Petrilli’s Desperate Attempt To Save Democracy Prep’s Reputation

The hardest thing about trying to have an intellectual debate with ‘reformers’ is every time they start to lose, they try to change the rules.

First they say “poverty doesn’t matter” and when it becomes clear that it does, they start saying “Well, it matters, but we still need to make schools as good as possible and standardized test accountability is the best way to do that.”  First they deny that charters have a self-selected population that is easier to teach, and then when you prove them wrong, they say “Yes, it’s true, but it is a good thing.”

So for years they have been hailing “miracle schools” which are high poverty schools with, supposedly, the “same kids” as the nearby ‘failing’ school who get incredible standardized test results.  In New York City these included the KIPP schools, the Democracy Prep schools, and the Success Academy schools.  Then, when the results came back from the more difficult common core tests, the KIPP and Democracy Prep schools didn’t do so well, though the Success Academies did.

This certainly put ‘reformers’ in to an awkward position.  If Success Academies are so much better than KIPP and Democracy Prep, why not throw those other two charter chains under the proverbial bus and focus on the one true Messiah?

Instead the ‘reformers’ are trying to have it both ways:  For Success Academies, there have been many op-eds about how those schools are proving all the critics wrong with their superior test results.  As far as the schools who are not proving any critics wrong with their inferior test results, well, we have this recent Huffington Post piece by Michael Petrilli from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called ‘The Problem With Proficiency’.

In it, he quotes Democracy Prep founder Seth Andrews:

Like the rest of New York, our Democracy Prep Public Schools saw dramatic drops in “proficiency rates.” In fact, we saw declines that were even greater than most. Why?

1) Entry Grade Level: Charters that enroll at the K-1 level did dramatically better than those (like Democracy Prep) who enroll in the middle school grades. This is potentially GREAT news for urban education because it means that if students don’t fall dramatically behind, they can get on grade level by grade 3, and stay on or above grade level over time. However, it is not even remotely reasonable to compare schools that randomly enroll in kindergarten to those that enroll in the sixth grade. One school has had seven years with a student while we’ve had nine months!

2) Growth Matters Most: The metric that no one has seen yet and that will be the most important to our teachers, administrators, students, and families at Democracy Prep is not “proficiency” but “value-added growth.” The reason we have operated only “A” rated schools every year since 2006 is primarily because 60 percent of that grade has been based on individual student growth, a metric on which our scholars and teachers post some of the most dramatic improvements year-over-year. In fact, even this year, our percent of “1’s” goes dramatically down in grade seven while our “2’s” go up, and by eighth grade we’ve dramatically reduced “1’s” and substantially increased “3’s and 4’s.”

My key point here is that NO ONE in this work, especially at Democracy Prep, makes so-called “miracle school claims” as reported by our critics. We believe, in fact we KNOW, that educating low-income students is incredibly hard work, compounded by the challenges of poverty, mobility, ELL status, and disability. These are not excuses; they are facts. To move our scholars from whatever grade or performance level they enter to be ready for success in the college of their choice and a life of active citizenship takes us at least five years. Given that time, our scholars consistently out-perform wealthy Westchester County on their Regents exams in nearly every subject and our first class of graduates outperformed white students on their SAT’s. Nearly 70 percent of our graduates met the NYC “aspirational performance measure” for college readiness compared to 22 percent across NYC and we require that our graduates earn an Advanced Regents Diploma because, as these new CCSS results prove, the old bar was far too low.

I actually agree with the first point.  Certainly if you have a better school model, then starting with cohorts in kindergarten is going to yield the best results.  But that is not what 5-8 charters like KIPP and Democracy Prep have been saying for years.  They claim that they get two to three years of progress per year and in doing so their students catch up by the time they are seniors.

Also notice that he denies that anyone ever claimed that Democracy Prep was a ‘miracle school,’ yet he finishes with a bunch of miracle statistics about how their seniors did so well on the SATs and how they got better Regents scores than Westchester.

The main point of this article is that it is not proficiency rate that matters, but it is ‘growth.’  Yes, Democracy Prep had low scores on the new common core tests, but we will have to wait another year to see how much they ‘grow’ from this new baseline.  Or do we?

I made two scatterplots comparing how the 7th graders did in all schools in 2012 with how the 8th graders did in all schools in 2013.  Even though everyone went down, the schools with the most “growth” relative to other schools that had the same starting points should hover above the regression trend curve like little accountable angels.

As can be easily seen in these scatter plots, Democracy Prep underperformed on math compared to other schools that had similar proficiency rates last year, and did about average (as a vast majority of schools did) on the ELA test.  Surely an analysis like this will be done in the upcoming New York City ‘progress’ reports, and unless there is some Tony Bennett like manipulations to unfairly boost pet schools, Democracy Prep will have low proficiency scores and low growth scores on the upcoming progress reports.  I wonder how they will try to change the rules when that happens?

As far as their miraculous Regents and SAT scores?  Well, fortunately New York publishes the school report cards with enrollment data for every school.  The 52 eleventh graders in the 2011-2012 school year were once 65 tenth graders in 2010-2011, 79 ninth graders in 2009-2010, 104 eighth graders in 2008-2009 (must I keep on going?), 106 seventh graders in 2007-2008, and a whopping 131 sixth graders in 2006-2007.  To drop from 131 sixth graders to 52 eleventh graders is a 60% attrition rate.  Surely this taints any good statistics they may have for their Regents grades and SATs.

It is pretty clear that, at least by the test score accountability, Democracy Prep is, at best, an average school.  Reformers better get working on some new measure that they can claim is the ‘real’ way that schools are to be judged so that they can use Democracy Prep, again, as a school that deserves to be replicated as others get closed down.

