New York Post / By Yoav Gonen
Originally published: 4.9.2013
he city’s largest charter-school network saw more than 12.200 families apply for seats at one of its 18 schools this year — nearly five applicants per open slot.
he city’s largest charter-school network saw more than 12.200 families apply for seats at one of its 18 schools this year — nearly five applicants per open slot.
By Beth Fertig
The neighborhood around McCarren Park is typical of the changes that have swept through Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Along the side of the park you can see new residential developments with sleek glass exteriors advertising condos for sale. New construction continues to go up on blocks that were once used for factories. And the playground is full of young children with parents and nannies.
A woman carrying a young baby, who declined to give her name, said she had started looking at the public schools for her 2 year-old. But she’s not sure yet if she’ll enroll her. “I’m happy that they’re continuing to improve,” she said, of the local schools. “But I am a little worried.”
That anxiety is at the heart of a heated debate over a new charter school planned for this neighborhood. Some parents with kids in the local schools claim supporters of the charter are preying on wary middle and upper class residents.
“They are saying that what we really want is a school that really is birthed out of the white community and that looks like what the white community would feel most comfortable with,” said Kate Yourke, who has two children. “This is, to me, racist.”
Yourke is active in a group called Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools, or WAGPOPS. They’ve led an opposition campaign against the new charter.
The charter school in question is called Citizens of the World, a network based in California. Opponents point out that an initial meeting about the school was held with upper class parents at one of the new waterfront condominiums last year. It was organized by Eric Grannis, an attorney who is married to Eva Moskowitz, the former city councilwoman who started the Success Acadamies charter network. Grannis runs the Tapestry Project, which is a sort of matchmaker seeking out new communities for charter schools.
Grannis acknowledges early meetings in the fall of 2011 took place with the more affluent families. But he showed Schoolbook memos documenting that efforts were also made around the same time to connect with Head Starts and day care centers in other parts of the district, to hear what kinds of schools residents wanted.
“We wanted to get as broad support as we could,” he said. He then brought in representatives from Citizens of the World who organized and submitted an application to open a charter in Brooklyn.
Tara Phillips, the charter network’s senior director of community relations, said she was troubled by the way her school is being portrayed by opponents.
“The school is committed to creating a diverse population of kids in every realm,” she said. “Racial, ethnic, social economic, and to really to work with those kids individually and with parents to make sure that they reach their fullest potential.”
Phillips used to teach at the Brooklyn Friends School. She said most charter and district schools tend to be segregated; low-income students of color rarely mix with more affluent, white peers. But she said Citizens of the World wants to more closely mirror the demographics of Northern Brooklyn, which despite gentrification still has its Latino, Polish and other ethnic neighborhoods. It’s also promising a progressive curriculum, unlike the strict “no excuses” philosophy of many other charters.
“I felt the model was very nurturing and the whole model around Citizens, it’s all about diversity,” said Deanna Morea, who attended some of the early meetings. “As an African-American mom of a multiracial family… it really spoke to me in a way that included me.”
Paula Notari was also excited about the new charter. She’s a public defender with two small children who helped lobby for a Success Academy charter school that opened this year on the south side of Williamsburg. She’s also volunteering to build support for Citizens of the World.
She took me to the Jonathan Williams day care center on the south side, which is surrounded by housing projects. Several parents she approached about the plan said they were interested. Gilbert Richards, who was picking up his three year-old daughter, said, “We’re planning on her going to a charter school because the public schools are not all that good.”
Notari lives in one of the new developments on the south side. She’s a Brooklyn native who said she’s just fighting for better choices, and she’s angry at the way she’s been portrayed by the opposition.
“They got statistics, how much my husband and I paid for our apartment,” she said. “I mean it just got very, very ugly. I would literally go to a birthday party and the next day on the local blog there would be some post saying that I had the audacity to show up at a birthday party.”
But opponents such as Brooke Parker note that the new charter will be on the north side, where there are plenty of good schools.
“All of our schools are excellent, all of our schools are under-enrolled,” she said, at a rally against the charter. “Within walking distance of Junior High School 126, where they want to put this elementary school, are two Blue Ribbon schools and three A schools.”
Local politicians and prominent community groups oppose the charter. Northern Brooklyn already has several other charters. Esteban Duran, an organizer with the group El Puente, said all the time and energy spent on Citizens of the World could have been directed in other ways.
“If our schools are good they deserve the chance to continue to do better, and we should invest in them, this is the complete opposite of that,” he said.
Opponents also note that despite the rapid development in Northern Brooklyn, the local schools are not over-crowded because new families seem to be replacing others priced out by gentrification. But the population is slowly growing. Schoolbook analyzed census data for District 14 (Williamsburg and Greenpoint) based on blocks within the district. Our data team found that between 2000 and 2010, the under-5 population increased by 2.239.
The charter is likely to be approved tonight by a panel controlled by mayoral appointees. Opponents are already planning a lawsuit if things don’t go their way.
