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.

rebuffed

Charter applications rejected by Memphis school officials — for now

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Shelby County’s school board sent 13 groups back to the drawing board Tuesday after denying their initial bid to open or expand charter schools in Memphis in 2018.

The unanimous vote followed the recommendations of district staff, who raised concerns about the applications ranging from unclear academic plans to missing budget documents to a lack of research-based evidence backing up their work.

Applicants now have 30 days to amend and re-submit their plans for a final board vote during a special meeting August 22. Memphis Academy of Health Sciences rescinded its application to expand grades last week.

Since 2003, Shelby County Schools has grown its charter sector to 45 schools, making the district Tennessee’s largest charter authorizer.

Nationally, the rate of charter school growth is at a four-year low, in part because of a shrinking applicant pool, according to a recent report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. But Memphis is bucking the trend with a slight increase in applicants this year.

District leaders frequently deny charter applications initially, but it’s unusual to turn down all of them at once.

New to this year’s application process was five consultants from NACSA, which has worked closely with Shelby County Schools to bolster its oversight of the sector.

back to the future

Colorado Supreme Court ordered to reconsider Douglas County school voucher case

Douglas County parents protest the district's voucher program in 2010 (Denver Post photo)

The Colorado Supreme Court must reconsider its ruling against a private school voucher system created by the Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Tuesday.

The edict comes a day after the nation’s highest court issued a ruling on a case that touched on similar issues.

At issue is whether Douglas County parents can use tax dollars to send their students to private schools, including religious schools. The Colorado Supreme Court said in 2015 the program violated the state’s constitution.

What connects the Douglas County voucher debate to the just-decided Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case from Missouri is that both states have so-called Blaine Amendments. Such provisions prohibit state tax dollars from aiding religious practices. Nearly 40 states have similar language.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state of Missouri violated the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting Trinity Lutheran’s church-run preschool from participating in a state program that repaved playgrounds. The court found that the state must allow churches to participate in state programs when the benefit meets a secular need.

That distinction likely will be the question the Colorado Supreme Court wrestles with when it takes up the issue again.

“The Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran expressly noted that its opinion does not address religious uses of government funding,” Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, said in a statement. The ACLU was one of the organizations challenging the voucher program.

“Using public money to teach religious doctrine to primary and secondary students is substantially different than using public money to resurface a playground,” Silverstein said.

The school district said it was encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

“We look forward to the Colorado Supreme Court’s second review and decision on this important matter,” William Trachman, the district’s legal counsel, said in a statement. “As always, the Douglas County School District is dedicated to empowering parents to find the best educational options for their children.”

It’s unclear when the Colorado Supreme Court will take up the Douglas County case. The court has three options: It may revise its earlier opinion, request new arguments from both sides or ask a lower court to reconsider the case.

Given the national implications, it’s unlikely the Colorado justices will have the final say — especially if they again conclude the voucher program violates the state’s constitution. The question could end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Douglas County School District launched its voucher program in 2011 after a conservative majority took control of the school board. The district was prepared to hand out more than 300 vouchers to families before a Denver District Court judge blocked the program from starting.