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Letter to The Manhattan Times

We object to the October 22nd article by Gregg McQueen on Success Academy. Various questionable practices of the Success Academy Charter School network, and the Charter school movement more generally, went unreported. Here are critical points of information we feel should be highlighted:

1) No Community Consultation
sacs logo(web)
Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz is quoted as saying “applications (are) far exceeding the number of available seats in our schools.” Yet neither they nor anyone else ever polled District 6 parents about whether our community wanted a Success Academy located here. Excluded were our Community representatives from the CEC and Community Board 12, as well as our elected officials. Moreover, whether the school, which opened at the site of the former Mother Cabrini High School, even enrolls predominately District 6 students is unknown. Nonetheless, Office of Student Enrollment data for District 6 public school applications indicates enormous demand for many of our existing public schools.

2) High Attrition
Success Academy schools have an unexplained high attrition rate “of up to 36%”, meaning that more than one-third of admitted students did not make it to 5 grade. Most left during the years when standardized tests were being administered, 3rd and 5th grades. Could the dropout of these students prior to the tests, often the students who are most struggling, help account for the high test scores of which Success Academy boasts? Public schools are not allowed to “counsel out” or simply expel students at these rates; and when students leave charter schools they almost always go to a true public school.

3) Financial costs

The Juan Pablo Duarte School.

The Juan Pablo Duarte School.

According to Capital NY, “Lease documents show the city is paying almost $18,000 in rent for every student at the Success Academy that opened last month in Washington Heights, in the former Mother Cabrini High School…The rental fees come on top of $13,777 for every student that taxpayers provide to charters, which are publicly funded and independently operated. The city is paying nearly $32,000 a student for Eva’s charters.” Meanwhile, District 6 per student outlay is about $22,000 per student. Thus, charter schools will now directly take money from district schools. And district students are not getting comparable facilities. A few blocks away from the Mother Cabrini site, PS/IS 187 has no space for pre-kindergarten. Another few blocks away, Kindergarten students have their first school experience in moldy, drafty trailers in the schoolyard. And the Juan Pablo Duarte School, PS 132, has hundred-year-old bathrooms. Finally, the Mott Hall School, the only District 6 middle school for high-achieving students, has been seeking a new building for over 30 years to replace its “temporary space” that has neither an auditorium nor a gym.

DirDiaLogo4) Division of Community
Even if district public school students were getting comparable resources, charter schools cream off the most motivated students and families. This leaves the district schools with the neediest students, who should be funded even more, so that their class sizes can be lowered, and support services offered. The percentage of District English Language Learners and Special Education is much higher in district schools than in those of Success Academy. Yes, as Moskowitz states, “There is clearly tremendous demand from parents for high quality schools in New York City.” Indeed, every parent wants this for their own child, and many are conscious of the need to provide such for all. The best way of doing so is to provide the resources that all students need, and affluent communities like Scarsdale and Great Neck receive.

That is what the still unresolved Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which began in our community, has been about. In New York City, such resources should not only go to students of charter schools with their multi-million dollar additional budgets provided privately by wealthy donors, many of whom see the donation as a long-term investment strategy.

What is at issue is nothing less than a vision of public education as the forge of democratic values for our children, where they, their families, and our community come to see their stake in one another in building an educated citizenry and workforce, that benefits our whole society. This will never occur if we are pitted against one another in a divisive, destructive, competition, where some are winners and some are left behind, notonly to their detriment, but to that of all of us.

Josh Karan,
Former President, District 6 Community Education Council, CEC 6
Miriam Aristy-Farer, Current President, CEC 6
Victory Frye, Public Policy Committee Chair, CEC 6

 

This letter was lightly edited for brevity and content.