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58 Responses to Petrilli’s Desperate Attempt To Save Democracy Prep’s Reputation

  1. Pingback: Petrilli’s Desperate Attempt To Save Democracy Prep’s Reputation | Gary Rubinstein's Blog ← NPE News Briefs

  2. Darin says:

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for sharing this analysis. I’m curious to see if/how Democracy Prep responds.

    You’ve written before (and recently, in your “How to Define ‘Success’?” post) that when you skewer a charter school for low test scores, it isn’t because you think that school is necessarily bad. Rather, you’re railing against the idea that a few days of testing can capture everything that students learn/all that matters about schooling.

    Given that frame: separate from the test scores, what are your thoughts on Democracy Prep’s model (and their focus on civic engagement in particular)?

    Although I work for TFA and live in New Orleans (I hope this doesn’t make us mortal enemies), I’ve often been disappointed by high-performing charters’ focus on math/English skills at the expense of other things I think are very important: sports, the arts, non-tested subjects, experiential learning, etc. Democracy Prep — with its focus on teaching civics and helping students to lead GOTV efforts, advocate in D.C. and at city hall, etc. — has therefore always stood out in my mind as an example of what college-prep charters OUGHT to do. I’m curious to hear your take.



    • Jessica says:

      Hi Darin. I worked at Democracy Prep last year. The focus on civics is primarily a PR opportunity. There is little I would consider democratic about the way the schools operate at nearly any level you would care to examine. At DP’s elementary, which I knew best out of the network’s schools, the civics curriculum got about 25 minutes a day, and we’re talking about a 9 hour school day with school-wide three hour reading blocks in the morning, just as you would see at any comparable network. It made me sick to help dress up first grade students in loudly colored t-shirts to parade them around the streets of East Harlem to “encourage” voting, knowing full well that parents were being mobilized to help elect ed reform-friendly politicians. Makes for a nice photo op, though, doesn’t it?

      Democracy Prep branded itself well. Seth was smart on that front. It will give him a nice platform from which to someday run for office. But it’s just like any other charter network, from my perspective. ELA/math occupies 80% of the curriculum; testing is rampant; administrators push out students with behavior or other unsolvable issues. It’s a shame that the Democracy Prep schools aren’t living up to their name.

      • NY Alum says:

        I was a NYC CM about 7 years ago, and it was pretty common knowledge that Democracy Prep was not a good school, frankly. I knew people who worked there and always described it as chaotic with zero order (much like most underperforming schools in the city). I had a friend who taught there for one year, was not highly qualified in the subject he was teaching, admitted that he knew nothing about this area, and was still described as “one of the best teachers [Democracy Prep] has seen.” So, I was incredibly surprised that DP has been lumped in with these ‘miracle’ schools. I am not the least bit surprised, however, that they don’t actually focus on civics and that their scores are terrible.

  3. jokefest says:

    60% attrition rate? Doesn’t that make Democracy Prep a “dropout factory,” if the reformers apply their own rhetoric and standards to their charter schools, as well?

  4. matt says:

    This makes sense, charters are not a fix all, they are a market based proxy into education. Some will do well and be rewarded with more funding, others will fail and the kids will leave and they will go out of business. This is how it SHOULD be! In the public space, schools can have horrific results for decades and we can not even change the policies the teachers work under due to excessive union control. At least in the charter system the bad schools will fail and go out of business.

    • yoteach says:

      Not if VPs of think tanks decide to act as PR for struggling schools instead of digging deeper into their dropping test scores and advocating a reassessment of their rapid expansion…

      • matt says:

        Vps dont have endless cashflows to keep charters afloat, silicon valley money cant even keep failing charters alive if you read up on the situation in some Cali charters that have failed. Bad charters will close, the parents will pull their kids and the funders will fund better performing schools, this is how functional, transparent markets work. In the public system we are stuck with failing schools and no ability to fix them. This is why Moskowitz left the city and started success, and has proven them wrong.

      • yoteach says:

        How do you think charters raise money? They get sustaining money from students (indirectly), but they expand because of large start-up grants. Those grants are not based on any market signals, they are based on perception of success and political connects. It’s a problem then when our discourse around successes and failures is based on capricious and self-serving metrics. You can’t be for markets/choice and anything but cut-throat when it comes to evaluating schools. Otherwise we have a system that resembles a our chrony-capitalist banking systems.

      • matt says:

        The main reason charters are well funded is due to the lack of pension liabilities they have. At SA for example, they can spend 90% of the state funding per kid they receive on the kid and the school. At the publics, they can spend only 50% on the kids and schools because the other 50% has to pay for the retired teachers living on 100k a year and a gold plated medical plan living in Florida laughing their way to the bank.

        I notice you admit the difference between ‘start up’ capital and ‘sustainablility’ capital. IN doing so you admit that charters are at the whims of the market. If the kids leave, the sustaining money from students dries up and they close. That sustaining money is also my money as I pay city taxes. I would much rather my tax money goes to a system where the losers close as opposed to one where they stay open for generations with no chance of being closed.

      • matt says:

        As for the teacher attrition rate, Shocker, who wants to work harder for less?! If i’m a teacher of course I want to be a union member and work 75% as much as the charter and have a guaranteed pension vs a 401k, not to mention a guaranteed job no matter what the results of my work are. Again, we can let the market dictate this answer, if SA is so horrific to work for, than teachers wont work there and they will have to close. Yet, they had 50,000+ teachers apply for a few hundred jobs over the last few years. Clearly there is a market for the job.

