Friday, January 22, 2016

Success made easy

I haven't had time recently to follow the no-excuses charter school story as closely as I should. When I do get back to it, one of the points I want to delve into is how education researchers, even the good ones, often fail to take into account certain obvious realities of effective instruction and classroom management.
First among these is the fact that certain kids or combination of kids have a dramatically disproportionate impact in terms of disruption and instructional time/resources. These more demanding kids can be difficult to identify in advance (for instance, being behind and frustrated and being advanced and bored will often lead to similar kinds of acting out), but a few weeks in, both faculty and administration will have no trouble putting together a list.

Conscientious administrators agonize over the decision of getting rid of their more challenging students, trying to balance the good of the few and the good of the many (at the Jesuit school I taught at in Watts, it was treated as the absolute last resort), For the unscrupulous, however, there is no simpler or more reliable method for rapidly improving a school.

Which brings us to this New York Times report:
Success Academy, the high-performing* charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Math teacher and education blogger Gary Rubinstein fills in some more of the context:
 This school was in its second year when it was in need of being turned around.  And the total number of students in the school was about 200, with about 70 kindergarteners, 80 first graders, and 50 second graders.  All of these students have been at the school for their entire schooling and all had Success Academy teachers.  I have trouble believing that this school needed a radical turnaround plan and if it really did, what does that say about the reform mantra that ‘great teachers’ overcome all if the great teachers at Success Academy were not able to maintain control of 200 5, 6, and 7 year olds?

So far we've been talking about kids whom we would traditionally (if perhaps unfairly) classify as discipline problems, but they aren't the only students who put a disproportionate drain on a school's resources. Giving children with disabilities the education they deserve and are legally entitled to is also time and labor intensive.

Which brings us to this report from Juan Gonzalez
The city’s largest charter school chain has been violating the civil rights of students with disabilities for years, a group of parents say in a formal complaint lodged Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Education.

The parents of 13 special needs students claim the Success Charter Network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, “has engaged in ongoing systemic policies that violate” federal laws protecting the disabled. It cites eight Success schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the parents’ children were enrolled.

The allegations include:

    refusing to provide special education pupils appropriate services required by law, while often retaining the students to repeat a grade;
    multiple suspensions of students without keeping formal records of all those actions, without the due process required by federal law, and without providing alternative instruction;
    harassing parents to transfer their children back into regular public schools; and even calling 911 to have children as young as 5 transported to emergency rooms when parents don’t pick them up immediately as requested.

“Charter schools like Success Academy should follow the same rules as traditional public schools and protect — not punish — children with disabilities,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.

James joined the complaint, as did City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the council’s Education Committee, and five private non-profit legal advocacy groups. All are calling for federal action.

*Not actually high performing on tests that matter, but that's a topic for another post.

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