Early Education

Success Academy charter network cancels classes after losing fight to offer pre-K on its own terms

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO.

Success Academy Charter Schools won’t offer pre-kindergarten classes next year after losing a high-profile fight with city and state officials.

The charter network has refused to sign the city’s pre-K contract, arguing that it includes inappropriate regulations about how charter schools manage their time and design their curriculum. But neither Mayor Bill de Blasio nor State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has allowed Success to bend the rules, and both have insisted that Success sign the contract or lose funding.

In recent months, Success officials have continued their fight in court. But with no resolution in sight, the city’s largest charter-school network will close its three existing pre-K programs and will not open two more planned for next school year, CEO Eva Moskowitz announced Wednesday.

“It is unbelievably sad to tell parents and teachers that the courts won’t rescue our pre-K program from the mayor’s war on Success in time to open next year,” Moskowitz said.

The pre-K battle marks the latest chapter in an ongoing feud between de Blasio and Moskowitz, and one of Moskowitz’s only public losses. The two have warred over school space in the past, and Moskowitz has criticized de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña for their lack of public enthusiasm for charter schools.

Success Academy, whose schools frequently post very high state test scores, released a letter sent to de Blasio from parents who they say planned to send their children to Success’ pre-K program rehashing that criticism.

“When you made the decision to withhold funding for Success Academy’s pre-k you sent a clear signal to charter school families like ours that politics is more important than our children’s education,” the letter reads.

The Success Academy funded its three pre-K programs itself this year, but is looking for public funding to do so in the future. (A spokesman for Success said they hope their lawsuit will allow them to recoup that funding.) City officials say the pre-K contract — which other charter networks have signed — exists so the city can hold all publicly-funded programs to high standards.

“The State upheld our important standards to ensure all programs are high quality,” education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Wednesday.

The decision continues a recent wave of bad press for Success, which has faced criticism over a school leader who created a “Got to Go” list of difficult students and strict discipline practices. The network also faces a lawsuit over its treatment of students with disabilities.

Success has appealed the state’s decision to the State Supreme Court.

Early education

Tennessee lawmakers vote to leave pre-K alone this year

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Ever since Tennessee started its public pre-kindergarten program in 2005, Rep. Bill Dunn has questioned whether it’s money well spent.

His skepticism seemed vindicated in 2015, when a landmark five-year study by Vanderbilt University found that children who participated in Tennessee’s program didn’t make sustainable academic gains. In fact, they fell behind their peers by third grade. 

The legislature responded to the study’s surprising results last year with a new law designed to strengthen Tennessee’s pre-K program.

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Rep. Bill Dunn

This year, Dunn proposed allowing districts to spend their pre-K money elsewhere. But his bill was killed on Wednesday in the House by colleagues who said they want to give new changes to public pre-K more time to work.

“I’m shocked,” said Dunn, a Republican from Knoxville, of the decision by the Instruction and Programs subcommittee. “This is coming across as anti pre-K, but it’s really anti-bad results.”

Dunn’s bill would have piloted a program to allow five districts to come up with other ways to spend their pre-K money — for instance,  making kindergarten classes the smaller. The Tennessee Department of Education would have to approve any change and monitor the impact on student achievement.

But lawmakers said they aren’t ready to meddle with early education while it’s in transition.

“I personally would like to see what comes from those changes … before we do anything else,” said Rep. John Forgety, a Republican from Athens.

The State Department of Education recently overhauled its application for local districts to receive pre-K money according to best practices identified by Vanderbilt researchers. Those changes are an effort to tie funding to quality.

The new applications, which seek state funding for next school year, are due to the state in April, and district officials have been attending trainings as part of the transition.

Discipline reform

Denver Public Schools takes strong stand against suspension and expulsion in early grades

Community members gathered in the library of Godsman Elementary School for a Denver Public Schools announcement that suspension and expulsion will be eliminated for preschool through third-grade.

Denver Public Schools announced plans Wednesday to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third grade students except in the most serious incidents.

District officials say the move puts DPS on the cutting edge of discipline reform nationally and builds on its work over the last 10 years to reduce suspensions and expulsions for all students, and replace traditional discipline methods with restorative justice techniques.

Wednesday’s announcement during a press conference at Godsman Elementary School came as state lawmakers are considering legislation that would curb suspensions and expulsions in preschool through second grade. The district’s new policy and the proposed legislation represent milestones in the years-long discussion in the state and nation about the disproportionate use of harsh discipline tactics on boys, students of color and students with disabilities.

The district’s new early childhood discipline policy will be unveiled at Thursday’s school board meeting and will be followed by a 60-day public comment period before it is finalized. It will take effect July 1.

District officials and representatives from local advocacy groups emphasized that the new policy will be accompanied by efforts to provide teachers and other staff with support in using alternative methods to suspension or expulsion.

“We really want to address the issue of student behavior. We really want to address also the issue of adult behavior and give adults a better set of tools and take out the hammer that you don’t need in your tool box…Some tools should not be in the toolbox when we are looking at babies,” said Ricardo Martinez, co-executive director of the Denver-based group Padres & Jovenes Unidos.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said about 500 students in preschool to third grade were suspended last year — most of those in second and third grade. None were expelled.

Under the new policy, suspensions would still be allowed in rare cases if a student poses a serious threat to himself or others. In those cases, suspensions would be limited to one day.

While several school districts and states have banned or significantly curtailed suspensions and expulsions for young students, most focus on students through second grade.

Eldridge Greer, the district’s associate chief of student equity and opportunity, said part of the reason DPS chose to extend its policy through third grade is to ensure kids are proficient in reading and math by the end of third grade.

“There’s no way we can reach that goal if a student is not in class,” he said.