01 November 2015

At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’ - The New York Times

The PBS News Hour Covered Report
Following negative coverage by The News Hour, the New York Times had done a deep dive into the doings at Eva Moscowitz's Success Academy Charter School Change, and they have discovered Success Academy Charter School have been singling out students for disciplinary actions in an effort to get students who might lower the school's test scores to leave:
From the time Folake Ogundiran’s daughter started kindergarten at a Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the girl struggled to adjust to its strict rules.

She racked up demerits for not following directions or not keeping her hands folded in her lap. Sometimes, after being chastised, she threw tantrums. She was repeatedly suspended for screaming, throwing pencils, running away from school staff members or refusing to go to another classroom for a timeout.

One day last December, the school’s principal, Candido Brown, called Ms. Ogundiran and said her daughter, then 6, was having a bad day. Mr. Brown warned that if she continued to do things that were defiant and unsafe — including, he said, pushing or kicking, moving chairs or tables, or refusing to go to another classroom — he would have to call 911, Ms. Ogundiran recalled. Already feeling that her daughter was treated unfairly, she went to the school and withdrew her on the spot.

Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.


Suspensions at Success, which typically last one or two days, are frequent compared with traditional public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, the most recent one for which state data is available, Success schools suspended between 4 percent and 23 percent of their students at least once, with most suspending more than 10 percent. According to the most recent statistics from the city’s Education Department, from 2013-14, traditional public schools suspended 3 percent of students that academic year.


At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”


The notes also appear to allude to the possibility of getting one child on the “Got to Go” list classified as a 12:1:1 special education student. Those students are entitled to classrooms limited to 12 students, with one teacher and one aide, so Success Academy, which offers only five such classes in a network serving 11,000 students, might not be able to meet the needs of every 12:1:1 student.

Ms. Fleischman, the education manager, warned her colleagues in a follow-up email that the goal should not have been put in an email and that, in any case, a 12:1:1 classification “does not guarantee a withdrawal.”

Asked this month about that remark, she said that she was saying only that the parent of a 12:1:1 student would not be required to take the student out, and was not alluding to any effort to ensure the child would leave.
It gets even better: In response to the PBS investigation, Eva Moskowitz
published one of her former student's disciplinary records, which is a direct violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

I would also argue that it s a violation of anti-retaliation laws, and I would further argue that the parent, or an enterprising prosecutor, might also consider racketeering as icing on the cake:
Anyone who has reported on campus sexual assault knows that school administrations rarely respond, even when they feel unfairly maligned, because they fear violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Passed in 1974, FERPA is a federal law that bans the release of students’ personal information without their consent. “Schools are not supposed to talk about their students, even when the media is saying, ‘Hey, I can’t believe you did this,’ ” says Derek W. Black, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who specializes in education law. “And sometimes that means the media doesn’t get the story straight, but it does protect the student.”

That’s why it was so surprising when Eva Moskowitz, the high-profile head of Success Academy, a network of New York City charter schools, responded to a negative PBS story by releasing the disciplinary record of an ex-student featured in it. Black says this was probably illegal, and it has left the student’s mother, Fatima Geidi, furious and frantic with worry over her 10-year-old son’s reputation. “For a grown woman, an adult, to attack a child is disgusting,” Geidi told me. “There’s no other way around it.”

The skirmish began on Oct. 12, when PBS NewsHour ran a segment titled “Is Kindergarten Too Young to Suspend a Student?” It came as a national backlash has been building against overly strict discipline in public schools, particularly toward very young students. Last year, the Obama administration urged schools to abandon so called zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, warning administrators nationwide that it would investigate racial disparities in student punishment. Shortly before the PBS NewsHour piece ran, a report from the Center for American Progress documented that students are being suspended and expelled as early as preschool. “[I]t is clear that what were intended to be last resort and occasional disciplinary tools have become wildly overused and disproportionately applied to children of color, resulting in dramatically negative long-term effects,” the report said.


The NewsHour segment focused on the suspension of kindergarteners at Success Academy schools, which are known both for their high test scores and their highly structured environments, with a code of conduct running six pages. According to PBS reporter John Merrow, at one Success Academy charter with 203 kindergartners and first-graders, there were 44 out-of-school suspensions in a single year.

Merrow spoke with nearly a dozen families, but only Fatima Geidi and her son, Jamir, agreed to go on camera. Jamir, who left Success Academy last year because he and his mother couldn’t tolerate the frequent suspensions, described some of the infractions that got him in trouble: “I would always have to keep my shirt tucked in. And let’s say I wasn’t wearing black shoes, and I was wearing red shoes. Then that would be an infraction.”

Viewers didn’t get the impression that these were the only reasons the boy, now 10, was disciplined. Fatima Geidi, said that even at his new school, where Jamir hasn’t been suspended, he’s had “meltdowns” and “outbursts.” Still, the segment made it seem as though Success Academy throws kids out for petty misbehavior. Moskowitz herself said that a single incidence of using “sexually explicit language” would get a 5-year-old suspended.


But Moskowitz didn’t just object to the numbers. She wanted to combat the allegation that Success Academy suspends kids without good reason. And so she made Jamir Geidi’s record public, posting a letter to PBS on the Success Academies website that listed 19 specific incidents of misconduct, some of them violent, along with long excerpts of teacher reports on Jamir’s behavior. (Her letter referred to Jamir as “John Doe,” but since he was the only student named in the PBS segment, there was no question about who she was talking about.)

Fatima Geidi disputes some of these examples as either false or exaggerated. Whether or not they happened the way Moskowitz claims, Black says that in revealing them, she likely broke the law. “A student’s records themselves are private, as well as the contents,” he says. “If those are going to be disclosed to outside third parties, they clearly have to have consent.”

With the help of Leonie Haimson, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Fatima Geidi sent Moskowitz a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that her son’s information be taken down. “I’ve seen violations of FERPA, but not in such an obvious, egregious way,” Haimson told me. “Not in a press release sent to the media and posted online. I have not seen this level of violation.”

Moskowitz is unapologetic. In a letter to Geidi, she wrote, “The First Amendment limits a person’s ability to use privacy rights to prevent others from speaking. When somebody chooses to make statements to the press, they waive their privacy rights on the topics they have discussed, particularly when, as here, those statements are inaccurate.”


Whatever you think about the dispute among Fatima Geidi, Merrow, and Moskowitz, however, Jamir Geidi is 10 years old. A document describing him as frighteningly violent now appears in the first page of his Google results. If that’s OK, it doesn’t just hurt him and his mother. It sends a message to any current or former Success Academy parent who might take public issue with Moskowitz’s methods. Fatima Geidi, “was the only parent whom PBS contacted who was brave enough to speak out” under her own name, says Haimson of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “One reason why parents are very afraid—and teachers are afraid too—is they knew they risked the kind of tactics that Eva Moskowitz used against Fatima’s child.” FERPA is supposed to protect such children. We’ll see if it does.
Moskowitz's argument is bullsh%$.

She is forbidden by law from releasing specific student records.

She can contest the News Hour report, and she can say that the school was justified in its disciplinary actions, but she cannot release student records without specific approval of the parents.

That is the law. (there is an exemption for military recruiters, but that's another story)

It is this sense of impunity and lawlessness that permeates the charter school movement, and this should not be supported by taxpayer money.


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