      • Norm says:

        What is the teacher turnover rate at SA? Why don’t you show us a list of those 50,000 teachers who applied and if you do I’ll buy that bridge you’re selling. And while at it also show us that list of people you claim want to attend the schools. Bet we get ARod’s medical records before we get those.

      • matt says:

        I’d expect the UFT to have a much lower turnover rate, its a better deal, less work, better benefits. I would jump at that too. You think there is tenure at a charter? I work in the private sector myself, If I could get less hours for more job security and a pension and all but free healthcare I would take it too, and never quit.

        as for the 57k, here is the source:

        as for the students, here is that source:

        12,000+ kids apply for 2,500 places. I know half a dozen parents wait listed at SA in brooklyn.

      • Jack Covey says:

        Matt, Eva wouldn’t know The Truth if it went down on her. She will tell whatever lie she wants to tell whenever she wants to tell it to advance her agenda.

        Also, if a unionized teaching position is so gosh-darned great, why do 50% of them freely and willingly choose to quit within the first five years? If everything was as you say—cushy job, Cadillac pay & benefits—then why aren’t they hanging onto their for dear life instead of walking away in massive numbers?

        Check out the polling and exit interviews of those who leave. The do so because the job is utterly brutal.

        Try it out for yourself, and get back to us.

      • yoteach says:

        Matt, you’re conflating a lot of arguments here. I’ll have a longer conversation with you later about whether the market works as a quality driver in education, it’s not nearly as simple as you make it out to be. If you want to learn more you can read my 200 page thesis on the topic.

        High quality information, for consumers, is necessary for markets or any kind of choice based system to work. What I particularly am complaining about here is that those responsible for dispensing and discussing high quality information are often subject to political, ideological, and personal whims that distort the information. Believe it or not, most parents don’t have time to do an in depth search of the 200 alternative schools in their city. So they rely on grading systems or the press. Petrilli’s article makes the latter seem untrustworthy, Tony Bennett’s mess invalidates the former. The point is, any advocate of choice or markets should also advocate for more transparent information. That means admitting when projects are failing (creative destruction) so bad ideas aren’t replicating. And if we could simply rely on student enrollment as the only driver of quality, regardless of the information surrounding parents, we wouldn’t see such stagnation over the past two decades even among the charter school sector as a whole.

      • matt says:

        I read your article, well done, but it really only focuses on one program and even then shows that program does better then citywide publics. You seem to base your argument on a larger drop in percentages vs an overall total. Who cares if DP had a 25% drop if they beat city averages and their local neighbors.

        I would like to see you dedicate the same analytics towards the hundreds of failing publics that go unnoticed for generations. We have a few hundred schools with passing rates less then 15% yet not a word bout them gets passed on these blogs, yet charters who almost always beat the co-located schools get massive amounts of criticism. Even SA which has killed it is called a ‘dropout factory’ when their dropout rates are LOWER than their neighboring schools.

        I am having a hard time understanding why people rush to support failing public schools yet jump at any instance to trash a charter when its results are superior. I believe its the treat these charters pose to the status quo.

      • Kellen says:

        lol… did Matt really use Moskowitz’s wiki page as a “source.”

        The main problem with your belief in market forces closing charters is the assumption that “consumers” (parents/teachers) have accurate information about the success of these schools/access to the information. Most of these big charter networks employ full time staff to just do PR and spin statistics. Moreover, the “reform” movement in general is trying to define the success of schools based on standardized test data. So, using these tools, they’re able to convince the media and public at large that they are doing an exceptional job, when in reality, they’re doing quite mediocre. The public perception of their “product” is far from the reality. Sure, some charters do get exposed and are shut down, but far too many remain open. Every single charter that is under-performing their public neighborhood counterparts should get shut down, yet, thousands still exist. How do you account for this? How long should it take to identify and close a charter school? How long must the market act on these schools before self correcting?

        As far as teacher staffing goes, charters often have high attrition rates, and usually employ a younger, fresh out of college demographic that they cycle in and out like replaceable cogs. Such instability is certainly not good for the children in those schools. TFA is quickly becoming the labor source for these schools and their participants could care less about the climate of their schools–many are simply doing a “tour of duty” and checking out.

    • Joe Nathan says:

      Agreed, not all charters are great, and the charter movement was never intended to be a “fix all.” At best, charter help some youngsters and provide opportunities for educators to create the kinds of programs they think will help students.

  5. yoteach says:

    Haha I have a draft of a response to the very same article… it’s pretty insane.

  6. jokefest says:

    Yeah, but Matt, if this is “how it should be!’ then even the “some [that] will do well” are “dropout factories,” too.

    See Gary’s recent post about the Success attrition rate:

    It is over the 40% that gets public schools with unionized workforces “dropout factories.”

    I know the reformers use the “dropout factory” label for high schools but these attrition rates, at the minimum, complicate the idea that the “successful” charter chains are anywhere near as successful and deserving of the praise heaped on them by their cheerleaders in the world of politics and corporate media.

    That is why Gary’s work to debunk claims about “miracle schools” has been so valuable.

    • matt says:

      Correlation is not causation as you well know. Gary did not give any insight other then providing a static number. How do we know that 40% of SA kids left because of counseling out as opposed to say the families just moving, or not liking it? HOw does this compare with attrition rate at schools nearby? You can not simply post a stat and make conclusions about it without proper analysis of the underlying cause. If you are going to label SA as a ‘dropout factory’ without any basis then you are arguing from an anti charter or SA bias perspective and lack credibility in your view.

  7. jokefest says:

    I dont think those who coined and those who typically use the phrase “dropout factory” allow for much “analysis of the underlying [causes]” for the number of students who don’t make it from freshmen to senior year beyond the implication that the teachers at such schools and their unions are to blame.

