Sunday, June 5, 2011

Integration, Zero Tolerance, "No Excuses" Charter Schools and Many Questions

Integration, Zero Tolerance, and "No Excuses" in Charter Schools Need To Be Examined More Closely
Dana Golstein says: "I’ve written extensively about the underappreciated social and academic benefits of integrated student bodies, so I’m thrilled to see influential charter school advocates embracing the cause. That said, there are some troubling questions about whether the most politically popular charter school model — the “No Excuses” model popularized by KIPP and embraced by Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network — is palatable to middle-class and affluent parents." From Betsy Combier: Even Eva Moskowitz' husband Eric Grannis agrees.           
From Editor Betsy Combier:

Eva Moskowitz infuriates me. The backstory is this:

In 1999, 2000, and 2001 I was elected PTA President of a middle school on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Booker T. Washington MS 54. I wrote a report on the racial segregation and theft of funds by the almost all-white honors program parents whose children were in the Delta Program, who were assisted by District 3 DOE Parent Engagement person D.J. Shephard (See Booker T. Washington Middle School 54, Grievance Brings Retaliation and the followup story posted 10/21/2003 and 10/28/2003). White parents Jenny Smith, Sue Schneider, Amy Frawley, Lauren Coleman-Lochner (whose daughter attended Stuyvesant High School with my daughter) all attacked me for my advocacy. Their actions are fully documented in a book I am writing on so-called 'parent leaders' of New York City.

I remember the day in 2001 that Hilary Clinton, Charles Rangel, members of the NY City Council - Eva Moskowitz - and several other "prominent" politicians did a walk through the school. My old friend NBC commentator Gabe Pressman was outside the school when I, PTA President, arrived, and he introduced me to UFT President Randi Weingarten and her colleague Jerry Goldman. Randi told Jerry to give me his card and she told me to call her. The MS 54 Principal Larry Lynch hated the fact that I was there, told me that I could not walk with the crowd, and that I must make sure that absolutely no students were visible.

What I haven't written about yet is the do-nothing, hands-off policies of Eva Moskowitz, Scott Stringer, Dennis Walcott, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Joel Klein, and all members of the New York State legislature (and major media) who, in their desire to not stop the inequality at Booker T., were conspirators in it's success at keeping African-American, Hispanic, special needs, and ELL kids on the school-to-prison pipeline (the non-white, not DELTA students). I can tell you, I sent my detailed report to everyone in the City of New York who had the responsibility and/or duty to do something. Helen Foster would not even open the envelope, refused the certified mail and sent it back un-opened. Ironically she is currently the co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus at the NY City Council. I received a personal email from former NYC BOE General Counsel Chad Vignola who ridiculed me. Didn't matter, I had the goods on him.

Anyway, jump forward to 2007, I had set up the bus and private cars for NEST+M parents and I was sent an email from Eva Moskowitz' husband Attorney Eric Grannis asking for a private car to pick up and drop off their son who was admitted to NEST+M. I got them the car service. Later that year (2006) we on the PTA heard that Eva and the NY City Council had made a donation of $350,000 to NEST+M just before she, Eva, gave up her seat. I asked the DOI to look into that, but never heard another thing about it. No one on the PTA had an accurate accounting of where that money went, if, indeed this amount was given (still a mystery).

But what is not a mystery to me at all is the consistant lack of concern and action by anyone in NYC to the discrimination and harm that non-white kids are subjected to in the City's public schools.

Integration and the ‘no excuses’ charter school movement
By Dana Goldstein, Washington Post

“Morning Meeting” at Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Rhode Island, where one-third of students are middle-class or affluent, and about 45 percent are white. (Dana Goldstein) In Sunday’s Daily News, lawyer Eric Grannis, a charter school board member and the husband of New York City charter school missionary Eva Moskowitz, wrote an op-ed lamenting the racial and socioeconomic homogeneity of most charters. Grannis called for new laws to allow charter operators to design expanded admissions zones with the goal of achieving more diverse schools.

