskowitz flap, the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report titled Charter School Black Hole: Special Investigation Reveals Huge Gaps in Public Info on Taxpayer Money Spent.

The report outlines charter school issues in eleven states and the District of Columbia (including Indiana). The problems range from taxpayer money given to charter startups which never materialized, to poor accountability about where taxpayer money was spent. Unlike true public schools, many states have lax accountability laws for charter schools.

JOHN MERROW vs. EVA MOSKOWITZ

“In the end, how charter schools conduct their business is basically their own business.”

Eva Moskowit​z Demands an apology for the video, above

[Note: No link is provided for the following quote. The letter includes information about a child highlighted in the video and is the subject of a Cease and Desist letter (see below) which requests that the letter and personal information about the child be removed from public access on the internet. The quote, is, however, part of the letter which Moskowitz sent to PBS demanding an apology.]

Mr. Merrow is entitled to his own opinion about whether or not young children should be suspended, but he is not entitled to his own facts about why Success suspends students. Indeed, if he truly believes young children shouldn’t be suspended, he should argue that position in the context of the reality that some young children do engage in dangerous behavior rather than bolster his argument by pretending otherwise. It is that real world in which Success functions. We have a responsibility to ensure that all of our students are safe and learn, and we do this in part by having standards of conduct. Thus, while our educators made great efforts to meet John’s needs, they had responsibilities to the other students in their care whose safety and educational needs also had to be considered.

Peter Greene, author of the Curmudgucation blog, covered the story in (so far) three posts. With his usual wit and insight, Greene draws attention to the fact that Moskowitz is intent on protecting herself and her school rather than her students. This is, of course, what happens when someone with no education credentials, like Eva Moskowitz, thinks they know everything there is to know about schools and teaching; Profit takes precedence over children.

Eva Moskowitz Has Big Brass Balls

Moskowitz has created an unsustainable model that burns through teachers quickly, depends on infusions of donated cash and the co-opting of public resources, defines success as “good test scores,” and serves only about half of the students who enroll, who are in turn a small percentage of city students.

But sure– demand “a correction and an apology” because somebody didn’t follow the Eva Moskowitz PR script. Because while listing the many ways in which Success Academy is nothing like a public school, be sure to include “no transparency.” A true public school takes its lumps because how it operates, how it treats its students, how it achieves its success, or even defines its success– all of that must remain open to the taxpayers who pay the bills.

Eva Gets Spanked

Specifically, she defended herself by breaching the confidentiality of a young student’s records at the school. I’m not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), but it sure looks like a FERPA violation to me when you release everything down to excerpts from the teacher narrative about disciplinary incidents for a student who is readily and easily identified.

Well, apparently the child’s mother thinks so, too. Yesterday, Moskowitz was slapped with a cease and desist letter.

Eva and Charter Priorities

Moskowitz publicized the private disciplinary records of a child because the child’s mother was making the school look bad. If I were a parent looking at Success Academy, I would have to ask myself– what information would the school collect about me and my child, and under what circumstances would Moskowitz violate my confidentiality to use the information (and would she go so far as to claim it was her constitutional right to do so). If I enroll my child in Success Academy, do I then have to hold my breath and hope it is never in her best interest to breach my confidentiality? Does the application give me a place to sign where I agree that if I ever cross her, I can expect her to come down on me with whatever information she has collected about my child during that child’s time in the school?

Moskowitz didn’t just fight bad PR by throwing a child under the bus. She showed just how little she understands about what it means to be a public school, just how hollow are her claims of running Success Academy “for the children.” [emphasis added]

PBS NewsHour Clarification

PBS admits that it should have given Moskowitz an opportunity to respond to its report, however it doesn’t back down from the facts presented.

The fundamental point of Mr. Merrow’s report is about the policy of suspensions of young children. It accurately documents that Success Academy suspends students as young as five- and six-year olds at a greater rate than many other schools, which Ms. Moskowitz does not dispute. Mr. Merrow’s report also explains that Success Academy Charter Schools are achieving superior academic results and are popular among New York area families. While the NewsHour regrets the decision to include that particular mother and child without providing Ms. Moskowitz with an opportunity to respond, the NewsHour stands by the report.

