Monday, April 26, 2010

NY Mag Story on Moskowitz and HSA by Jeff Coplon

When I heard that NY Mag had done a piece on HSA and Moskowitz, I immediately thought: another puff piece. But then I saw Jeff Coplon's (he's no low life Steve Brill) wrote it. While some commenters felt he tilted towards Evil, I don't agree. Jeff is one of the best writers when it comes to these kinds of pieces. For those HSA people who might scream that he was unfair to HSA, Jeff also did a similar comprehensive NY Mag piece on NEST, an exclusive public school on the lower east side - NEST+m: An Allegory - an article full of insights into the kinds of manipulations principals go through to get the kids they want in a school.

Read the full piece at

This picture is worth a million words. Anyone know how to spell "fabissoner?"

One former HSA teacher commented:

I worked at Harlem Success for 2 years as a teacher. The last page is completely true---they counsel children out with learning disabilities and behavioral difficulties because they do not want their test scores affected. It is beyond shocking and morally disgusting. I could not work there any longer because of it. Also, the part about 10 minutes of test prep a day---totally untrue. Try two hours. At least.

I have extracted some of the more telling sections. On special ed:

At Harlem Success, disability is a dirty word. “I’m not a big believer in special ed,” Fucaloro says. For many children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, he goes on, the real issues are “maturity and undoing what the parents allow the kids to do in the house—usually mama—and I reverse that right away.” When remediation falls short, according to sources in and around the network, families are counseled out. “Eva told us that the school is not a social-service agency,” says the Harlem Success teacher. “That was an actual quote.”

In one case, says a teacher at P.S. 241, a set of twins started kindergarten at the co-located HSA 4 last fall. One of them proved difficult and was placed on a part-time schedule, “so the mom took both of them out and put them in our school. She has since put the calm sister twin back in Harlem Success, but they wouldn’t take the boy back. We have the harder, troubled one; they have the easier one.”

Such triage is business as usual, says the former network staffer, when the schools are vexed by behavioral problems: “They don’t provide the counseling these kids need.” If students are deemed bad “fits” and their parents refuse to move them, the staffer says, the administration “makes it a nightmare” with repeated suspensions and midday summonses. After a 5-year-old was suspended for two days for allegedly running out of the building, the child’s mother says the school began calling her every day “saying he’s doing this, he’s doing that. Maybe they’re just trying to get rid of me and my child, but I’m not going to give them that satisfaction.”

At her school alone, the Harlem Success teacher says, at least half a dozen lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs have been withdrawn this school year. If this account were to reflect a pattern, Moskowitz’s network would be effectively winnowing students before third grade, the year state testing begins. “The easiest and fastest way to improve your test scores,” observes a DoE principal in Brooklyn, “is to get higher-performing students into your school.” And to get the lower-performing students out.

The piece above triggered this response from one of our contacts at PS 241:

The part about PS 241 enrolling the "more difficult" of a set of twin kindergartners, who were both enrolled at Harlem Success Academy, says it all for me.

Harlem Success Academy counseled out the "more difficult" twin, but kept his "easier" twin sister. This took place around the second month of the school year. PS 241 is clearly the better school. PS 241 can educate students that Harlem Success Academy cannot, because we are a school of experienced, professional educators. Inexperienced HSA teachers and administrators stand around dumbfounded, unable to understand, intervene or help students with special needs. HSA teachers repeatedly call the same parents to the school and give them laundry lists of their child's misbehavior. HSA teachers apologize to these same parents and tell them they have to call or they could lose their job. This is not a reflection on the HSA teachers, who lack the skills that experience provides. It is what happens when you give too much power and influence to an over privileged and educationally ignorant, self-proclaimed savior of Harlem children.

PS 241 is filled with students who HSA teachers would be unable and unfit to teach. And for the record, the mother of the twins has already enrolled the "easier twin" at PS 241 for next year.