    Your concern about context and the complexities that lead to students leaving a school or giving up on school altogether sort of further prove Gary’s point: when reformers’ schools of choice come under attack for not living up to the standards they espouse as most important, suddenly many in the “no excuses” crowd are quick to equivocate and claim we need to have a more nuanced understanding of these types of issues.

    You are entitled to your opinion and can simply write off my satirical claim that SA is a “dropout factory”–a claim that was designed to highlight the absurdity of the label, the insincerity of the ridiculous and now hypocritical rhetoric of the “no excuses” reformer crowd rather than to sincerely label SA as such.

    As for an anti-charter bias, I would say I would be fine with charters even if they operated the way they do now–attracting students with more involved parents, couselling some students out, admitting fewer ELL, and special ed students, etc, as long as they didn’t play the numbers game so aggressively in their marketing campaigns and through the media and try to make it look like “they have the answers” that can be scaled up if we could just break, in your words, “excessive union control” of public schools.

  8. matt says:

    I am asking you to show me how a 40% attrition rate at SA is a bad thing and you can not do that. I get it, I know there is plenty of rhetoric in this issue, but I am simply asking you to back a wild claim you are making and you can not, you only rely on vague platitudes about what your opposition claims when being asked the same question. Funny how that works. We call it a double standard.

    In reality, it is very likely that 40% is a common attrition rate for schools in the same area as Success, in fact, it might be low compared to local publics in Harlem and the Bronx. It might mean that SA really does push out kids who cant perform, but until we know, I will shy away from making claims because I base my views on factual knowledge. You are basing your view on biases and what you really hope might be the truth so you can score some political points. The bad news for you is reason is based on truth, not a wish list.

    Until you can show that a 40% attrition rate is either bad or uncommon you have no credibility in making such a claim.

    • RunOn says:

      What is interesting is the charters that fail seem to be independent charters while CMO operated charters never seem to be questioned or scrutinized. Or they never say “hey, you are right, we didn’t do well enough, we are going to try harder.” The “no excuses” always have excuses or explanations in times like this. We have seen that they operate in mediocrity at times and yet somehow, whether it be by PR power, money, or the power to just bury concerning facts, they aren’t subject to the same criticism outside of “anti-reformer” circles that public schools or independent non-CMO charters are.
      Also, I don’t think anyone is saying 40% attrition is automatically a bad thing. But it does raise questions as to why students are enrolled, leave in mass. Especially in a city where real estate is at a premium and those same charters are the first to jump on underutilized space in public schools and force the DOE to seize the space.

      In the public school I work in we have students that enroll midyear as well as leave midyear. We had a student leave because they didn’t like their child’s teacher and the principal and we also had students leave because they were just moving to another neighborhood. But we also had a lot of mid-year new students. If a public school has to open up spots to a kid that moves into a neighborhood then a charter should have to relottery every time a kid moves or is counseled out or whatever reason they leave. You can say that a midyear transfer might not be good for the kids but if we are going on the charter’s common rhetoric of kids first and a student’s family wants them in the charter school then tough shit. They should be in the second another kid leaves. That would be my main issue with seeing huge attrition rates like that year after year.

    • jokefest says:

      Matt–Again you are making Gary’s case for him.
      In an earlier comment, you wrote: “You can not simply post a stat and make conclusions about it without proper analysis of the underlying cause.”

      But that is what the entire standardized test NCLB data driven reform movement is about–posting “stats”/ test scores and making hasty conclusions about them.

      That is the sad truth we should be reasoning from when we discuss cleaning up the ridiculous education policy mess NCLB and RttT have left us. And to suggest that the policy that has stemmed from NCLB and RttT has not been promoted/defended by “vague platitudes” hurts your credibility. I’m hardly setting up a straw man, there.

      Also, to reiterate, I am not sincere in my “labeling” SA a “dropout factory.” I did not provide a link to substantiate my claim that it meets the dropout factory metric because I think that label is a stupid and misleading one that obscures our understanding of the challenges facing those who work in schools with student bodies that almost uniformly come from low-income families. See my earlier post and my screen moniker to understand my motives.

      I will, though, humor you with one link and one further point:

      This article substantiates your claims that a 40% attrition rate at SA and the attrition at charters more broadly is less severe or on par with public schools in that part of NYC. But as the article mentions: do the charters replace the students they lose “to attrition” the way public schools take on transient student populations? Based on the declines in raw numbers at SA, Democracy Prep, etc,. it seems unlikely.

      I’d be interested to see Gary provide both some statistical data and some context to address this debate.

      With all that said, I’ll give you the last word, Matt, if you elect to take it, as I have to teach bright and early tomorrow. I enjoyed the exchange and agree with your main point that statistics alone don’t tell the story we should be attending to about complex human institutions like schools.

      • matt says:

        So, in the end, SA’s 40% attrition rate is better than neighboring publics? So how can Gary logically call it worrisome? Clearly he is unaware of the fact that SA has a lower attrition rate than its neighbors? If he is aware, he is misinforming his readers. I figured 40% would not be out of the norm for the area but to be better actually vindicates their success.

        I also thank you for the response. I will give you insight on my view. I live in BK, have a 6yr old who just finished K in a local PS, one of the trendy hipster ones that are pumping up property values here. While I did not think the school stunk by any means and genuinly felt the teachers cared, the school was a mess. It was underfunded, under employed and at every turn we had situations were we were told the school just couldn’t facilitate what it was our kid needed because the employees were just too busy. We loved our K teacher but she was solo with 25 kids of half a dozen nationalities. I loved the diversity but she would tell us she just didn’t have time to focus on 1 kid so they slip thru the cracks.

