Laura Waters

Haters Will Hate, But These 6 Success Academy Kids Aced the Test

There’s some remarkable news out of New York City today: The Daily News reports that six eighth-graders who attend Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools, which serve 11,000 kids in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, were accepted into some of the city’s elite magnets, including Bronx Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Tech. What’s so remarkable? New York City’s prestigious magnet schools are extremely competitive and segregated. Yet these six students took the Specialized High School Admissions Test—Moskowitz says they “took it cold”—and aced it. No Success Academy eighth-grader has ever managed that feat. After all, the odds are against them. [pullquote position="left"]In fact, the odds are against everyone, regardless of where they attended K-8. Last year, for example, 27,000 eighth-and ninth-graders took the two-and-a-half hour test, and a scant 3.5 percent were admitted to Stuyvesant, the most selective of these magnets. About 20,000 kids applied to Bronx Science (the second most selective), and 5.3 percent were granted admission. The odds go down if you’re poor and not white or Asian. Currently Stuyvesant’s enrollment (data from NYC Department of Education) is 1 percent Black and 2 percent Hispanic. At Bronx Science, 3 percent of the student body is Black and 7 percent are Hispanic. At Brooklyn Tech (about the third most competitive, depending upon whom you ask), the acceptance rate is 8.5 percent, 9 percent of students are Black and 8 percent are Hispanic. This is in a city school system where 70 percent of the student body is Black or Latino.

Charter Haters Keep Hating

Despite this achievement, there’s a steady stream of anti-charter school propaganda. Just this week, the Huffington Post featured Alan Singer’s “Charter Schools Break the Rules and Don’t Seem to Care” and Dale Hansen’s “Privatization of Public Education is a Failure.” Singer sings the old song of “charter schools profit from public dollars,” neglecting to point out that charter schools are, of course, public schools and that any public school “profits” because it receives tax dollars and pays employees. He specifically calls out Success Academy, writing:
The network receives federal and state funding and free space from New York City for all of its schools. Among other things it is accused of discriminating against students with disabilities in a legal complaint filed by parents and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. The network is also accused of protecting staff members who act inappropriately toward children and families.
Yes, Success Academy receives federal and state funding, just like any other public school. It gets facilities (Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts notwithstanding) just like any other public school. Many charters are addressing lower enrollment of children with disabilities. Currently 12 percent of Success students are special needs, one percentage point lower than the 13 percent enrollment at the city’s charters. In traditional city schools, children with disabilities comprise 16.5 percent of enrollment. Singer also accuses Success Academy of “protecting staff members who act inappropriately toward children and families.” In fact, the main “protector” of abusive staff members is the union, which doesn’t exist at Success, although it could if teachers chose that option. For example, a video released this week shows on-camera “two top union leaders” in Yonkers who “were caught in an ambush video advising a ‘teacher’ on how to cover up a scenario where a black child was hit and left bloodied and bruised in an incident involving a racial aspect.” Hansen sings a similar refrain in condemning “privatizing” charter schools for poor student outcomes, claiming that they usurp “local control, and noting that charters fail to “get a foothold in areas where the schools are already high performing.”

Setting the record straight

We’ll take these one at a time. Here’s CREDO’s 2013 data analysis of charter school student performance in New York City compared to student performance in traditional schools:
Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have realized in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows that students in New York City charter schools on average make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. At the school level, 22 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading, while 25 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, nearly 63 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers while approximately 14 percent perform worse.
Local control? What’s more local than parents controlling where they send their kids to school, particularly parents without the financial wherewithal to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private school, the most common forms of school choice in New York City? In fact, 43,000 children currently wait for openings in New York City’s charter school sector. And of course charters “don’t get a foothold in areas where schools are already high-performing.” If parents have quality options, they take them, regardless of the particulars of school governance. Meanwhile, six Success Academy rising ninth-graders will attend New York City’s most exclusive high schools next year, a milestone for Eva Moskowitz’s growing charter school organization. Two years ago, also in the Huffington Post, Rebecca Klein reported on Mayor de Blasio’s dismay that the city’s specialized magnet schools admit so few Black and Latino students, saying:
“We must do more to reflect the diversity of our city in our top-tier schools — and we are committed to doing just that while ensuring high academic standards. In the coming months, we will continue looking at ways to address the gap that has left so many of our black and Latino students out of specialized high schools,” a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Education told The Huffington Post.
New York City’s charter schools are one way to address that gap.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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