target practice

Moskowitz to authorizers: Reject high-need enrollment targets

The head of one of the city’s largest charter school networks is calling on state charter authorizers to reject a law that requires schools to serve a larger share of high-needs students.

The law, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz wrote in a letter to authorizers this month, creates “perverse incentives” for charter schools to “over-identify” students in high-needs categories, an effect that she said would do more harm than good for children.

“We urge you not to impose any enrollment and retention targets,” Moskowitz wrote to the New York State Education Department and SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which are charged with enforcing the law. “Instead, we request that you partner with us in going to Albany to change this poorly-thought-out legislation.”

The mandate for charter schools to enroll more high-needs students was established in 2010 when lawmakers passed the Race to the Top bill. A charter sector self-assessment earlier this year found that a large majority of charter schools still served lower proportions of poor, special-needs and English language learning students than their districts.

It’s taken some time to iron out the details, but last month authorizers proposed a method of calculating the targets that they intend to use. The proposal is a complex methodology that would assign enrollment targets to each charter school based on the overall ratio of high-needs students in school districts where they operate. Schools that repeatedly fail to comply could be closed.

In response to the proposal, some in the charter sector have raised concerns. In its public comment, the New York Charter School Association suggested to authorizers that they create a single metric to hold schools accountable for their enrollment, rather than separate metrics for each different enrollment target. NYCSA is concerned that if a school serves a large proportion of students in a high-need category, such as poverty, it could still be penalized for under-enrolling in another category, such as special education or ELL.

But the most radical proposal was left to Moskowitz, who rejects the target plans outright.

This is not the first time a Success official has urged caution over charter school regulations. A week after the enrollment targets were proposed, Success’ General Counsel Emily Kim said that she believed any regulation that was not encouraging schools to move students toward more general education settings was sending the wrong message.

At the heart of the Success network’s concerns is the belief that many district schools too easily classify students as high-needs and then don’t work hard enough to declassify them, in part because schools received additional funding to provide these services.

“Poorly designed financial incentives and a dense bureaucracy have turned the city’s ELL programs into a parking lot – a place where students sit idly for years without hope of mastering essential skills and accelerating their academic progress,” concludes a report on the city’s ELL population that Success released last year. The report found that about one-third of the city’s English language learners failed to test out of the program for seven consecutive years.

Moskowitz said since her schools excel at declassifying ELL students authorizers could slap her with being out of compliance in middle school grades because most of her students would be declassified by then.

“Bizarrely, our successful education of ELL students will actually put us out of compliance with the proposed ELL targets,” Moskowitz wrote.

Critics of Moskowitz and the Success charter network have raised their own concerns about the schools’ rate of student attrition and it’s unclear how many students who leave the schools are identified as high-needs. Roughly one third of students in Harlem Success Academy I’s first two cohorts have left the school over the course of elementary school, according to state data..

State education officials have said their jobs weren’t to change the law, but rather implement it in the fairest way possible. As part of that effort, they created a provision that would give credit to schools – such as Moskowitz’s – that declassified students at higher rates than the district average. The provision would credit to any student who was classified as ELL or special education at any point in the last three years, even if they were later declassified.

But charter school advocates said that wasn’t going far enough. NYCSA suggested in its public comment that the “three-year-lag” be extended for the entirety of the student’s time in a school.

Officials for both SUNY and SED did not respond to comment about Moskowitz’s letter or about whether they would change their proposal in response to the suggestions. SED published a FAQ based on feedback it received in the public comment section, but did not respond to Moskowitz’s call to lobby the state.

Eva Moskowitz letter to charter authorizers regarding Enrollment and Retention Targets

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.