        I’ve spent the last year studying Success, analyzing every criticism I can come up with and the only one that worries me is this ‘counseling out’ issue. From what i’ve learned so far its not an issue as this 40% shows.

        As for charters and schooling as a whole, I simply believe in choice. The co-located school where my SA is is an abomination, it had a 2% passing rate for CC, it has a 30% graduation rate, even lower for cohorts, and has something like a 40% literacy rate. Yet every teacher in teh school has an ipad and the school gets more money per student then the SA in the same buidling. Yet its SA that is being targeted not this horrific school in teh same walls. How is this possible?

        Bottom line is I believe failing schools should be held accountable, and no, I don’t mean one bad year, I mean dozens of years of them. To me SA proves that socioeconomics is not the real reason.

        I understand why teachers unions and mayoral candidates go nutter over charters too, tis a challenge to the system. Its a shock, a real revolution. THe ingrained system isn’t working and is about to lose its power, this is the expected retort.

      • RunOn says:

        And by the way, here is a red flag about the SA that you can’t seem to have find fault with and think proves socio-economics is not the real reason. SA has not been around long enough to see the returns on their investment (private backers) and risk (deviating from the norm), so to speak. They don’t have college graduation rates (if that is the goal), they don’t have median incomes of their graduates to tout. They don’t have graduates in high level positions to say “SA prepared me for _____”

        Their graduates should arguably be competitive enough to get into competitive schools with the same level of preparedness as the majority of their classmates. Here’s the catch though: Are they competitive enough to get scholarships at those schools? Will they be forced with a choice of going to a great school where they will be competitive in the job market but incur heavy debt or choosing a lesser-known or esteemed school because they are being offered a scholarship? What choice would you make for your child and would you perfectly comfortable with the sacrifices and unknowns both choices entail? Sure you can say that its still a better alternative, and no one is going to fault you for that or even disagree with you. But it doesn’t negate the fact that these are important considerations and important criticisms to make of an organization that virtually presents itself as a panacea the education quandaries today. You should absolutely go to the “better” school and if SA is that, then go for it. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for better from the better.

        They do not follow traditional pedagogical models of education. So we really have no idea what the outcome is going to be. They do not educate the way their founders, teachers, and operators themselves were educated (for the most part anyways)–because a lot of their teachers and administrators are either from middle class- affluent backgrounds with progressive private or public educations. A lot of the ones that are not may have experienced low-income urban schools but since their type of charter model probably didn’t exist when they were school-aged, the likelihood that they experienced the rigid militancy and test-prep model of education is slim. So you have a group of “successful” people educating children in a way that most likely they themselves were not educated in.

        Point of all this is you should look up KIPPs college graduation rates. It is the only legitimate point of comparison for SA’s long term potential and it isn’t so hot. They realized they weren’t preparing students for college. Only 33% of their students graduated college within six years of leaving high school. Is that bad? I don’t know but considering their purpose is to get kids to and through college and on to a thriving life, I mean…

      • matt says:

        Yes clearly SA being new does not give us a track record and even their exceedingly high testing system wide is not a large sample set, but enough to make an education decision based on sound fundamental data.

  9. matt says:

    I would think it logical that independents fail more then CMOs, CMOs get to the state they are at by succeding, much like a new restaurant opened by a few buddies will be more likely to fail then a McDonalds. This agian goes back to the market concept of choice. It is hard to build a brand identity with one school and a bad year or two of testing. Thems the breaks. Good schools test well and get more kids to join, open more schools and grow. It makes sense that the independents would have a greater fail rate. It isnt even fair to make such a comparison. What you should look at is what % of independent charters fail vs becoming CMOs, otherwise its apples and oranges.

  10. RunOn says:

    Disagree. Because even if one school, had some sort of spectacular growth happening, you are ignoring the fact that now with more political clout, power, money, and leverage, they can hide failures (just like a McDonalds or Walmart can eat losses and don’t have to do much to prove themselves because the brand speaks for itself even though arguably every location could be run differently) and are subject to less intense scrutiny. Why do we have to accept excuses from DP or KIPP or any of the others about why their scores were low? The choice is a mirage. And why would I look at what percentage of independent charters fail vs. becoming CMOs. You are assuming that any and every independent charter WANTS to become a CMO. What if that charter just wants to be locally organized and operated independent of larger state bureaucracy (that was the whole point right?).

  11. matt says:

    We don’t have to accept excuses from Dp or KIPP, the parents who have kids there will pull em if the local public schools is better. All the political clout in the world is irrelevant really. Look at the Democratic mayoral candidates, none of them openly support charters with half of them openly hostile towards them. Public schools have way more clout, power, leverage and money then charters.

    Indep charters dont need to become CMOs to succeed either, thats fine, you can compare their average life vs that of other independents who also choose not to become CMOs. The point is its an unfit comparison to look at indep vs CMOs for so many reasons.

    • RunOn says:

      I’m going to LOL to that one: “public schools have way more clout, power, leverage and money then charters.”
      Keep dreaming. I work in a public school and The only political power public schools have is in NYC at least what the charters don’t.
      Also…it is very narrow minded of you to consider politics and political clout to be referencing mayoral candidates, democrats vs. republicans, or any of the sort.
      And so the choice is an illusion? You are saying the parents will pull kids if the local school is better. What if its not? Then they just put up with promises that weren’t fulfilled? Do you get to say “well hey this was your alternative so shut up and be grateful” because it seems like that is the implication here. If the parents don’t have a better alternative then what? How is that market and choice? They demand better from the charter I guess? But how? I mean the charter knows they don’t have a choice so what is the motivation on the charter’s part to do better when they are still heralded as better even if they aren’t living up to their promises. Alternative is shitty so they stick with less shitty.
      And the point still stands that we don’t criticize CMOs at the same level as other schools.

