'At-Risk’ Kids No Longer Get Preferential Treatment
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NEW YORK CITY -- Eva Moskowitz’s controversial Success Academy charter school network has received approval from SUNY’s Charter School Institute (CSI) to change its admission policy at all 11 schools – a move that has raised the ire of education advocates and the teachers union.
Until now, “at-risk” kids – meaning English Language Learners (ELL) and children zoned for failing schools -- received first shot in Success Academy’s admission lottery. General education students were admitted only after the at-risk students.
Under the new policy, roughly 20 percent of seats next year will be set aside for ELL students, and no preference will be given to children zoned for failing schools.
Opponents say that this change contradicts the original goal of charter schools, which was to provide options for low-income or at-risk children stuck in bad schools.
This is a complete reversal of the Charter School Institute's position taken on the identical question presented just one year ago,” said Jim Devor, president of Brooklyn’s District 15 Community Education Council (CEC). The district includes Cobble Hill, where Moskowitz plans to open a Success Academy next September.
Devor said that Moskowitz was notified by CSI’s vice president and general counsel last year that “such a change would be a violation of the [Charter School] Act, and cannot be approved by the institute."
The teachers’ union spoke out against the change, saying the revision constitutes a “dramatic repudiation of what has been, until now, the Success Charter Network's ostensible commitment to serve New York City's students with the greatest need,” according to a statement by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
“By permitting the Charter School Institute's approval of these changes to go forward, the SUNY Trustees have thus ratified Eva's avowed agenda of transitioning the Success Academies target constituencies from high-needs children to ‘middle class’ families,” said the UFT.
But Jenny Sedlis, Success Academy spokesperson, said the change would help English Language Learners. "The union and their supporters are being disingenuous and they know it,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Friday. “Changing this preference will ensure that ELLs -- who are among the most at risk children in the city — have a better chance of getting in to one of our schools. We have a tremendous track record of educating ELL children, and we want to make sure we can meet even more of the demand we get every year for seats."
The teachers’ union says that Success Academy’s track record with ELL students is less than impressive, however. “Success Academies have enrolled far fewer high-needs students – especially English Language Learners and students with special needs – than the public schools in the same geographical district,” according to the UFT. “Those high needs students who do enter the school are often ‘counseled out.’”
Backing From Walcott
Moskowitz has been pushing to expand into middle-class Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods, despite opposition from local parents who fear that the charter schools will drain resources from local public schools.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said he backs "the expansion of charters throughout our system in all neighborhoods," according to the Associated Press.