in response

Eva Moskowitz calls ‘Got to Go’ list an anomaly as Success principal gives tearful apology

Following a report detailing Success Academy schools trying to remove unruly students, school founder Eva Moskowitz denied any systematic effort to push students out of her schools, took responsibility for the oversight of her school leaders, and elicited a tearful apology from the principal who created the list.

In a lengthy press conference, Moskowitz focused on the “Got to Go” list described in the New York Times and said she is not aware of similar lists at other schools. But her statements, and the testimony of a number of Success principals, affirmed that the charter network’s strict discipline policies do not make Success the best fit for every child, particularly those with special needs.

“A mistake was made here and I take personal responsibility as the leader of this organization for that happening under my watch,” Moskowitz said. “We are not perfect. We are a work in progress. This is incredibly humbling and difficult work.”

Success Academy is the largest charter-school network in New York City, serving 11,000 students, and its schools post impressive test results in traditionally hard to serve communities. Critics have long accused the network of posting high test scores by pressuring undisciplined students to leave.

But on Friday, Moskowitz made it clear that she would make no such admission. Instead, she said the “Got to Go” list at the network’s school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn runs counter to Success’ beliefs. Candido Brown, the principal who created the list, she said, was reprimanded immediately and the list only existed for three days, she said.

“What this incident illustrates is that it is not our policy to have ‘Got to Go’ lists or to push out students,” Moskowitz said.

She did not address the other incidents detailed in the New York Times article, including threats to call 911 and repeated meetings designed to wear parents down until they withdrew their students.

Moskowitz defended Brown as a person of “high moral character” and said that firing him would be “profoundly wrong.” But she also provided reporters with email correspondence in which she called Brown “stubborn” and “somewhat dense.”

Brown stood behind Moskowitz as she spoke and then took the podium and delivered an emotional apology.

“As an educator I fell short of my commitment to all children and families at my school and for that I am deeply sorry,” he said, speaking through tears. His actions, he said, were driven by desperation to turnaround a struggling school.

“I was doing what I thought I needed to do to fix a school where I would not send my own child,” he said.

Moskowitz and other Success Academy leaders have frequently compared the schools in their network to district schools, making the case that Success provides superior educational opportunities. At several press conferences and this year, Moskowitz has called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to treat charter schools as equals and provide them with better space and funding.

Yet on Friday, Moskowitz said that “a very small percentage of kids,” particularly those with special needs, might not find the right support at Success and should instead consider a district school.

“Success may not be the absolute best setting for every child,” she said.

School choices

School choice supporters downplay new voucher research, saying schools are more than a test score

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Michael Vadon
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

At this week’s gathering of school choice supporters, there was an awkward fact in their midst: A wave of new studies had shown that students receiving a voucher did worse, sometimes much worse, on standardized tests.

That was the inconvenient verdict of studies examining programs in Louisiana, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and in Indianapolis, where the advocates had convened for the annual conference of the American Federation for Children. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the group’s former leader, gave the keynote address.

But many of the school choice proponents, who had long made the case that their favored reform works, had an explanation at the ready.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, only alluded to the recent studies. “In spite of a few research projects of a narrowly identified group of students, the simple fact is when you create a marketplace of choices and informed parents … the children do better,” he told the audience.

Other leading supporters emphasized the impact the programs have beyond test scores, as well as the shortcomings of recent studies.

“Some of the data that is really interesting [looks at] not just achievement, but attainment,” Robert Enlow, head of EdChoice, a group that backs vouchers and tax credit programs, told Chalkbeat. “A kid may not be doing as well on a test score as we would like, but they’re graduating at higher rates [and] they’re going into college at higher rates.”

Indeed, older studies show that students in Milwaukee’s voucher program were more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college. Students in D.C.’s initiative also completed high school at a higher rate.

Enlow also pointed to evidence that private school choice can spur improvements in public schools through competition and increase parent satisfaction rates. Sounding a bit like some of his opponents who lead teachers unions, Enlow argued that test scores are a poor measure of educational quality.

“We want a vibrant society of people who know what they’re doing who are productive members of society,” he said. “A single test doesn’t prove jack about that.”

While EdChoice has said that school choice leads to academic gains, the group has also argued, prior to the recent studies, that parents care about more than just test scores when choosing schools. EdChoice opposes requiring students in voucher programs to take state tests at all. Without such data, making comparisons to public schools is more difficult.

Still, Enlow said, “there are some studies showing that private schools need to get better on test scores.”

Supporters also noted that the studies in D.C. and Louisiana were based on just one and two years of data, respectively. Enlow says that is too little information to draw helpful conclusions, a point echoed by Kevin Chavous, a board member at the American Federation for Children and a former D.C. city council member.

“This is after one year in the program,” said Chavous referring to the recent D.C. report, which analyzed three groups of students after a single year of receiving a voucher. “Studies also show … the longer the kids are in these programs, the better they’ll do.”

An overview of past research on school vouchers, including studies in other countries, found that students were neither helped nor harmed after three years, but saw significant test score jumps in the fourth year.

DeVos hasn’t addressed the topic in depth. After her own Department of Education released the report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, DeVos stated, “The study released today found that D.C. OSP parents overwhelmingly support this program, and that, at the same time, these schools need to improve upon how they serve some of D.C.’s most vulnerable students.”

Chavous argues that giving families choice means allowing them to pick schools based on what is important to them, which may not be test scores. It’s also hypocritical for those who are skeptical of testing to then use test results to criticize voucher programs, he said.

“You can’t have it both ways — you can’t say we have too much high-stakes testing when it comes to public schools and then when it comes to private choice programs, OK, they aren’t passing the test,” he said.

But he acknowledges inconsistency on his own side among those who use test results to claim that public schools are failing.

“We’re all hypocrites on the testing thing,” Chavous said.

This story has been updated to clarify EdChoice’s previous statements on the value of test scores.

trumped up

DeVos said rejecting choice plan would be a ‘terrible mistake.’ New York education advocates have a different take

At a speech in Indianapolis Monday night, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised an “ambitious” expansion of school choice — and said it would be a “terrible mistake” if states refuse to participate.

Yet, at a discussion of school choice in New York City Tuesday morning, panelists invited by the Women’s City Club of New York, seemed unfazed by the secretary’s comments.

“None of us here at the table are persuaded that what’s happening in Washington is going to have a tremendous impact here in New York,” said Shawn Morehead, the moderator, a program director at The New York Community Trust.

In part, that is because the version of school choice advocated by DeVos is more radical than the existing choice system in New York state, panelists said. New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman, argued that New York state charter schools represent a highly regulated version of school choice, whereas DeVos favors a deregulated, market-orientated approach.

“We took that fork in the road a long time ago,” Merriman said. “I don’t see that changing in any way, shape or form because of who the secretary of education is.”

New York City also has a high school choice system, where students can apply to any school in the city. But recent reporting has found that the admissions rules are hazy and the system has maintained racial, academic and socioeconomic segregation in city schools.

Panelists advocated for more regulation to help correct this problem. (Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said last week she is “reconsidering” some enrollment in high schools but did not provide any more details.)

DeVos offered few specifics on her school choice proposal during her Indianapolis speech, but President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes a $1 billion increase for Title I, earmarked to allow funding to follow students to the public schools of their choice.

Later on Tuesday, a flurry of statements from New York’s education advocates denounced Trump’s budget for its deep cuts in many areas, including career and technical education and teacher preparation.

“The president’s outrageous education budget is yet another example of his administration putting the most vulnerable Americans at risk,” said Breakthrough New York Executive Director Rhea Wong. “At a time when our country should be making education great again, this plan kneecaps success and oppresses opportunity.”