  12. matt says:

    You are the one who brought political clout into the discussion. If so, then you must accept the fact that the teachers union is infinitely stronger than any CMO. Why is it no Mayoral candidate supports charters? Because there is more cash and votes with the UFT then with any half dozen branch CMO. Answer me this, how much has the UFT donated to Democratic candidates in this campaign vs CMOs to either party? Wanna guess?

    As for choice, if the local charter outperforms the local public, its better, end of story. If I put my kid in DP or KIPP and it doesn’t beat the public over time, I go back to the public, that is the beauty of choice. You seem to think that if a charter underperforms its local public, the parents will simply leave their kids in the charter and accept lower results. Why do you think that? They left the public for a better result, surely they will return for it.

    I think CMOs are criticized much more then local publics. I mean I have schools by me that have had 10% passing rates for decades if not generations and no one says a word, meanwhile a SA opens up in the same building and they padlock the doors, send spies in to watch them, sue them in courts and fight tooth and nail to stop them. I think the fact is the establishment is very scared of what schools like SA is doing, and the failure of other charters vindicates the concept of choice. Unfortunately this means unions are going to take it on the chin.

    As for DP or KIPP, if the local pubic is not a viable alternativ then the results of these charters should be fine, they are better then their competiton. At the very least wtihin charters there is mroe room for change then within publics where the structures are so rigidly negotiated.

    My best bud is a teacher at a public who works overtime daily, hes been told a hafl a dozen times to stop working so many hours as it makes the other teachers look aba

    • matt says:

      I didn’t finish that thought, he was told the union contract kept him from working x hours a week even though the kids in the school needed the extra help. What kind of disaster is that when teachers are told to cease and desist due to contractual obligations when they, and their students are willing to work longer and harder.

  13. RunOn says:

    I completely disagree that the teachers union is stronger than a CMO. They have different strengths. One doesn’t necessarily have to be stronger than the other…what matters is what one prevents the other from doing…which usually the end result still is far from ideal. Considering how much the UFT fights against the charters…at this point if they were so powerful they wouldn’t exist. And it is patently untrue that “no mayoral candidates support charters.” Also, I never said that charters weren’t beating public. I said that they weren’t living up to the promises or the marketing and the data they put forth. They can do better but if the point is that your child comes out highly competitive against lots of other schools including those of affluent (which is essentially what they claim) then they still aren’t doing the job they say they do. End of story. As someone else mentioned in the comment thread…part of market choice is having transparent and honest untainted information. Everyone in education right now (public, charter, etc.) has a reason to distort numbers or present them in favorable ways. Your understanding of how charters obtain money seems to be flawed. It is unfortunate that children are the battleground in this fight between adults. But part of what is going on with SA has to do with the fact that other peoples children are harmed as a result of SA moving into the building and securing space. Eva is very aggressive with seizing “underutilized space” and it is to the detriment of other children. You seem to be very anti union. That is fine, I’m a member of one and I have to say I’m not the biggest fan myself. But you should understand that the union is reacting to a force. I respect a decent free market, competition rules all argument but education is FAR more complex than that. I understand that as a parent you are concerned for your child and probably thats about it. I’m sorry that your friend was told to stop working so many hours. That is a pretty shitty thing to be said. But realize that his experience isn’t representative of every single teacher or union rep and it is insulting to imply that is how the union or public schools in general operate.

    • Cary Glen says:

      Your style of argument is weak throughout, it veers between selective stat and opinion. The most laughable opinion you hold is “I completely disagree that the teachers union is stronger than a CMO.”

      Read every state statute, state regulation, and CBA ever written. Look at the campaign finance records for your state. I’ve lived in three states, all of whom have had the union as the largest PAC. The union did not have to react to a force before. Now they do.

  14. matt says:

    Well the UFT has given Bill Thompson 600k in July alone and hes runing a virulent anti charter campaign, funny how that works isnt it? Someone earlier talked about crony capitalism in banking, I guess the same corruption in politics is acceptable.

    I am not anti union, I am a liberal democrat who supports unions and collective bargaining in particular, but even I know and can accept when something has gone too far to one side as it has in big cities education. Yet I am not the arbiter, the creation and success of the charter system is a direct result of the failure of the public system. Its change, the establishment rarely likes change.

  15. Norm says:

    Matt, send me the names of those half a dozen parents on wait list. And by the way, given the attrition rate as SA if people are wait listed why not just let them in? In public schools those spots are filled. As for your “buds” who say the union tells them not to work harder, send me the school. I would believe in the tooth fairy before that ed deform fairy tale told by trolls. I was a teacher for 35 years and a union rep and never heard one hint of that. As a matter of fact, your making that very statement puts you in the troll category.

    • matt says:

      You can not let people in to spots that do not exist. If you read the link I posted you would see that some 950 people applied for 150 spots, even if 40% of them leave over 5 years there are not enough seats for everyone. What you also fail to see is that even after the 40% drop (which was better then the neighboring schools) there are still MORE students at SA meaning their acceptance rate is greater than their attrition rate. I.e, the school is growing.

      As for sending you names, shocking again, a union rep is asking for names to go snuff out. Are you the same guy who sent spies into the SA school here to spy on the teachers and students? The reason the public has turned its back on unions is due to this mafia mentality you preach openly on this forum.