I’ve written extensively about the underappreciated social and academic benefits of integrated student bodies, so I’m thrilled to see influential charter school advocates embracing the cause. That said, there are some troubling questions about whether the most politically popular charter school model — the “No Excuses” model popularized by KIPP and embraced by Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network — is palatable to middle-class and affluent parents.

Consider the experience of Rhode Island, whose state legislature, in 2008, passed a law allowing mayors of neighboring towns and cities to form partnerships to issue school charters. The resulting schools must be regional, accepting students by lottery from both urban and suburban districts. The explicit goal of the legislation is to create racially and socioeconomically diverse schools.

In March I visited Blackstone Valley Prep in Cumberland, the first of these “Mayoral Academies.” I was impressed. Not only is Blackstone Valley one of the most diverse schools of any type I have ever seen, but the children seemed joyful and energetic despite the strict routines, which include uniforms, silence in the hallways, chanting multiplication tables, and regimented bathroom breaks.

I wanted to get a fuller picture of how middle class families were experiencing an integrated No Excuses charter, so I reached out to parents whose children have attended the school. Kerryn Azavedo, a graphic designer in Lincoln, Rhode Island, pulled her son out of Blackstone Valley after his kindergarten year, dismayed by what she calls the school’s overly strict discipline policies and lack of after-school activities. She complained that Blackstone Valley’s extended school day, from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., left her son exhausted and with little opportunity to participate in organized extracurriculars. (Extended learning days were originally intended to provide enrichment for poor children whose parents are unable to provide after-school supervision or activities.)

When Azavedo brought her concerns to the Blackstone Valley administration, “I never felt welcome,” she said in a phone interview. “They say, ‘This may not really be for you, somebody else might really need your spot, you’d be okay wherever you went.’” Azavedo didn’t like the fact that the school lacks an independent parent-teacher organization; instead, administrators organize parental involvement. And she was surprised to learn her son had sat for standardized tests five times during the school year, and unhappy that the school did not notify parents of each individual testing date.

Though initially attracted to the idea of an integrated charter school, Azavedo is now actively organizing against the opening of new Rhode Island Mayoral Academies throughout the state. “If it’s not good enough for mine, dammit, it’s not good enough for yours,” she said. “I can do something about it because I’m an in-tune parent. I bought it for a year, but I caught on.”

According to Blackstone Valley, five middle-class and affluent families pulled their children out of the school after the 2009-2010 academic year, an attrition rate similar to that of less-advantaged families. The school also noted that there are a number of extra-curricular activities available for Blackstone Valley fifth-graders, including basketball, Guitar Club, Shakespeare Club and Step Club.

Patricia Cunningham is a middle-class parent who is very happy with the school, not least because she is pleased that her son is meeting children from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Her first-grader has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and anxiety but has thrived in Blackstone Valley’s structured environment.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more for him,” Cunningham said. “I know that parents are hearing some things about the charter school, like about the long day. They wonder, ‘When are the kids going to be kids?’” But my son comes out of there like a rocket. They work so hard during the day to keep these kids on task, but they do it in this amazing manner — whipping them into this wonderful pep rally kind of thing and then using that energy. He never vocalizes, ‘I don’t like school, I don’t want to go to school.’”

What seems clear is that the “No Excuses” model is not for everyone, and presents particular challenges to parents who are accustomed to the schedules and social routines of high-quality neighborhood public schools. It’s important to note, however, that although other charter school models are less trendy, they do exist. In Grannis’s op-ed, he mentions Community Roots, a diverse Brooklyn charter based on more traditional philosophies of educational progressivism and activity-based learning. The school is overwhelmingly popular with both middle-class and poor families in its neighborhood.

I think ideally, we’d see more progressive charter schools like Community Roots alongside more efforts, like the one in Rhode Island, to diversify the student populations within both neighborhood schools and choice schools, by drawing zoning boundaries with integration in mind.

