charter closure

Two Citizens of the World charter schools will close at the end of this year

Two Brooklyn charter schools that were likely to be turned down for renewal will be shuttered at the end of this school year, after their board voted Thursday night not to seek another term.

The two elementary schools, Citizens of the World Williamsburg and Citizens of the World Crown Heights, are part of a California-based network that got off to a rocky start in New York City in 2013 and has struggled to show signs of academic promise.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for New York’s charter schools to close schools for poor performance. The State University of New York, which oversees 160 schools in New York and authorized Citizens of the World, has seen six schools shuttered since 2004. In some instances, SUNY sends preliminary notice that the school’s chances of renewal are slim, as they did with Citizens of the World, and the schools chose to accept the outcome rather than fight SUNY.

“This is one of the most wrenching decisions that any board will ever need to make,” said Erin Corbett, the interim executive director of Citizens of the World Charter Schools New York, in an emailed statement. “This decision is very painful for all of us and even more painful for the families we serve. We love these schools and all that they stand for.” (These are the only two schools run by Citizens of the World in New York City.)

Charter schools buy into an “autonomy for accountability” bargain where they receive freedom from some district rules, and in exchange, agree to hit academic benchmarks. If they fail to show enough progress, the schools risk closure.

In the end, the board decided the schools’ failure to improve their scores gave them a small chance of securing renewal and chose to focus its energy instead on helping families and teachers find new placements for next year, Corbett said.

Both schools — which are located on Leonard Street in Williamsburg and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights —  serve grades kindergarten through fifth grade. The network’s website says the curriculum includes learning through projects and “personalized learning,” or instruction specific to each particular students’ understanding.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said that while the schools were underperforming, she appreciated the board’s choice to take a responsible route and not fight SUNY’s recommendation for non-renewal.

“While the school did not achieve the promise that they offered in their application,” Miller-Carello said, the charter school’s board “was very honest with themselves and us about both schools’ inability to fulfill the things that they agreed to when they got their charter.”

The network received a cold welcome in New York City, with a group of parents filing a lawsuit opposing the schools by claiming that there was not enough community support for them. The schools also came under fire for an enrollment strategy that targeted affluent families.

Since then, the schools have struggled with leadership turnover at their regional office and within the schools themselves, said Miller Carello. They are also some of the lowest performing schools authorized by SUNY, she added.

At each school, more than 85 percent of students come from homes considered  in poverty and the vast majority of students are either black or Hispanic. Roughly one in five students passed the math or English state test last year. At the school in Crown Heights, only 12 percent of students passed math. Citywide, about 41 percent of students passed English and 37.8 passed math. (Roughly 40 percent of students statewide passed both the math and English tests.)

They also fall far below the overall charter school average in New York City. Among charter school students citywide, 52 percent pass state math tests and 48 percent pass the English test, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

From the beginning, the neighborhood did not need another school while other schools in the community remained under-enrolled. The school’s finances were an “abomination,” and the leadership was ill-equipped to oversee the schools, said Brooke Parker, a parent in the district who fought the schools from the start.

“We did everything we could because we didn’t need the school,” Parker said. “It was going to be a waste of resources.”  

Charter school advocates say the decision is an example of how charter schools can be forced to pay the price if they are not measuring up for students.

“My guess is that there are probably some parents who deeply disagree with the decision because they feel they don’t have a better option for their child and that is heartbreaking and tragic,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. But, he added, “This is the autonomy for accountability trade off playing out, and this is what happens.”

school closures

What happens to student achievement when Memphis schools close? District report offers some answers.

PHOTO: Katie Kull/Chalkbeat
After Vance Middle School closed, math scores of students who transferred to B.T. Washington High School went up, while reading scores went down. (Pictured here in 2016)

Student reading test scores from three closed schools in Memphis generally improved in their new school, but math scores decreased, according to a 2017 Shelby County Schools report Chalkbeat obtained through an open records request.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson requested the study in 2016 as the district’s model for closing schools evolved to include combining students from several buildings and assigning them to one new school, but the report was never presented publicly.

The report concluded that “overall, transferring students from underperforming to more stable schools seems to improve outcomes for transferred students, and in some cases, students attending the schools accepting them.” It went on to say that “we recommend continued, concentrated academic support for students transferring from failing schools.”

Shelby County Schools leaders have framed school closures in Memphis as painful but necessary as the district seeks to free up money to support a majority of students who come from poor families. But more often than not, students were assigned to go to schools that had similar or worse test scores than the school they were leaving.


From the archives: Here are Memphis schools closed since 2012


Hopson said the lesson from those school closures was that a new model was needed.

“You get so much backlash and it’s so much more than about the money — it’s the community hub many schools are, it’s the blight that happens if you don’t properly dispose of the building,” Hopson said recently. “So, you get to realize it’s not even worth it if it’s just about money. But on the flip side, if it’s going to be about student achievement, then it does become worth it.”