      • Norm says:

        Send the name of any schools where that happens not the names of the person. You repeat word for word what the ed deformers propaganda preaches yet will never point to a school where that really happens. And you speak double talk. Gary shows the attrition numbers. Just replace them. Why should the classes shrink as each year goes to the next grade if not for gaming the tests? Even with attrition — a kid in a class size of 25 in 2nd grade will find themselves in a class size of over 30 by 5th grade, the very opposite of charters.
        And as for union mafia — believe me my own union would sooner go after internal critics like me than trolls like you.

      • matt says:

        I gave you the School, Success Academy, I linked their lottery stats, they have almost a 10:1 application per spot ratio and 50:1 teacher app to job ratio. SA classes are not shrinking they are growing in total numbers and their attrition rate is LOWER than their neighboring schools. This means they are doing a better job retaining their students than their competition. A kid in a class of 25 in 2nd grade will have a class of 25 in 5th grade too, it might not be the same 25 but that has little to do with the school that we can tell and will have more of the same kids then neighboring schools would with worse attrition rates.

        The beauty of success is they can afford to have two teachers in that class instead of one because they do not have a massive pension burden that the publics do. Where the local ps has to drop 50% of its funding on pensions and healthcare for retirees, SA can put it into training teachers to do better and adding more of them. Its simply a better model. Yes, some fail and they will be punished for it by being closed, another advantage, in the ps system, they stay open for decades with failing systems in place.

      • Tim says:

        “A kid in a class of 25 in 2nd grade will have a class of 25 in 5th grade too, it might not be the same 25 . . . ”

        No, it would have to be pretty much the same 25. After the end of second grade, all Success schools stop “backfilling” seats that open up due to attrition.

        If Success were serious about dealing with their wait lists and all the demand for “great public schools,” they’d realize a partial solution is staring them right in the face: simply backfill all available seats up to the terminal grade, just like all traditional public schools do, as well as most charters, even high-powered networks like KIPP and Icahn.

        I’d hate to think that maintaining good results on state tests is more important to Success than educating at-risk children who are desperate to enter their schools, but the no-backfill policy makes it difficult to arrive at any other conclusion.

  16. RunOn says:

    I’m realizing that conversing with you is futile because you seem to have a very narrow understanding and perspective of education, unions, and reforms and yet here I find myself again. You know education from one angle and it seems like before you go attacking educators and union members you should read up a bit more. There are two polarities– super anti-charter, union do no wrong and super reformer, pro charters, f the union. Since the reformers are (somewhat) of the new kids on the block, of course the union end of the spectrum is going to be responding to that force. Because yes, they came in and were disruptive to what you could say was a somewhat uncompetitive realm at some point (although at this point that was like 20+ years ago). But as a guy who seems to be for market based solutions, you should realize that two competitive and extremely opposing ends of the spectrum should at least be the great balancing act because yes, the union is fighting the other side, just like reformers are fighting the union. Reformers are extreme in their own right and I would hope that any rational person sees these two extremes, is very critical of both and decides to figure out the third side of the story–the truth– which lies somewhere in between.

    Bill Thompson is not as virulently anti-charter as you make him sound. He is against co-location and you would be too if your child was in a PS and a charter came and wanted to take space away from your child’s school to serve other children and not your own. He’s also dodged questions on whether charters should pay rent at times and at other times has opposed charging them rent in city owned buildings– most anti-charter folk would consider that relatively middle of the road. At the end of the day most people are worried about themselves and themselves alone– especially individuals who do not actually work in education but are merely consumers of it. Saying you’re a liberal democrat means nothing because you clearly are anti-union. Don’t worry– you can still be a liberal democrat and be against the teachers union– most people these days are.

    I respect the fact that you’re a parent and you want the best possible options and choices for your kid. I totally understand and respect that because every parent is in that boat. But as an educator, I have to somehow figure out how to meet your needs and fulfill your hopes for your child and the other X amount of parents and families in my class WHILE ALSO considering my job (because it is after all a job to educate your child and yes I get paid for it…I’m sorry that my “free health benefits” and median income salary and that barely affords me the ability to live in the same city that I work is a bother to you). And despite what the media tells you, teaching isn’t a guaranteed job. If you aren’t performing someone will notice and try and get you out. Corporate reform is like a union unto itself. It is a collective body of individuals and organizations that leverage their unity and mass to achieve goals through collaborative efforts and combined money. Those goals may or may not include dismantling any power a union has that a charter does not or that stand in the way of reformers achieving their goals.

    Those 50,000 applications SA gets? Thats BS. I’m TFA and I know for a FACT that even if that were true there isn’t real competition because the majority of the spots are filled six months before the year starts by new TFA first years. They hire en masse– 20 CMs at a time usually around December-March. Not everyone in TFA interviews for charters– they are sort of tracked in based on what types of candidates the charters want. So tell me how that is competitive? The rest are filled by teachers who are sticking on for a third or fourth year maybe. So there is no competition in those jobs other than the competition to get into TFA basically. And citing wikipedia as your source? I mean really. You want to talk about proficiency and test scores. If you think comparing independent schools to CMOs is not a suitable or appropriate task then comparing Success and other charters to public schools is even less of an appropriate comparison. If you want to talk about proficiency then you need to start by asking why that local school near you is performing so low. What does SA have that that school doesn’t? I see you’re upset about ipads? Most of those schools are operating on empty. Why is that? Is it because they performed poorly so they stopped getting money? Did they stop getting money because they performed poorly? Who hired the principal? Who was the oversight for the principal? What are his/her qualifications? What did the DOE do to benchmark achievement for that “poorly performing” school and assure that it was on track? What did it do to address the school when it was struggling? There are a million more questions we could ask. But the point is that this isn’t a one and done deal where you get to ignore the systemic inadequacies and politics at play here.

