Friday, October 08, 2010

Amsterdam News: charter school (Harlem Children's Zone) Not Making the Grade

Charter school not making the grade

By Nayaba Arinde, 
Amsterdam News Editor
By Cyril Josh Barker, Amsterdam News Staff
Published: Thursday, October 7, 2010 12:05 AM EDT
Who’d have thunk it? When Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrestled school control from the Board of Education in 2002, he said a near Nirvana would ensue in the New York public school system; thousands of parents – perhaps close to 1.1 million schools kids, may beg to differ.

The release last week of the report card for the city’s schools show a drop in the grades, which have the uber hyped charter schools doing even worse.

The Department of Education released its report card for the 1,100 middle school and elementary schools in the city, shocking many. According to the DOE, 685 schools received a grade of “A” or “B” while eight schools received an “F” grade.

“Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have failed,” said City Councilman Charles Barron, the former chair of the City Council’s Education Committee. “The test scores prove that we right all along. Scores dropped 26 percent in reading and 28 percent in math. This at a time when they turned our schools into test taking mills, with test prep every other period. There’s no arts, no music, no science labs, no extra curricular activities. Then they have the nerve to push charter schools, which the test scores show have not been as successful as they claim. Even the banner school – Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone did not fair as well as they declared.”

The test scores sent some parents and educators into a tizzy. Schools that receive an “F” or a “C” three years in a row are at risk for closing and restructuring. The grades are based on test performance at local schools which many argue is unfair.

Criticism about how easy testing was forced changes by making the grading process tougher this year by grading on a curve. Last year 84 percent of school received an “A.” This year only 25 percent of school got that same grade.

Of the schools that made a “C” was the famed charter school Harlem Children’s Zone/Promise Academy II, which had a higher grade last year.

On the school’s report card, the DOE said that while HCZ, which is ran by celebrated educator Geoffrey Canada, had superior performance in school environment and student performance, student progress received an “F” grade.

Student progress measures median student improvement from last year to this year in English Language Arts and math. HCZ received a score of 10.6 out of 60 in the progress area.

According to reports Canada has said that the grade is “fair criticism” and that the “C” is wake up call for educators to step their game up. However, two more “C” grades could close and revamp the HCZ branch.

Hype over Canada’s schools has been the subject of several media appearances including ABC World News Tonight, the Oprah Winfrey Show and a recent movie titled “Waiting for Superman” about the country’s flawed public education system.

The grade has reopened the conversation on charter schools as a better choice for the city’s children. Mayor Michael Bloomberg aims to open 100 charter schools at the same time the report card reveals that charter schools underperformed district schools.

United Federation of Teacher’s President Michael Mulgrew said that charter school system is not the best and that the report validates his theory.

“Based on the progress reports, Superman must have been delayed,” he said. “This means that either the strategy Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have touted so often for school reform — the creation of more charter schools — isn’t working. Or that the entire progress-report methodology, which relies almost completely on standardized test scores — is flawed.”

“These scores remind us that we should never believe the hype, that we should scrutinize what we are being told,” said Sen. Bill Perkins. “Our children deserve a state of the art education, and the results show that we are not getting this, even in the places that are bragging that superman has arrived,” said Perkins referencing the documentary film “Waiting for Superman.”

“Where there is success we should celebrate it; but we have those models in the public school system too. You have PS180 in Harlem, with Principal Peter McFarlane. But they don’t look at those types of schools to see what the leadership is doing there and try and to replicate it in other schools. The charter school movement is trying to undermine public schools. Superman may be coming, but in all fairness he’s not here yet, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The charter school movement needs to stop misleading our parents that this is the answer then coming up short come test time. Our parents are desperately trying to give their kids a good education, so they will believe anything. Sometimes their faith is misplaced.”

According to the UFT, of the 60 elementary or middle school charters that were rated, 48 percent got As or Bs. By contrast, 61 percent of district schools got As or Bs.

Assemblywoman Inez Barron said that the grade is a clear example that the city should put the breaks on rushing to get charter schools off the ground and that they are no different from any other school.

She said, “I think that this is a blatant timely revelation that charter schools are not achieving at the level that have been widely reported by Bloomberg and company. With all of the support from large corporations, HCZ is demonstrating that they are no different than public schools.”

Sen. Perkins held the first hearing on charter schools earlier this year and is planning to hold another one soon. His stance on the situation is “don’t believe the hype.” Perkins also believes that all charter schools should be reviewed.

“All this hype and to come up with these result is why all the schools - especially charter schools, who keep talking about their success, is why we did the hearings because we wanted to know the truth. That’s why we came up with the legislation to protect the Special Ed and homeless students who were being discriminated against in the charter schools. We said that there should not be for profit management companies running the charter schools, and we put in the legislation that that should be the case. At the hearings we talked about the co-location of schools like Eva Moskowitz Success Academy, because it has led to a lot of fighting between the parents and the students who used to work together in their schools. Now you have them pitted against each other.”

“With the new cap increase we are set to have 460 charter schools, but that only provides for 100,000 students out of 1.1 million. That is 80 percent of Black and Latino students who could not get into these schools,” decried Councilman Barron. “And then with charter schools if there are certain students who are not performing well academically - they are either being put out of the schools or not even getting in. It’s very arbitrary.”

Recalling Bloomberg’s 2006 comment to the AmNews that charter schools are the private schools for the inner city students, Perkins balked, “That is an offensive remark alluding to the notion of creating a school system that is separate and unequal. We have many, many examples in traditional public schools that are working hard with our students, but he is dismissing that effort. Why can’t out kids get a decent education in public schools? What is the result of mayoral control?” asked Perkins, who voted against the mayoral control bill twice in the Senate. “He said there would be improvement, but the schools have not improved. My office is open to work with parents and educators to replicate the models of success in our public schools.

Last year Gov. David Paterson sign the bill into law which extended mayoral control over New York City's school governance and 1.1 million students until 2015. There had been much protesting though, with the likes of retired educator Jitu Weusi telling the AmNews, "We, The Coalition for Public Education, will continue to develop and build a pressure group to end mayoral control at the earliest possible date."

Meanwhile, current City Council Education Committee Chair, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was impressed with at least one of the schools in his district; “Washington Heights Academy has experienced spectacular growth and improvement over the past year, thanks to the leadership and excellence of the principal, Crystal Felix, the teachers, and the significant parental and community involvement. Now that the school has a proper building and enough space, I’m sure they will do even better next year. Their performance should demonstrate to the DOE the ability of schools to improve, with the right ingredients, and that test scores are not always the final answer on whether or not the school should close. Thankfully, their improvement is reflected on the Department of Education’s progress report – where they leaped from an F to a B, especially in a year when most other schools declined significantly in their progress reports, and hopefully now the DOE will take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to allow the school to expand.”

“What we need is to revolutionize public schools with a culturally relevant curriculum, smaller class sizes, principals who know how to lead, and teachers who know how to teach,” said Barron. “We need to be teaching about advanced technology and the green economy so that our children can compete in the world.”

The Brooklyn councilman concluded, “Obviously dictatorial control of schools doesn’t work. We tried to tell him. Our public schools need to be in the control of parents and the community, as opposed to business men who see the $23billion budget as a means to giving no-bid contracts to their cronies.

Klein must be fired and Bloomberg has to be challenged.”

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