The battle between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Eva Moskowitz, CEO of
the Success Academy charter chain, has blown up into a national
controversy, covered on national television, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
de Blasio had the nerve to award the Moskowitz chain only five of the
eight charters that it wanted, and Moskowitz has been on the warpath to
get all eight, even if it means pushing kids with disabilities out of
their public school classrooms.
is missing from the controversy so far is any interest on the part of
the journalists in basic facts. Instead, what is happening is a public
relations battle. Moskowitz has attacked Mayor de Blasio in multiple
media appearances, and no one in the media has bothered to check any of
Let's fill that gap.
On MSNBC's Morning Joe,
Ms. Moskowitz claimed that Success Academy 4 in Harlem is the "highest
performing school in New York State in math in in fifth grade." This is
obviously an odd metric to use in judging a school. Picking out one
subject in a single grade should raise suspicion among the media, but it
is also not true. On the fifth grade state math test, the students at
Success Academy 4 are, in fact, #8 in New York City (tied with another
school) and presumably even lower when compared to schools across the
state. The fourth grade math test scoresare
#54 in New York City (tied with six other schools). The third grade
math scores rank #63 in New York City (tied with 6 other schools). The
school's rankings are even worse in English. The fifth grade English
test scores rank #59 in New York City (tied with seven other schools),
the fourth grade English test scores rank #81 in New York City (tied
with five other schools), and the third grade English test scores rank
#65 in New York City (tied with eight other schools).
The school is not the "highest performing school in the state" in any grade.
interviewers have said that the students at Success Academy 4 are the
"most disadvantaged kids in New York City," to which she assented. She
has said "it's a random lottery school. We don't know who they are."
do, in fact, know who the students at Success Academy are. They are not
the most disadvantaged kids in New York City. Harlem Success Academy
schools have half the number of English Language Learners as the
neighboring public schools in Harlem. The students in Success Academy 4
include 15 percent fewer free lunch students and an economic need index
(a measure of students in temporary housing and/or who receive public
assistance) that is 35 percent lower than nearby public schools.
Success Academy 4 has almost none of the highest special needs students
as compared to nearby Harlem public schools. In a school with nearly
500 students, Success Academy 4 has zero, or one, such students, while
the average Harlem public school includes 14.1 percent such
students. With little sense of irony or embarrassment, Moskowitz has
attacked Bill de Blasio for preventing the school's expansion inside PS
149. Her school's expansion would have come at the cost of space for students with disabilities.
The school has already lost "a fully equipped music room ... A
state-mandated SAVE room ... A computer lab... Individual rooms for
occupational and physical therapy ... and the English Language Learners
(ELL) classroom," due to earlier Success Academy expansions in the same
said, referring to the students in her schools, "we've had these
children since kindergarten." But she forgot to mention all the students
who have left the school since kindergarten. Or the fact that Harlem
Success Academy 4 suspends students at a rate 300 percent higher than
the average in the district. Last year's seventh grade class at Harlem
Success Academy 1 had a 52.1 percent attrition rate since 2006-07.
That's more than half of the kindergarten students gone before they even
graduate from middle school. Last year's sixth grade class had a 45.2
percent attrition rate since 2006-07. That's almost half of the
kindergarten class gone and two more years left in middle school. In
just four years Harlem Success Academy 4 has lost over 21 percent of its
students. The pattern of students leaving is not random. Students with
low test scores, English Language Learners, and special education
students are most likely to disappear from the school's roster. Large
numbers of students disappear beginning in 3rd grade, but not in the
earlier grades. No natural pattern of student mobility can explain the
sudden disappearance of students at the grade when state testing just
happens to begin.
Moskowitz made a number of other claims during her Morning Joe appearance. She said "we are self-sustaining on the public dollar alone." In fact, Success Academyspends $2,072 more per student than
schools serving similar populations. This additional funding comes from
donations by the very same hedge fund moguls who have donated over $400,000 to
Governor Cuomo's re-election campaign (charter supporters in the
financial and real estate sector have contributed some $800,000 to
Governor Cuomo's campaign).
has said "in terms of cracking the code that's what we've set out to
do." But we don't need charter schools to crack the code if the
cryptographic key is to keep out the neediest students and kick out
students with low test scores. Public schools could do that too. Then
they too would have higher test scores and a high attrition rate. They
don't do it because it would probably be illegal. And besides, it is the
wrong thing to do. Public schools are expected to educate everyone, not
just those who are likeliest to succeed.