    • matt says:

      You seem to be getting away from your original points and into random thoughts. As for co-location Deblasio is the most militant against it, Thompson is not far behind, he wont even speak at charter sponsored events. However he is a politician and will say whatever he needs to say to be elected. As a lifelong democrat I find it impossible to vote for Democrats in NYC politics, they are the scum of the scum. Well that was my random thought for you.

      As for co-location, in my experience the other schools deserve to be shut, but they stay open because of the beurocratic mess that is the UFT-BoE Complex. In the co located school where we will send our boy, they have two abominations for schools. When I say that the police have to be outside the minute school is out to usher the kids out of the nighbhorhood its because they need to. Each day we see altercations with the kids fighting either eachother or the cops. Arrests are frequent. This has nothing to do with the results though, which are even more horrific, 25% graduation rate, 40% literacy rate. Yet this school gets more money per student and as a whole then SA in the same location. But of course it is this failing disgrace of a school that people like you wish to protect while demanding SA be shut out in the cold despite proving they are a better alternative. SA also does not take space that is in use, they use an entire different floor that has been empty for 10 years.

      Best story about the SA move to the hood is how the city tried to sue them over lightbulb changes. You see in the ps system with their communist stupidity they have to pay $85 to change a lightbulb, fill out forms, get the right people in to do the job, etc etc. At SA they just sent the janitor to Lowes with $15 for a new bulb and he installed it. The UFT sued SA over this economically feasible logically sound move. What sort of basis does the UFT have for such ignorance? Right, they want to bankrupt SA and they have deeper pockets.

      • RunOn says:

        Yes, you are right. I’m posting random thoughts– in response to your ramblings.

        You said: he’s running a virulent anti charter campaign
        I said: Bill Thompson is not as virulently anti-charter as you make him sound. He is against co-location…

        You Said: We don’t have to accept excuses from Dp or KIPP, the parents who have kids there will pull em if the local public schools is better.

        I said: respect the fact that you’re a parent and you want the best possible options and choices for your kid. …

        You Said: “Its a better deal, less work, better benefits… If I could get less hours for more job security and a pension and all but free healthcare I would take it too, and never quit.”

        I Said: because it is after all a job to educate your child and yes I get paid for it…I’m sorry that my “free health benefits” and median income salary and that barely affords me the ability to live in the same city that I work is a bother to you)…

        You said: as for the 57k, here is the source:

        as for the students, here is that source:

        I said: Those 50,000 applications SA gets? Thats BS….

        Need I continue? Yeah really random. There’s more out there than DailyNews and FoxNews my friend. Have the last word at my “random thoughts. ” Good luck to you and your child.

      • matt says:

        weve gotten off track and away from any rational discussion to what borders on ad hominem attacks, no need for a last word.

      • matt says:

        I will make one correction, Bill Thompson is simply anti-charter, it was unfair to call him virulently anti-charter, it is Bill Deblasio who is virulently anti-charter.

  17. Michael Fiorillo says:

    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

  18. matt says:

    Here is the article about the UFT thugs spying on Success Academy. Some union you got yourselves….

    • yoteach says:

      Matt I wrote a whole post for you and you’re still waging little battles here. Bring the insights/pugnaciousness to me!

  19. matt says:

    I’ve responded to all of your posts, have you not read them or are you having a hard time grasping my point? Is there anything I need to better explain so it can sink in?

  20. Joe Nathan says:

    Would Gary or any else with a statistics background care to review a new report saying problems with computers did not have a statistically significant impact on Minnesota student achievement? Minnesota has a contract with AIR for millions of dollars.

    This year the computers “froze” during test, forcing students to stop in mid-test. Thousands of students had to finish the tests the following day. Many educators reported (no surprise) this was very disruptive.

    Here’s a link to the report. Reactions welcome:
    Report on 2013 Online Assessment Disruptions
    The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) worked with an independent third-party to conduct a thorough analyses of the 2013 online assessments to fully understand the potential impact of testing interruptions on April 16 and April 23. The investigation into the effects of the computer disruptions on student and school scores is finished, and the final report is available here, along with a letter to parents summarizing the findings. Read the report. Read the parent letter. Read the Commissioner’s letter to Superintendents.

    Thanks, Joe Nathan

  21. Joe Nathan says:

    Looks like the links don’t come through on previous post. Please try this:


  22. Pingback: How Should Schools Be Graded? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  23. Joe Nathan says:

    Gary – this is quite a generalization that you started with:
    “The hardest thing about trying to have an intellectual debate with ‘reformers’ is every time they start to lose, they try to change the rules.”

    First, there are a vast array of people trying to reform American public schools. They don’t always agree.
    Second, EVERY time they start to lose, they try to change the rules? ( my emphasis)

    Question for you…I read someplace that you teach at Sty…High School in NYC. Is this correct?

    • Joe Nathan says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Mr. Covey. It’s clear that this school was not a good place for this student.

      Yesterday I met with students and graduates at a St. Paul Public School option – one I helped start and worked at more than 40 years ago.

      I heard story after story about how the traditional schools had not been good places for these folks and that the Open School was wonderful.

      One example: a woman told me how she had signed up (in her traditional school) for a drum class, given an option between cooking and drumming.

      The principal called her in to say that the drum class was only for boys. She said she preferred drumming. He strongly discouraged her from being in that class.

      She switched to the Open School and was welcome in any class.

      Many more examples. One of the reasons some public school educators (such as I have been) have worked to create options is that there is no single best school for all students. Having options does not solve all the problems but it can help.

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