David Banks’ ‘Unsuccessful’ Academy Schools

In a few weeks, David Banks will become the next Chancellor of New York City Schools. Unlike many of the previous Chancellors, David Banks has a track record of running a small network of schools. Called the Eagle Academy Schools For Young Men, there are six of these schools serving boys from grades 6 to 12. There is one school in each of the five New York City boroughs and one in Newark.

Before Eric Adams was the next mayor of New York City, he was the borough president of Brooklyn. In that capacity, he worked with David Banks to create ‘The Brooklyn Nine’ where Banks would share some of the best practices from Eagle Academy to improve nine schools in Brooklyn. There is a short documentary about Eagle Academy on HBO currently called ‘The Infamous Future’ , similar to Waiting For Superman, made a few years ago in which Eric Adams says that the practices of Eagle Academy should be used in more schools so that they become ‘The Brooklyn 90’ and then ‘The Brooklyn 900′ and eventually the entire school system can replicate the success of Banks’ Eagle Academies. So this gives us some idea of what to expect in the next 4 or 8 years with Adams as Mayor and Banks as Chancellor.

New York is home to so many news outlets like The New York Times, The Daily News, and The New York Post. There is also something called Chalkbeat, NY, which is a web publication that covers education in New York City. So you’d figure that at least one of them would look up the numbers on the five Eagle Academy schools that David Banks has been involved with, first as principal of the original school in The Bronx in 2004, and then as CEO of the foundation that oversees all six schools for the years since then. One would think that this information would be relevant and people getting paid full time to cover New York education would think, “Maybe I can see what public data is available about these schools that have been around for the past fifteen years.” but I haven’t seen anything about this. So I spent some time immersing myself in Eagle Academies and in learning about David Banks in general from interviews and also from the HBO documentary and will try to report my findings in as even handed way as possible.

The first thing that struck me was that I had never heard of The Eagle Academy For Young Men before. These are not schools that I had ever heard touted as schools that had cracked the code to get high standardized test scores or high college acceptance rates. These schools were completely off my radar. Some people think they are charter schools and even their Wikipedia page says they are charter schools, but I’ve also seen more official places that say that these are not charter schools, so I’m not even 100% about this.

David Banks did write something for The74 (generally not a good sign) where he said “Our schools have pioneered a revolutionary, self-affirming approach to educating young men of color, and the numbers speak for themselves. For the 2018-19 school year, 98 percent of our seniors graduated and 100 percent were accepted to college.” These are the kinds of statistics that charter schools sometimes use to mislead readers into thinking that nearly all the students who started in the school have gotten into college and are in a position to be successful there. Always relevant is what data is not shared as evidence of a school’s success. Reformers, when they are able to, like to tout test scores or, if those aren’t good enough, at least growth scores.

As always, when I present this kind of data, I want to make it clear that I’m not the person who thinks that school quality is the same thing as test scores and growth scores. Reformers like Bloomberg, Klein, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and the rest have justified shutting down schools on these narrow metrics. I don’t think that bad test scores and growth scores mean, necessarily, that the school is a ‘failing’ school. I taught at three such schools that would be labelled as ‘failing’ and I thought the staffs at those school were doing a very good job. On the flip side, I think that Success Academy, despite their high test scores, are awful schools. Still, considering that we are about to have a deputy Chancellor who subscribes to the obsolete reformer philosophy, I need to get the data on Eagle Academies out there publicly, if, for nothing else, to be able to point out the irony when the deputy Chancellor starts pushing to shut down schools that are better, at least by the metrics reformers worship, than Eagle Academies.

If anyone should be worried that I am cherry picking the data, you can go through and look through more of the data from the publicly available data sites I got my data from. One spot is the New York State data system which has data going back about 15 years for any school. Just type ‘eagle’ into the search box and you will find the different places. Another important resource is the New York City performance dashboard. If you type ‘eagle’ into the search box you will get 10 results since each Eagle Academy school is officially a middle school and a high school. Another place is the New York City school quality snapshots, basically the school report card where schools get a ranking between 1 and 4 on various categories. Finally, there’s the US News & World Report site that has good information about AP results and enrollment. None of these give the full picture, but when reformers talk about being ‘data driven’ and they use these numbers to declare entire schools systems as ‘failing’ it is useful to be able to access the data and see what it says about schools that they claim are succeeding.

