Success story

Winning the lottery: Enrolling in Success Academy produces math gains for students, new study shows

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A group of students performed at Success Academy's "slam the exam" rally.

Enrolling in Success Academy boosted test scores for some of its earliest students, according to a new study conducted by research firm MDRC.

The analysis, funded by Success as part of a federal grant, found that the network’s third- and fourth-graders showed about a year to a year and a half of additional learning in math compared to similar students who also applied to the school, but lost the lottery. In reading, the gains are “positive,” though researchers caution they would need a larger sample to make a more definitive statement.

“The enrollment effects in math put Success Academy towards the top of what’s been estimated for charter schools,” said Rebecca Unterman, the author of the report.

The study is good, if relatively unsurprising, news for New York City’s largest charter network, which prides itself on sky-high test scores. When the state released test scores last week, Success Academy far outpaced the city, achieving an 84 percent pass rate in English and a 95 percent pass rate in math. Citywide, 40.6 percent of students passed English and 37.8 percent passed the math exam.

Critics have long contended that Success Academy achieves those results, in part, by pushing out the hardest-to-serve students. But those students are accounted for in this study, Unterman said. If a student started kindergarten at Success but did not stay through third grade, that student is still counted as “enrolled” for purposes of the study, she said.

Still, there are some caveats for these results. The study looks at students who enrolled in 2010, for instance, when there were only seven Success Academy charter schools. Now, the network operates 46 schools in New York City.

The study also includes statistics that will provide ammunition to critics of Success Academy. The report found that only about 50 percent of lottery winners chose to enroll in Success Academy schools. And applicants to Success were higher achieving than students in their surrounding neighborhoods.

Sixty percent of the control group members who did not win the Success lottery performed at or above grade level on their third-grade New York state math exams. Forty-four percent performed at or above grade level on their third-grade New York state reading exams. These percentages are at least 10 points higher than in the local district schools in the neighborhoods surrounding Success Academy schools.

In response, Success Academy officials suggested that the students denied admission may have gone to other charter schools, rather than district schools, which could have driven up their scores.

Those numbers call into question Success Academy’s frequent comparisons between its schools’ scores and citywide averages. Just last week, CEO Eva Moskowitz held a press conference and railed against the city’s test scores as proof of her network’s superior approach.

Rather than celebrating this study, Moskowitz said the results actually understate the network’s impact.

“MDRC studied Success results from students who entered our schools in 2010, seven years ago,” Moskowitz said in an email statement. “Our results are even better now.”

documenting hate

Tell Chalkbeat about hate crimes in your schools

Chalkbeat is joining the Documenting Hate consortium organized by ProPublica to better understand the scope and nature of bias incidents and hate crimes in schools.

You may have heard of the project — it’s already fueled some powerful journalism by dozens of news organizations. We’re joining now both because we want to better understand this issue and because Francisco Vara-Orta, who wrote this piece for Education Week on how those incidents marked the months after President Trump’s election, recently joined our team.

Hate crimes and bias incidents are hard to track. Five states don’t have a hate crimes law at all, and when they happen in schools, data are not uniformly collected by a federal agency. But we know they do happen and that they affect classrooms, with teachers often unprepared to address them.

Without data, it’s harder to understand the issue and for policymakers to take action. That’s why we want to help fill in those gaps.

If you have witnessed or been the victim of a suspected hate crime or bias incident at school, you can submit information through the form below. Journalists at Chalkbeat and other media organizations will review and verify submissions, but won’t share your name or contact information with anyone outside of the Documenting Hate consortium.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.