Cease and Desist letter sent today to Eva Moskowitz of Success Charters

This disclosure of my son’s disciplinary records without my consent is not only unethical, but also a serious violation of federal law. I hereby demand that you immediately cease and desist from causing further harm to my son’s privacy rights by removing the letter from your website, and ending all unauthorized disclosures. I also demand that you produce an accurate record of all third parties to whom you specifically disclosed my son’s non-directory information without my consent.

Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters, reveals myths about charter schools. One of the myths is that charter schools provide a higher quality of education. Some charters, however, achieve higher test scores through methods which don’t include better education or higher levels of learning. Moskowitz uses suspensions as one method of relieving her charter franchises of low achieving students.

Six Charter School Myths; my testimony before the City Council today

4. Charter schools get higher test scores because of the superior quality of education they provide.

Whether or not they achieve superior results, and there is much dispute about this, it may be due to charters’ increased funding, the socio-economic and demographic background of their students, and/or their much higher suspension and attrition rates. Probably all these factors contribute. Of course, the more a school pushes out struggling students, the higher their test scores will likely be.

For example, according to the latest available figures, Success Academy loses half of their students by 6th grade, with an annual student suspension rate of 22 percent, compared to suspension rate of 6 percent at PS 149.[17] The average suspension rate in all the Success Academy schools was 14%, about twice as high as district public schools. See below chart from the NY Daily News:

CHARTER PROFITS vs. TAX DOLLARS

This month the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report titled Charter School Black Hole: Special Investigation Reveals Huge Gaps in Public Info on Taxpayer Money Spent. The report discusses charter growth in several states and the District of Columbia and focuses on the “flexibility” many states award charters when it comes to accountability for tax dollars. It also highlights differences between charters and true public schools – fiscal accountability, open enrollment, and stability.

• The Indiana Cyber Charter School opened in 2012 with a $420,000 CSP implementation grant. Dogged by financial scandals and terrible student results the charter was revoked and it closed in 2015, leaving 1,100 students in the lurch.

• Via Charter School was awarded a $193,000 planning grant, but never opened.

Indiana charter schools are heavily segregated: “7.2 percent of IPS’ Black students attend a school that’s 90 percent or more Black. But over a quarter, 27.8 percent of Black charter school students attend a severely segregated charter school.”

Charters in Indiana are also largely exempt from local democratic control, by school boards. And, they test no better—and often much worse—than traditional schools.

The Institute for Quality Education, a part of Hoosiers for Quality Education, supports the privatization of public education (read more about the groups at More on the money behind the Indiana school-voucher law). Here, a spokesperson claims that the money wasted on charter schools was well spent.

Study: Charter funds wasted

“We are grateful for federal programs like CSP that help so many Indiana charter schools flourish and serve an increasing number of students,” said Erin Sweitzer, spokeswoman for the Institute for Quality Education said. “CSP works to foster charter school startup and innovation, and to see that 90 percent of their Indiana-directed funds went to schools that opened and stayed open is a tremendous success.”

She added that it is always difficult to see a school close because of poor academic performance, but it is the right thing to do and is evidence that the charter accountability system is working.

Swietzer’s standard for the success of a charter school appears to be that it “stayed open.” However, using the metric which education “reformers” love – school grades based on standardized test scores – the success of charter schools in Indiana is questionable.

So where is the money going? Does anyone know…?

Charter Schools Investigation Finds Millions in Tax Dollars Wasted; Inside Influence with Policy Makers

What is even more troubling is how little is known about how charters are spending federal and state tax dollars, even as governments continue to increase funding for them while slashing funds for traditional public schools. Unlike truly public schools, which have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending is largely a black hole.

Charter schools aren’t required to accept every child who applies. Charter schools don’t have adequate public oversight. Charter schools aren’t required to have a full staff of qualified educators. Public funding should go to true public schools with open enrollments, a full staff of licensed educators, full accountability to a publicly elected school boards, and the stability that neighborhood schools offer.

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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A Manifesto for a Revolution in Public Education
Click here to sign the petition.

For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.

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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.