Keep the charters out of our school

April 29, 2015

Marilena Marchetti reports from New York City on another battle pitting charter operators against parents, students and teachers trying to defend their schools.

A VOTE scheduled for April 29 at a meeting of the New York City Department of Education's (DOE) highest decision-making body, the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP), will show how top school officials answer the question facing public institutions and politicians around the country right now: do Black lives matter?

The vote will be whether on to approve three proposals allowing charter schools to move into school buildings with already existing schools and open their independently run schools inside them.

Co-locations show how charter schools are parasitic. One way that charters thrive is by using the process and the closure policy to dispossess existing schools of their resources.

This is the fear of parents, teachers and students at three district (non-charter) middle schools--Arturo Toscanini, New Millennium Business Academy and Urban Science Academy--which share a building at 1000 Teller Ave., in the backyard of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Success Academy charter schools CEO Eva Moskowitz wants a piece of their pie, and she just might get it if the PEP doesn't vote "no" on a co-location proposal this evening.

Eva Moskowitz
Eva Moskowitz

Moskowitz justifies the proposal to co-locate grades 3 through 5 of her Success Academy Bronx 3 charter school at 1000 Teller Ave. on the basis that the building is "under-enrolled."

But that's for two reasons: One, the school included a fifth grade class up until two years ago when the district suddenly eliminated it; and two, the formula that determines a building's capacity does not take into account that special education classrooms are required by law to have no more than 12 students at a time, whereas general education classrooms are allowed up to 30.

According to Jim Donohue, an eighth grade English teacher at Arturo Toscanini, there are no unused classrooms in the entire school. Should the proposal go through, 15 classrooms would be lost and their occupants displaced.

On April 16, a public hearing on the question before the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) was held to gather community feedback. The auditorium was packed with over 600 parents, teachers, students and community members. The overbearing orange of Success Academy T-shirts overwhelmed the crowd, yet opposition was palpable.

What you can do

Show your support for public schools by attending the Panel for Educational Policy meeting and demanding a "no" vote on all charter co-location proposals. Gather on Wednesday, April 29, at 6 p.m., at M.S. 131, 100 Hester St. in Manhattan.

One student who spoke against the proposal said, "Why is Success Academy trying to invade our community when their schools have 2,500 empty seats? You are trying to break our community. You are taking away our main privilege--our space--which we need." Many people echoed that sentiment and directed comments to Moskowitz and Andrew Cuomo, neither of whom attended.

Sadly, the comment of a retired employee whose wife attended the school rings true: "This community has never gotten any respect."

AFTER LOSING a chunk of its student body due to the district decision about the fifth grade class, the three schools at 1000 Teller Ave. were deemed low-performing and in need of intervention because of low standardized test scores and lack of adequate operating funds.

The schools became part of de Blasio's School Renewal Program, which includes a total of 94 schools citywide. According to the DOE website, Renewal Schools will be held "accountable" for improving test scores, or they will face "consequences," up to and including being closed down and replaced.

And now, in an outrageous yet completely predictable twist, charter school operators are targeting schools in the Renewal program for co-location--as this infographic illustrates.

This trend defeats the purpose of the program itself, which is supposed be to "supply support and resources." Engaging entire school communities in a Hunger Games-like fight for space during the weeks of high-stakes testing certainly is not supporting schools. Forcing schools to give up space and reorganize and reestablish their community is not supplying resources.

Moskowitz's proposal to "co-locate" with the Renewal Schools at 1000 Teller Ave. during testing season will upset the existing schools' ability to raise their performance--at the same time as Success Academy is positioned to benefit from the fallout. This underhanded maneuvering gives the lie to Moskowitz's claim that she is only working in the interests of students, especially the most disadvantaged.

Jim Donohue underlined the point with his remarks at the April 16 hearing:

I've been here for 16 years, and they will have to drag me out of here to get me to leave, because I love my job. I love my co-workers, I love my principal, I love my assistant principal...but most of all, I love my students. They would tell you what I just said was "mad corny" but it's true.

I know that you folks from the Success Academy love your jobs, and your co-workers and your students, and I'm not here to attack you or your school or Ms. Moskowitz. I admire your passion, and you've brought a lot of adorable kids here tonight.

But I'd like you to imagine something. Imagine a warm April evening like this one five years from now. Imagine eight busloads of people wearing GREEN shirts pull up in front of the SUCCESS ACADEMY COMPLEX, the former home of public school M.S. 145. (We'll be out of your hair by then.)

What do these green-shirted people want? They want 15 of your classrooms. Maybe, like I did tonight, you overhear one of the green-shirted folks say to a child, "These Success Academy people want to deny you an education!" What are you going to do? Will you agree with them? Success Academy teachers: Will you quietly pack up your classrooms and move, as--incredibly--I'm expected to do?

AS SOMEONE who works in a DOE school that shares space with other schools with separate administrations and designated space, I can say that there are many challenges to what is called "co-locations." One is the inefficient duplication of administrative responsibilities. Co-locations can create an adversarial, competitive atmosphere when space is a limited resource.

The biggest difficulty stems from the premium placed on biased standardized state test scores as the measure of our students' worth, to which incredibly high stakes are attached. What might look like youthful rivalry from the outside is overshadowed by a looming threat. The message from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is unequivocal: perform poorly on standardized tests, and we might close your school and replace it.

Moskowitz loves standardized testing, of course. In a recent op-ed article, the charter school mogul wrote, "Tests aren't perfect, but something's rotten in Denmark (or the Bronx) when a school has a 90 percent failure rate. Not having this data is as foolish as not installing a smoke detector."

One hopes Moskowitiz isn't referring to English Language Learners (ELL), Special Education students and Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) who predictably score lower on standardized tests--and who just so happen to be routinely barred from attending her Success Academy schools--as "rotten."

Regardless, she considers them displaceable. Just over one-quarter of the student body at 1000 Teller Ave. is ELLs, 10 percent is in Special Education, and 40 students get SIFE programming. These populations typically do not fare well on biased standardized tests.

The way that standardized tests are being used in this case to harm a school community highlights how opting out of tests can be a way for communities can challenge the hgh-stakes testing frenzy that threatens their livelihoods.

On April 29, students and parents will send a clear message with their mobilization for the PEP meeting: hands off. Hopefully, the PEP will do the right thing and heed the words of one student who spoke to them last week: "My school is a family. Families stay together. My home is my heart, my heart is my school."

Further Reading

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