By Rachel Cromidas and Philissa Cramer
The Success Academy Charter Schools network is jumping into a new market — higher education. Thanks to a new agreement with Touro College, this year Success Academies officials are teaching courses that will help the network’s newest teachers earn master’s degrees.
For the last four months, 42 teachers from the network’s 14 schools have been taking classes at Touro College’s Graduate School of Education, including some taught by members of the Success staff who have joined the Touro faculty as adjunct professors. The program is fully funded by Success Academies and will culminate in a master’s degree and teacher certification.
Full-time Touro professors will teach about half of the academic courses in the program, and Success-affiliated adjuncts will teach the other half, according to Alan Kadish, Touro’s president. He said the full-time and adjunct professors would also jointly supervise the practical training required for graduation.
The agreement positions Success one small step closer to a possibility founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz laid out in her recent book, “Mission Possible.”
“Our intensive, immersive, school-based teacher training program could eventually become a formal graduate school program,” she wrote. The book also lambasted traditional teacher preparation programs as “completely inadequate.”
In an interview, Moskowitz said the partnership with Touro is a response to the network’s rising demand for teachers that meet its standards. Success opened four new schools this year and is set to launch another six in 2013.
“While we certainly hire teachers from a lot of the big education schools, given our rate of growth frankly there isn’t the pipeline that we need of potential teachers,” she said. “We’ve got to think a little outside of the box.”
Success’s internal training regime, which Moskowitz and co-author Arin Lavinia outlined in “Mission Possible,” includes an apprenticeship program where new teachers spend a year working with a more experienced teacher as well as real-time coaching that gives teachers rapid feedback, sometimes through an earpiece while they are still in front of students.
The agreement with Touro makes Success the latest entrant in a growing national effort to tighten the connection between teacher preparation and classroom results. The movement draws fuel from studies confirming what school leaders have long complained: university credentials do not predict whether a teacher can help students learn.
New graduate programs are sprouting up across the country to try to solve this problem. In New York, three charter school networks — Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First — teamed up to open the Relay Graduate School of Education in 2011 with the goal of uniting preparation and practice. And just this week, the city Department of Education announced that it would petition the state for the right to certify teachers itself in some subjects, a move that would circumvent higher education completely.
The U.S. Department of Education joined the push with its 2010 Race to the Top competition, which required states to commit to defining teacher quality not by the degrees teachers hold but by how well their students perform on measures of academic achievement. The competition also called on states to start assessing education schools according to the performance of students their graduates teach.
New York State took home $700 million in the contest and is now in the process of adopting new certification standards that focus more on practice and less on coursework. Teachers will have to submit videos showing themselves in action to get the state’s seal of approval.
Relay, like a small group of education schools around the country, takes the challenge one step farther, requiring future teachers to show that their own students are making academic progress before they can graduate. (The University of Michigan’s school of education and the new Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education, opened by the MATCH Charter School in Boston, are rolling out similar graduation standards.)
Just as Success is now sending its students to a Success-infused program at Touro, Relay grew out of a partnership with CUNY’s Hunter College. The program at Relay reflects its founding networks’ focus on high-poverty student populations, academic performance, and on offering concrete techniques for instruction and classroom management. About 40 percent of the program takes place online.
About 70 percent of Relay’s 550 current students teach in charter schools, including 55 who work at Success schools. Moskowitz said Relay was “much more alternative” than the program she is developing at Touro, but that Success teachers would continue to attend multiple training programs even as the network formally associates with one.
“We’re going to have to let a thousand flowers bloom and develop that pipeline in a variety of ways,” Moskowitz said.
Relay co-founder and president Norman Atkins said he welcomed new innovations in teacher preparation. “We need more public education leaders like Eva to bring their effective professional development models into the field of teacher preparation,” he said in a statement.
State Education Commissioner John King said the Success-Touro partnership represents only one of many promising efforts to reshape teacher training.
“I think what you see is a trend nationally of folks trying to figure out how to better connect teacher preparation with what’s happening in schools,” King said. “That’s reflected in the state’s move to the new performance-based certification assessment for teacher candidates, and it’s reflected in initiatives like what Eva is doing [and] what Relay has done.”
Touro could seem an unlikely choice of partner. In 2007, an investigation found that several administrators at its education school had been awarding grades and even diplomas in exchange for payment.
Moskowitz said she chose the partnership because Touro is geared toward serving students who are working full-time. It offers weekend and evening classes and sends instructors to students where they are, so Success teachers’ training will happen mostly at the network’s schools.
Currently, Success teachers are not taking any classes with other Touro students because of the charter network’s unorthodox school day, which runs until 5 p.m. four days a week and ends at noon on Wednesdays, according to a spokeswoman for Success. But they might well take classes alongside other Touro students in the future, especially if they choose to specialize in narrower license areas, Kadish said.