That model worked for Westhaven Elementary, which has boosted test scores faster than most schools in Tennessee both years it has been open. The school combined Westhaven, Fairley, and Raineshaven elementary schools, which were among the lowest performing in the state, into one new building.

Hopson’s massive facilities plan presented last month would replicate that model in 10 more neighborhoods in what he says will prevent the mixed results seen with other school closures.


Related: The inside peek at how Westhaven Elementary became the new model for school closures


The study doesn’t include all 17 schools that have closed during Hopson’s tenure. The state canceled testing in 2016 for students in third through eighth grades, making tracking their performance over time more difficult, Hopson said. The report examined student test scores from Graves Elementary and Vance Middle, which closed in 2014, and Northside High, which closed in 2016.

Little research focuses on the effects of school closures on student achievement. However, a 2009 report suggests that Chicago students benefited when they transferred to significantly higher-performing schools. In New York City, a 2015 study found that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy of closing bottom-ranked schools actually benefited students forced to enroll elsewhere.

Here’s how students performed at each of the schools in the Memphis study:

Graves Elementary School

About 70 Graves Elementary students, or 35 percent, enrolled at Ford Road Elementary, the school the district assigned for them after closure. Most of the other Graves students enrolled at other schools within the district.

Reading and math scores on Tennessee’s TNReady test rose for the Graves students at Ford Road, which already had additional district resources as part of the Innovation Zone, created in 2012 to bolster the state’s lowest performing schools.

While reading scores for the rest of Ford Road Elementary rose about four percentage points during that year, math scores dipped at the same rate, according to the district’s analysis.

Source: Shelby County Schools<br />Graphic by Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee

Northside High School

About 80 students from Northside High School, or 43 percent, enrolled at Manassas High, as outlined in the district’s plan for re-assigning students.

Of those former Northside High students, the percent of students on grade level increased by about 5 percentage points, but algebra test scores remained flat. Other students at Manassas High saw a small increase in reading scores, but algebra proficiency dropped from 4 percent to 0 percent, according to the district’s analysis.

Source: Shelby County Schools<br />Graphic by Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee

Vance Middle School

Vance Middle School students who transferred to B.T. Washington High School after their school closed in 2014 saw their math scores go up and reading scores go down.

There were no middle school students to compare them to at B.T. Washington because Vance students were the first middle school class at the downtown school.

Source: Shelby County Schools<br />Graphic by Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee

You can read Shelby County Schools’ full report below.

Charter Schools

City University Boys charter school appeals to Tennessee board to stay open

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
City University Boys Preparatory enrolled 88 students as of August.

A small middle school for boys has appealed the decision of Shelby County Schools not to renew its 10-year charter.

City University Schools filed its appeal to the State Board of Education late Friday, calling the district “unfair” for not renewing one its two middle schools — effectively closing it after the end of this school year.

“We look forward to… an opportunity to share our vantage point that we believed hampered our ability to garner the immediate renewal from Shelby County Schools for which we believe …our school earned and is qualified,” the appeal said.

If the appeal is successful, the middle school for boys, which as of August enrolled 88 students, could remain open for another 10 years.

A hearing with the state board will be set for January, said a board spokeswoman.

Shelby County Schools rarely recommends closing charter schools, but lately has ramped up oversight to evaluate charter school applications, and existing schools with low test scores and poor operations. When charter schools open, they are awarded 10-year charters, making this the first time a charter school has existed long enough under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s administration to be eligible for renewal.

Since the first charter school opened in Tennessee in 2003, the state board has only overturned 15 out of 72 school board decisions to approve, revoke, or renew a charter. That includes a vote in 2012 about two City University schools, when the state board kicked back a decision to the Memphis school board.

The Shelby County Schools board voted 6-3 earlier this month to close City University Boys Preparatory in line with a recommendation from district staff, after looking at 10 years of state test data, finances, and measures of school environment such as student discipline. (Three other schools’ charters were renewed.)

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Lemoyne Robinson, chancellor of City University charter schools.

Lemoyne Robinson, the charter network’s chancellor, said the district was partially to blame for low test scores because it defaulted on promised academic interventions and resources that he said were part of an annual fee the school paid to the district. The network’s appeal describes expectations such as curriculum support for teachers and student data management systems.

When the city school system folded into the county system in 2013, those resources disappeared, Robinson said.

Chalkbeat examined the contract, but did not see the resources Robinson cited in the appeal.

“The lack of access to these resources upon which the school had relied was disruptive and greatly affected the school and the academic attainment of its scholars,” network leaders said in his letter to the state. “Within a year of the scholars’ assessment, scores regressed.”

Even if there weren’t issues with test scores, Robinson said the district failed to properly evaluate the entire 10-year history of the school by the deadline outlined in state law. That technicality should throw out the district’s case, he said. Shelby County Schools said “the school received all of the pertinent performance data for which they are held accountable.”

Below is City University’s summary of its appeal to the state board.