My wife and I are leaving the country for three weeks in Ethiopia and Madagascar.  We will miss a few Presidential debates, but I don’t expect the candidates to address the issue I care most about, children and their education.  Of, if they do, it will be in the form of rants against the Common Core.  Sad and predictable

Here’s a prediction: While we are away, another shoe will drop in the Eva Moskowitz/Success Academies story that you may have been following on the PBS NewsHour and in the New York Times.  It won’t come from me, and I am not in touch with Times reporter Kate Taylor, but you can count on more headlines about excessive use of out-of-school suspensions and attrition emerging in the near future.

A number of people have written to ask for more data about out of school suspensions at Success Academies.  We used the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA) to get data from Success Academies, from other charter networks, and from traditional public schools located near or sharing space with charter schools.  Because the state asks only about the number of students suspended, schools do not have to report the total number of suspensions–and so, not surprisingly, they do not.

• Success Academy Crown Heights, a K-1 school, issued 57 suspensions to 18 students.

• Success Academy Prospect Heights, also K-1, issued 44 suspensions to 12 students, one of whom was suspended 12 times, until the parents finally withdrew the child.

• Success Academy Harlem 1 reported to the state that it suspended 125 students in 2013-14; what it did not have to report was that it handed out 279 suspensions.

• Harlem 2 suspended 102 students but handed out 225 out of school suspensions.

• Harlem 3 suspended 90 students 262 times.

• Bronx 1 suspended 42 students 118 times.

Reporting is on an honor system. Our FOIA indicates that Success Academies seems to have underreported or mis-reported suspensions on several occasions, judging from what is posted on the state’s website.

• Bed-Stuy 1 reported 10 suspensions to the state but acknowledged to us that it suspended 22 children 49 times.

• Bed-Stuy 2 told the state that it had zero suspensions but acknowledged to us that it suspended 26 children 80 times.

• Cobble Hill Success Academy reported zero suspensions to the state but in response to our FOIA acknowledged suspending 26 children 92 times.

These are elementary schools, some with only Kindergarten and First Grades.  The complete response is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5mXKGS4xL6iVDRvaDBpdFVkdFE/view?usp=sharing

(It’s a story for another day, perhaps, but a few charter school operators simply did not respond to the FOIA letters, even thought the law requires disclosure.  Give Success Academies credit, because it was forthcoming and thorough. I suspect that some charter operators are grateful with Eva as the lightning rod, because they are getting away with murder–figuratively speaking, of course.)

What I will be wondering while we travel:  Will the Administration have more to say about ‘too much testing’ and the need to limit testing?  I thought the Presidential announcement, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan chiming in, about a 2% cap on testing time was bizarre.  I remain astounded at how tone-deaf those folks sounded, particularly when floating the idea of a FEDERAL LAW capping testing time!  And how exactly would that be enforced?  Hasn’t anyone down there learned anything about the limits on federal power to run our schools?

I hope they learned something from the public response to the notion of capping testing but somehow I doubt it.  With Secretary Duncan leaving fairly soon, he must be concerned about his legacy.  However, talking now about ‘too much testing’ isn’t going to help.

See you in three weeks or so


  1. Enjoy your vacation, John! I hope that, in addition to your critical focus on Success Academy, you will also write about the reasons and ways to improve the dismal quality of zoned schools in some of the poor neighborhoods in NYC. When some of these schools have less than 15% of students read or add at a grade level, Success Academy, with all of its faults, seems like a much better alternative to local residents.


  2. I think there is much to admire about Success Academies, particularly their emphasis on science, music, the other arts and physical education. In those respects, Eva Moskowitz is a progressive educator.
    Imagine what she could do if she did not worship at the altar of test scores….

    And you are right about the dismal performance of too many urban schools, here in NYC and in other cities. Those schools don’t have the resources that Success and other charters have, but many of them also have too high a tolerance for mediocrity. More resources alone aren’t the answer, but neither is beating up on them.


  3. John, sorry for the delay.

    On negativity. I agree with you that negative campaigning on both sides is unhelpful.

    On funding. According to Eva Moskowitz, private donations to SA are directed exclusively towards opening up new SA schools, and running existing schools is done solely out of the public funding, so it’s not obvious that Success Academy has more funding, compared to zoned schools.

    On tests. The more hostile the political environment is towards Success Academy, the more important it is for SA to demonstrate top student scores, because these scores are the only reasonably objective measure of the school’s performance, not susceptible to political narrative and spin.

    On balance. I am a Success Academy parent, and I am also a Progressive, and it pains me to see many of my fellow progressives jumping on the bandwagon of criticizing Success Academy, based on their political biases and familiar political narratives about privatization of education, unions etc…, while being weak on the facts. Articles of the “What’s wrong with Success Academy” variety, even when correct on the facts, leave the wrong impression that there is nothing right about it, or that, on balance, the price of results at Success Academy is too high.

    And yet all you have to do is talk to a random bunch of Success Academy parents, and also compare SA to the zoned schools next door, and it will become obvious – most parents will happily take that trade-off.

    That is what I mean by balance – after looking at the alternatives, many parents will choose SA over a zoned school, especially in poor neighborhoods, and yet one would never get that impression after reading some of the SA critique. And that’s not fair.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s