charter wars

Some Regents ask whether Success video calls for more state oversight

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

A roiling debate about charter school discipline reached New York’s top education officials Monday, as members of the Board of Regents indicated that a video of a Success Academy teacher sharply criticizing a young student calls for greater oversight of the charter sector.

A couple of Regents condemned the video, published by the New York Times, and Regent Judith Chin wondered aloud if it should prompt censure by the state education department. At the end of the discussion, five members abstained from a vote that included the expansion of four New York City charter schools.

“How do we hold SUNY accountable for the well-being of a child?”’ Chin asked, referring to the SUNY Charter Center, which oversees all of Success Academy’s schools. “Is there an obligation on our part as the State Ed. Department to follow up on incidents like this?”

Success Academy officials have called the teacher’s behavior in that video an anomaly. They have also defended their strict discipline policies, which they say helps students stay on task and contribute to impressive academic results. Some other charter schools have moved away from a similar “no excuses” philosophy in recent years, which critics argue can also encourage high-needs students to leave the school.

The charter schools with mergers and expansions before the board on Monday weren’t affiliated with Success Academy. One proposal shifted three Achievement First charter schools from the New York City’s oversight to SUNY’s, and second proposal did the same for one school in the Uncommon Schools network.

Four other New York City expansion proposals were related to independent charter schools.

Though the proposals were all approved, the abstentions by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, Roger Tilles, Judith Chin, Judith Johnson, and Catherine Collins — four of whom were recently elected — raise questions about whether the board will be tougher on charter schools in the future.

The Regents who abstained said they simply did not have enough information about the schools to OK the expansions and mergers. “I think there were some legitimate questions raised,” said Tilles, “and they didn’t have answers, which sort of surprised me.”

Collins said she wanted more information about the retention policies at the charter schools in question.

“We keep expanding, and I really don’t want kids to start when they’re 11 and then a few years later they’re somewhere else,” she said.

The most recent annual report for The Equity Project Charter School, which won approval to serve 720 more students at an elementary school, says the school beat the state’s targets for retaining high-needs students. DREAM Charter School, which won approval to open a high school, beat the state’s targets for two of the three high-needs groups, including English learners.

But John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island did worse, falling far short of its targets for retaining poor students and students with disabilities. It plans to add an elementary school. Retention information wasn’t available for Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which plans to add middle-school grades.

The Board of Regents has been slow to approve new charter schools this year, but its future treatment of charter schools will be determined by a remade board. Come March, the board will have three new members and a new leader after the departure of Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

Regent Chin, one of the new members, stressed that her abstention did not signal opposition to charter schools.

“It’s not a controversy in the sense of being against any of this happening,” Chin said. “That’s all it is, it’s a lack of information.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”