Dana Goldstein is a Spencer fellow in education journalism at Columbia University and a contributing writer to the Nation and the Daily Beast. Follow her work at

Charters, in black and white: Integrating charter schools is long overdue
BY Eric Grannis, NY Daily News, May 29th 2011, 4:00 AM

Minorities who attend diverse schools are more likely to attend college.

About 90% of students attending charter schools in New York City are minorities. This has provoked some to accuse charter schools of creating "racial isolation" and rolling back the integration efforts that started with the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling of 1954.

At the national level, UCLA's Civil Rights Project issued a report lamenting that "charter schools enroll a disproportionate share of black students and expose them to the highest level of segregation."

As a charter school trustee and husband of a charter school operator, my first reaction to hearing this was disbelief: How could anyone complain about giving too many minority kids a good education? But perhaps these critics have a point.

Charter schools justify high minority enrollment as helping close the racial achievement gap. Seats in good schools shouldn't be "wasted" on white students, who usually already have access to the better public schools in any given geographic area. It's a logical argument; however, the counterarguments are stronger.

Minorities who attend diverse schools are more likely to attend college. And as Michal Kurlaender noted in a report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "black students who attended racially isolated schools obtained lower paying and more racially isolated jobs than whites."

Integrated schools are also better for white students: Anyone who is uncomfortable with those from a different ethnic background is ill-equipped to function in today's diverse workplaces.

Designing schools for minorities also advances the notion that "they learn better when they're with each other," a belief often ascribed, falsely, to charters. The problem minorities have isn't being unable to learn at the good schools white kids attend; it's that they are often unable to attend these desirable schools in the first place.

It can also be problematic when an all-white charter school board decides to open a charter school to serve minority children: In such a case, charges of paternalism are understandable. As WNYC reported earlier this year, Bronx City Councilwoman Helen Foster confronted white panelists from the Harlem Children's Zone, telling them: "I thought maybe there would be someone talking to me who looked like the kids and the families that we're saving."

Maybe we'd serve minority students better if, instead of creating good schools for minorities to make up for the bad schools minorities have had for so long, we just created good schools for everyone. As the Supreme Court has said, "he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

That doesn't mean sticking one's head in the sand about racial issues. To attract white parents to integrated schools, we must reassure them that their children's needs won't be ignored by educators focused on remedying racial injustices. Similarly, minority parents must be reassured that their children won't be tracked into low performing classes and will be valued for something other than diversity bragging rights.

Charter schools that address these concerns can be both academically successful and racially and economically integrated. Two examples are Community Roots and Brooklyn Prospect, two wonderful charter schools in Brooklyn with parents of every race and class busting down the doors to get their kids in.

Sadly, Community Roots was prevented from expanding to a middle school because a public school opposed sharing space with it. This was particularly unfortunate because there are too few public schools in New York that offer students the level of diversity that Community Roots does. Its student body is 30% white and 70% minority.

To encourage diverse charter schools, the laws regarding admissions should be changed. Currently, a charter school must give preference to applicants from the school district in which it is located. But these districts seem designed to maintain segregation. For example, District 4 encompasses East Harlem, a primarily Hispanic area. Its southern boundary separates it from the primarily white upper East Side, while its western boundary separates it from the primarily African-American Central Harlem.

Instead, charters should be allowed to design admissions zones to promote integration. A school on the upper East Side, for example, should be allowed to include East Harlem in its catchment zone.

If charter school advocates hope to reshape America's schools, we must engage with those criticizing our efforts. To circle the wagons based upon the assumption that all of our critics have ulterior motives is both unfair and unwise. Integration is a profoundly important goal. Charters must do their part in achieving it.

Grannis is the Founder of the Tapestry Project, which promotes the creation of integrated charter schools. His wife runs the Success Charter Network of schools in New York.