charter school expansion

Success Academy plans to continue rapid expansion with 14 charter applications

The city’s largest charter school network is requesting to add a record number of new schools in the next two years, moving ahead with plans to quickly expand across the city.

A spokeswoman for Success Academy Charter Schools said Tuesday that the network is requesting authorization to open 14 new schools in 2015 and 2016. The network is looking to expand into five new districts while also opening schools in areas where the network already has a presence, like the Upper West Side and central Brooklyn.

If its plans are approved by the SUNY Charter Institute, Success would open 10 of those schools simultaneously in fall 2016—a remarkable pace even for Eva Moskowitz, the network’s founder and CEO, who has long spoken of plans to widely expand the network. The 14 new schools would add to the six opening in fall 2014 and the 26 that Success currently operates to bring the network to 46 schools—roughly the size of the Savannah, Ga. school district.

Success schools have posted some of the city’s highest test scores, with 82 percent of its students scoring proficient in math and 58 percent scoring proficient in English language arts on state exams last year, both well above city and state averages. That success has helped the network become one of the city’s most popular, and polarizing, networks, with critics charging that the network has boosted its scores with aggressive test-prep tactics and by not replacing many students who leave.

The rapid expansion plan is also a sign of the network’s confidence that the city will find, or pay for, space for the schools. If approved, the schools would put additional pressure on the city to find public space for them, likely by co-locating the schools with traditional district schools.

Not doing so would mean spending millions to lease private spaces for the schools, following the passage of a new law that was partially spurred by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision in March to block three Success Academy schools from moving into public buildings.

Still, Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said she will not make school space-sharing plans until the city has developed a better way to solicit feedback from community members.

“It’s our goal to invest in all our public schools to make sure parents have great options for their children, regardless of what zip code they live in,” said Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “We will review these new proposals as SUNY makes its decisions.”

Isaac Carmignani, co-president of District 30’s Community Education Council, said he wasn’t surprised that Success was looking to open a school in the district, which includes Astoria, Jackson Heights, and Long Island City, because the network had sought a charter there before.

But parents have concerns about whether the school might take some top students away from district schools, he said. Parents would also be concerned about possible co-locations, since many schools in the district already struggle with overcrowding, he added.

“The big concern I think that we have is if they go to a part of a district where schools are underutilized, they’d get the best and the brightest, and these schools are already struggling a little bit,” Carmignani said.

If the four new Success schools are approved, at least 17 new charter schools will open in the city in 2015. And if all 14 of the schools Success is requesting are approved, Success would secure nearly one-third of the 46 additional charter schools that can still open in New York City under state law.

Don’t miss the latest in New York City schools news. Sign up for Chalkbeat’s morning newsletter. 

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.