pushout and pushback

Moskowitz to face tough questions after reports of schools pushing out kids

In the wake of a report that a number of Success Academy charter schools have encouraged parents to withdraw unruly students, Success’ leader said Thursday afternoon that “mistakes are sometimes made.”

The report, published by the New York Times on Thursday, found that Success Academy Fort Greene kept a “Got to Go” list of students it wanted to leave the school. The story described suspensions, threats of 911 calls, and frequent meetings being used to prompt parents to send their children elsewhere.

Moskowitz declined to comment extensively on the story at an unrelated event Thursday, but plans to address it at a press conference Friday afternoon. Whether she characterizes the reported actions as isolated occurrences or defends them could steer the fallout from the story, which was quickly seized on by the network’s critics as evidence that it achieves its striking results partly by counseling out challenging students.

“We represent about a hundred thousand families and mistakes are sometimes made,” Moskowitz said. (The network serves more than 11,000 students.) “I want to talk about a mistake that was made in that particular case and I’m going to answer your questions tomorrow.”

Success Academy is the largest charter school network in the city. Its schools post impressive state test results, and most of its students are black or Hispanic and low-income. Moskowitz, its founder and CEO, has become the standard-bearer for a polarizing “no excuses” model of strict discipline and demanding instruction favored by some of the leading charter school networks.

Rumors and anecdotes have long circulated about charter schools pressuring difficult students to voluntarily transfer out, since expulsions are closely regulated. But critics — including the city schools chancellor — have been hard-pressed to prove those accusations.

By the afternoon, the union-allied Alliance for Quality Education had started a social media campaign highlighting aspects of the story, including pictures of Moskowitz with facts from the story and #GotToGo. Two people from AQE attended the Success event on Thursday, one carrying a large poster showing the Times story.

Moskowitz implied that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake. But a press release said Candido Brown — the principal who oversaw that list — would join Moskowitz and other Success principals at the Friday event, indicating that Moskowitz is likely to stand behind the school leader.

The event could also push Success to explain a longstanding contradiction in the way it describes the role of its schools.

On one hand, Moskowitz has defended the idea that not all students are best served by Success Academy. While the charter schools take all students who get a seat through its lotteries, Moskowitz has said Success’ strict discipline rules, high academic standards for progressing to the next grade, and limited services for students with severe disabilities mean that some parents will eventually see other schools as better options for their children.

But she and her school leaders often deride nearby traditional district schools. In a Wall Street Journal piece earlier this month, for example, Success vice principal Nicholas Simmons detailed an “astounding lack of learning” at Wadleigh Secondary School, while two floors above, he wrote, Success Academy thrived.

“About the only difference is that families at Harlem West won an admissions lottery,” he wrote.

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.


Senate plan to expand parents’ access to state education dollars dies in committee

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Senate Education Committee heard SB 534 on Wednesday.

A Senate plan that would’ve given parents of students with special needs direct access to their state education funding was killed yesterday — for now.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said during the Senate Education Committee hearing on the bill that there would be no vote on Senate Bill 534, which would’ve established “education savings accounts” for Indiana students with physical and learning disabilities. The plan would’ve been a major step forward for Indiana school choice advocates who have already backed the state’s charter school and voucher programs.

Kruse said there were still many questions about the bill.

“I don’t want a bill to leave our committee that still has a lot of work to be done on it,” Kruse said.

The Senate bill was one of two such plans winding its way through the 2017 Indiana General Assembly.

House Bill 1591 would create a similar program, but it would not be limited just to students needing special education. Authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, the “radical” proposal is meant to give parents total control over their child’s education.

“The intent of 1591 is to give parents the choice and let the market work,” Lucas said. “…I want to get this conversation started.”

A hearing for the House bill has not been scheduled in the House Education Committee, led by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.

Education savings accounts are slowly gaining attention across the U.S.

Similar programs have passed state legislatures or are already operating in Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada. Advocates have called education savings account programs the purest form of school choice.

But critics of the savings accounts say they could divert even more money away from public schools and come with few regulations to protect against fraud and ensure families are spending the money according to the law.