Here's more from Coplon

English Language Learners (ELLs) are another group that scores poorly on the state tests—and is grossly underrepresented at Success. The network’s flagship has only ten ELLs, or less than 2 percent of its population, compared to 13 percent at its co-located zoned school. The network enrolls 51 ELLs in all, yet, as of last fall, provided no certified ESL teacher to support them. After a site visit to Harlem Success Academy 1 in November, the state education department found that the school had failed to show evidence of compliance with its charter and with No Child Left Behind, which mandates ESL services by “highly qualified” teachers.
As the face of the social-Darwinist wing of the local charter movement, she’s been cast as the grim reaper of moribund neighborhood schools, a witting tool of privatizing billionaires, and a Machiavellian schemer with her sights set on the mayoralty. “She’s the spokesperson in demonizing the public schools,” says Noah Gotbaum, president of District 3’s Community Education Council. “Eva’s philosophy is that you’ve got to burn the village to save it.”
A pristine stairwell is one more step toward her objective: a data-driven, no-excuses haven for learning, where all children excel and shoestrings never come undone.
traditional schools in Harlem face plummeting enrollments—a sign, Chancellor Joel Klein likes to say, of parents’ voting with their feet. But State Senator Bill Perkins draws a different conclusion: “What you’re seeing is people fleeing out of a four-alarm fire.” Charter schools, Perkins says, “are at best an act of desperate faith.”
Most charter operators, observes Sy Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation, “ask for space very quietly and hope they can get it. Eva asks for schools.” Co-location, as she once put it, is a “Middle East war.” As her beachheads roll out and roll up, one grade per year, her need for real estate sparks resistance. Police were called last summer when she brought movers to take another floor at P.S. 123, piling the zoned school’s belongings in the gym after it neglected to vacate on time. Stringer flayed her “thug tactics”; Moskowitz dismissed him as a “UFT hack.”
Moskowitz identified five zoned schools that had declining enrollments “and suck academically.” In October 2008, she informed Klein that she was “most interested in” P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 in Harlem. Two months after that, the DoE moved to shutter those two schools and pass their buildings in toto—a first—to Success Charter Network. But there was a problem: Success could not accept all the children to be displaced. For one thing, the network has no self-contained classrooms for the profoundly disabled; for another, it takes in no new students after the second grade. At an incendiary public hearing at P.S. 194, zoned- and charter-school parents roared each other down, neighbor against neighbor. In a colonial metaphor that made Moskowitz shake her head, one resident compared her to Tarzan’s Jane—“back again, swinging through Harlem not with vines, but with charter schools.” When Klein stayed the closings in the face of a UFT lawsuit, he also advised the zoned schools’ parents to “seriously consider” moving their children to Harlem Success.
Moskowitz has already burned through three principals at Harlem Success Academy 1, taking the reins each time as the school’s de facto leader. The latest was Jacqueline Getz, a highly regarded veteran from P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side, who took the job last summer and resigned within weeks. (While Getz declined to comment, she told a confidante that there were “things going on that she could not in good conscience let happen.”) Her presumptive successor is Jacqueline Albers, a 26-year-old alumna of Teach for America. Critics point out that Albers fits the profile for much of Moskowitz’s top leadership circle: young white women with thin résumés. “The people they have making decisions are inexperienced and undereducated,” a former network staff member says.
For Moskowitz, success is a family affair and a shared obligation. Parents must sign the network’s “contract,” a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform, guarantee homework, and attend all family events. “When parents aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Fucaloro says, “we get on their behinds. Eva and Paul Fucaloro are their worst nightmares.” Infractions can range to the trivial: slacks that look worn at a child’s knees, long johns edging beyond collars. Recidivists are hauled into “Saturday Academy,” detention family style, where parents are monitored while doing “busy work” with their child, the ex-staffer says. Those who skip get a bristling form letter: “You simply stood up your child’s teacher and many others who came in on a Saturday, after a long, hard week.” At the last staff orientation, according to one Success teacher, Moskowitz reported telling parents, “Our school is like a marriage, and if you don’t come through with your promises, we will have to divorce.”
New students are initiated at “kindergarten boot camp,” where they get drilled for two weeks on how to behave in the “zero noise” corridors (straight lines, mouths shut, arms at one’s sides) and the art of active listening (legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker). Life at Harlem Success, the teacher says, is “very, very structured,” even the twenty-minute recess. Lunches are rushed and hushed, leaving little downtime to build social skills. Many children appear fried by two o’clock, particularly in weeks with heavy testing. “We test constantly, all grades,” the teacher says. During the TerraNova, a mini-SAT bubble test over four consecutive mornings, three students threw up. “I just don’t feel that kids have a chance to be kids,” she laments.
even the lottery losers made distinct progress compared to their zoned-school peers. Though they didn’t close the achievement gap, these children held their own—unlike their traditional-school classmates, who lagged further behind the suburbs each passing year. While charter-school lotteries may be blind, they are hardly random; by definition, their entrants are self-selected. The least stable families—the homeless, say, or those with a parent on dialysis—might not find their way to apply. And there is the rub: If charters’ populations skew toward more motivated students, they cannot fairly be compared to come-one-come-all zoned schools.
One problem with “school choice,” as writer-activist Jonathan Kozol noted, is that the “ultimate choices” tend to get made “by those who own or operate a school.” At stake is not just who gets in, but who stays in. Studies show “selective attrition” in the KIPP chain, among others, with academic stragglers—including those seen as disruptive or in need of pricey services—leaving in greater numbers.


Ms. Tsouris said...

Oy such a farbissina punim!!! What a shonda!

Anonymous said...

I was going to say verbissener (= grim, morose, sullen), but you reminded me that Yiddish changes "ver" to "far". The rest is the same: farbissener (= embittered).

Oy, do I love det lengvich.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Eeeevil....Eeevil !

Anonymous said...

I teach at Alternative transfer HS. One half of my home room are kids thrown out of charter schools. They all initially felt something was wrong with THEM, not that they needed some extra academic help and maybe counseling support