top honors

Success Academy named finalist for prestigious national charter school award

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

New York City-based Success Academy is one of three contenders for a prize recognizing the “best-performing large charter school systems in the country.”

Finalists for the $250,000 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools were announced Monday by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The annual prize honors large charter school networks that have proven adept at serving low-income students and students of color.

Success Academy is the city’s biggest charter school network, with 41 schools serving 14,000 students, 76 percent of whom are low-income. Last year, all of its elementary and middle schools were in the top 10 percent of schools in the state for academic performance in English, math and science, according to the announcement.

In a statement, Success Academy spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore said the recognition comes at an auspicious time. “We are hiring hundreds of teachers and school staff — to open more schools and meet parent demand — thus more people will see Success as a force for change and innovation, and a great place to work,” she wrote.

But Success has also been the subject of harsh criticism, most notably for a “Got to Go” list of unwanted students at one school, exposed in 2015, and for leaning too heavily on strict rules and student suspensions. Chalkbeat spoke with Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz in March about some of those critiques and about her support for education secretary Betsy DeVos.

Previous winners of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools include IDEA Public Schools in 2016, Noble Network of Charter Schools in 2015, KIPP Schools in 2014 and Uncommon Schools in 2013.

This year’s winner, chosen by a panel of education experts, will be announced June 12 at the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. The other finalists are DSST Public Schools in Denver and Harmony Public Schools in Texas.

Funding the ATR

Absent Teacher Reserve cost New York City $151.6 million this past school year, far more than previously estimated

PHOTO: Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat

New York City spent $151.6 million in the 2016-17 school year on salary and fringe benefits for teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, according to numbers recently obtained by Chalkbeat from the city’s Independent Budget Office.

That’s higher than previous estimates on the cost of the ATR — a pool of teachers without permanent positions — which have generally hovered around $100 million. The high cost is no doubt one reason the city is eager to reduce the pool, which included 822 teachers at the end of the school year. Earlier this month, it announced plans to halve that number by placing hundreds into open vacancies in classrooms as of Oct. 15, potentially despite principal’s objections.

The IBO says its numbers come directly from school budgets prepared and provided by the city’s education department, in which ATR costs are included in their own separate lines. Officials in the city’s education department did not dispute the numbers but said they did not know exactly what methodology or point in time the IBO was capturing. “The number, salary, and overall cost of teachers in the ATR pool naturally fluctuates from day to day throughout the school year,” they said.

Teachers are placed into the ATR when their jobs are eliminated or for disciplinary reasons. As of October 2016, there were 1,304 teachers in the ATR pool, according to numbers released by the city last fall. Using the IBO’s estimate, on average each ATR teacher received a total of $116,258 in salary and fringe benefits for the past school year. (By comparison, the base salary for a city teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000). The IBO did not break down salary versus fringe benefits.

David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said he was not shocked to learn that the actual cost of the ATR pool was higher than previously estimated. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “I think the administration has tried to lowball the figure to avoid criticism.”

He noted that the ATR is a problem inherited by Mayor Bill de Blasio from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg — and not an easy one to solve. Still, he added, if the city is already paying as much as $151.6 million, it should consider instead passing a buyout plan with higher incentives for teachers than the $50,000 in severance pay the city is currently offering.

Instead, the city plans to place these teachers in classroom vacancies, where the schools will have to grapple with their salaries instead. While the city provided subsidies to schools hiring from the ATR in the past, under the new policy schools would have to bear the full cost of the new hires.

According to Mark Cannizzaro, executive vice president of the city’s principals’ union, if an ATR hire causes a “budgetary restriction” for a principal, the city will work with principals to resolve the issue. He did not provide more details.

The city has vowed to work with schools to find the right fit. “We are reducing the size of the ATR pool with a number of common-sense reforms that drive resources back to schools and ensure qualified teachers are deployed effectively,” education department spokesman Will Mantell said. “These reforms will support the work our schools are doing every day, while also significantly lowering costs.”

technical education

Trio of top NY education officials shows support for career and technical education — and a desire to fix roadblocks

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School

Top city and state education officials descended on Thomas Edison High School in Queens Tuesday afternoon to show support for career-focused education — and discuss roadblocks to its expansion.

Proponents of career and technical education say it helps engage students, encourages graduation and provides a skill that will be useful after high school. But the state’s long and stringent approval process can often be difficult for schools to navigate.

In particular, schools have had trouble in the past finding certified teachers, creating new and emerging programs and taking advantage of a new graduation option that involves career education.

State and city officials on Tuesday indicated they have made some changes to ease the process and are interested in looking for more.

“We [can] try to make sure that we take away those issues that might be stoppers and make it much more feasible for school districts across the state to move [in] this direction,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

In broad strokes, school officials sometimes find the state’s process doesn’t always align with the programs they want to run. In some cases, even nationally recognized programs are not on the state’s radar, said Moses Ojeda, principal of Thomas Edison High School. (Elia indicated that is something the state would look into.)

The desire to spread CTE programs was boosted by a new rule that lets students substitute a final Regents exam for a pathway in career and technical education. The problem is, some schools say, the state’s approved exams don’t always match the specific career training schools are offering.

Historically, it has also been difficult for schools to find CTE teachers, though the state has recently made it easier for those with specific career expertise to become teachers.

In sum, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she would like all CTE programs across the city to become official, state-certified programs, but the rules and regulations can make it difficult.

“That’s why we need more help,” Fariña said. A report released Monday also found that English learners were underrepresented in the city’s CTE programs.

If anyone could make the process smoother, it was the group assembled on Tuesday. In addition to the commissioner and the chancellor of New York City schools, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents and several Regents attended the school visit.

“It’s always exciting to be able to walk a building with both the commissioner and the Board of Regents because together we can make things happen,” Fariña said.