Before I provide some specific details, let me just say that I’ve immersed myself in all the data from all the schools and I can say that on average, the schools have good reading scores but terrible math scores, terrible growth scores, terrible advanced Regents scores, and terrible AP results. I do think that they focus a lot of energy on reading, and I think that reading is extremely important, but there is no denying that the rest of their metrics are bad.

You can check the others to see if you can accuse me of cherry picking. Here’s Eagle Academy Middle School in The Bronx with their scores compared to the district they are in and also to something called the comparison group which are schools that, in theory, serve similar demographics.

When reformers see a school they like has low test scores, they dismiss them and say not to look at the test scores, but at the ‘growth’ scores since a school should not be penalized for their incoming students being behind grade level. But for nearly all the Eagle Academy schools, they have, by the growth metric, some of the worst scores in the city.

Here is a scatter plot from the NYC performance dashboard. The y-value of the blue point is the growth score and the x-value is the percent of students at proficient. There are 10 schools and three years for each school. See if you can find one where the growth score is above the middle line, there aren’t many.

For the high schools, the HBO documentary would have you believe that since 98% of the seniors are accepted to college, that 98% of the seniors are prepared for college. But if you look at the Regents scores, it tells a different story. Looking at the 2018-2019 at the flagship Eagle Academy in The Bronx, they did well on the ELA but the other Regents are awful. In Algebra I, only 32% passed. In Geometry only 7 students in the whole school passed and in Algebra 2, only 3 students in the whole school passed. I’m a math teacher and I know that Geometry and Algebra 2 are not essential for having a successful life, but if it is something that you are learning in school (and most students take Geometry in 10th grade and Algebra 2 in 11th grade) it is something you should be able to at least pass if you are going to get through some of the required courses in college.

When it comes to AP courses, US News & World Report collects that data. If only 4% of students passed at least one AP exam, and I’m not saying the AP test is the greatest test in the world, but to get a 3 to pass an AP is not such an impressive feat. Some high schools can say that they could only do so much since they didn’t teach the students in middle school, but at Eagle Academy schools, they teach them from 6th through 12th.

Based on what I saw in the HBO documentary, I think David Banks is a good person. He is someone who truly cares about the students at his schools. He has a passion that is clear from the different things he says in the interviews. I think I would get along with David Banks. I can’t say this with certainty, but I would guess that David Banks is not a fan of Success Academy. He knows by how stubborn the test and growth scores at his own schools have been that the only way Success Academy has kept its test scores so high is by various forms of cheating. He mentions in the HBO documentary that his schools take the Black boys that other schools try to get rid of. Surely he knows that the attrition rate for Black boys at Success Academy is well over 50%. When I called Eagle Academies ‘Unsuccessful’ in my title, I was trying to show a contrast between schools like Success that have high scores but are bad schools in my mind compared to Eagle Academy schools that could very well be opposite of Success Academy schools — low test scores but maybe are good schools.

David Banks knows, as well as anyone, that test scores and growth scores do not tell the full picture of a school. Eagle Academy schools seem, at least from what I’ve seen, to be good schools with low test scores. Since Banks is hiring a protege of Michelle Rhee, Dan Weisberg (see my recent post all about him), to be his #2, I have to wonder how this will play out. If they are going to return to labelling 25% of the schools as ‘failing’ based on test scores and growth scores and they are going to try to close down those schools, could Banks be in the awkward position of closing down some of his own schools?

As always with a post like this, I’m going to be criticized for minimizing the hard work of the teachers and the students at the Eagle Academies. I truly have no bad feelings for the students and teachers at the Eagle Academies. If they want to reach out to me, I would be willing to help them improve their math instruction. And if David Banks who is soon to be my boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss, I also offer my help if he wants it.

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3 Responses to David Banks’ ‘Unsuccessful’ Academy Schools

  1. Pingback: Another Unsuccessful ‘Reformer’ to head NYC Public Schools | GFBrandenburg's Blog

  2. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: NYC’s New Chancellor Runs a Chain of Low-Performing Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog

  3. Thank you, Gary. I well done and thoughtful article. I think it will be refreshing to have a Chancellor who understands that test scores and quality are not always linked.

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