For Touro, the arrangement provides an influx of students who have been screened according to the network’s selection criteria at a time when the school, like all teacher preparation programs, faces new scrutiny about its graduates’ performance in the classroom.
Kadish said in an interview that working with Success presented an opportunity that was hard to turn down.
“Their network was expanding, and we thought, why not?” he said.
But he said the agreement that Touro reached with the network was not the only arrangement that officials from the two schools talked about.
“There were discussions about doing some kind of experimental program,” he said. “We decided not to do that. … We talk about all kinds of ideas that we don’t implement.”
Some Success Academies staff members with advanced degrees are already working as adjunct professors at Touro, including the network’s executive director of pedagogy, Paul Fucaloro. Kadish said Moskowitz, who has a Ph.D. in American history, could one day join the faculty as well.
A source who is an experienced teacher-educator laid out one downside of the new approach: Smaller and more specialized programs run the risk of failing to prepare graduates for careers that could eventually span multiple schools.
“It’s like having a master’s degree in computer science versus being trained as a Windows technician,” said the source, who declined to speak on the record because he was not authorized to speak about his knowledge of the Success-Touro agreement.
He added, “There’s a fair question [that] people who are certified out of Relay or Success/Touro … will have general teaching licenses and could eventually go elsewhere in their careers. But will they be technically trapped by a methodology that may not apply to another environment?”
Kadish, Touro’s president, said the answer is no, at least for Success Academies’ teachers who come to his school. They will be getting a Touro education with a Success spin, he said.
“We certainly take advantage of the practical experience teachers have as part of their curricula everywhere. To the extent that Success already offers that, it’s advantageous,” he said. “But it doesn’t substitute for the core coursework we require of our students.”
By Eva Moskowitz
Last week, Success Academy Harlem 1 won the nation’s top education prize, a Blue Ribbon Award for academic excellence as one of the state’s top-performing schools. It’s just the second time since the award’s inception in 1982 that a Harlem elementary school has achieved this distinction.
It’s an incredible honor for our flagship school and our staff, but also further evidence of an educational renaissance in Harlem that has opened up dozens of new educational opportunities to families that for decades lacked good options.
When it comes to educating their children, families in low-income New York neighborhoods like Harlem have two things today that they didn’t have just 10 years ago — a choice and a chance.
No longer are most children simply relegated to the school down the street; instead, parents can choose among a variety of schools in their neighborhoods, including 600 new district and charter-school options citywide.
The idea behind the strategy is simple: Every child should have the chance to attend a great public school, and when you empower parents with options, they’ll seek out the best fit for their children.
Those same parents will flee schools that aren’t cutting it — if they have the opportunity. For far too many decades, we not only let bad schools continue along their path of mediocrity, we also gave them a monopoly on educating their neighborhood’s children.
Nowhere is the success of the new strategy more apparent than in Harlem.
In 1999, just 19 percent of Harlem students in grades K-8 were meeting basic standards in math and reading. Parents who’d dropped out of high school were having children who dropped out of high school — fueling the vicious cycle of underemployment and poverty.
But since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, Harlem has undergone an educational transformation. Dozens of new public charter schools have opened there, and parents have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm.
Each year, the neighborhood hosts a school-choice fair that draws thousands of families seeking information about their district-, charter- and parochial-school options. This fair isn’t just inspiring, it fully debunks the myth that low-income parents aren’t as involved in their children’s education as those in more affluent neighborhoods.
This year, nearly 10.000 Harlem families applied to a public charter school, including the neighborhood’s five Success schools. It’s not surprising why — in many cases, these schools are vastly outperforming their district-school peers. Last year, 88 percent of Success students met reading standards and 97 percent were proficient in math. These scores are on par with the city’s selective schools (charters are open to all students) and suburbs like Scarsdale.
In other words, our schools are proving that families can overcome the barriers to learning that poverty creates.
Yet change hasn’t come fast enough. There aren’t nearly enough seats available to meet this demand; this year, nearly 8.000 students are on charter-school wait lists in Harlem alone.
Not surprisingly, the parents of these children are incredibly frustrated and feel that “choice” hasn’t worked for them.
Their anger is further fanned by charter opponents, who like to blame charters for all of the failures of district schools. Check the facts, and it’s clear the damage was done long before charters arrived on the scene.
The difference is that parents now see there’s something better and are choosing to leave schools that are failing.And most of the parents who remain aren’t there by choice.
As an educator, there is no worse feeling than having to turn away a child. That’s why we’ve opened 14 schools to date, with another six on tap for next year — to try to meet at least some of this growing demand.
Opponents again say we’re moving too fast, but I don’t think we’re moving fast enough. The fact is, families are awakened, but they’re not yet all empowered.
In America, education is supposed to be the great equalizer. But until all children have the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school, a child’s neighborhood will continue to determine his or her destiny.
Injecting choice into a once-monopolistic system has been a huge step forward; we need to keep on this path until all children are in schools that are best for them and for their futures.