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August 23, 2017

Talking Points

.@SuccessCharters students come from families with $32K median income but outperform richest districts in NY

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Success Academy Charter Schools’ new state test scores were so good, students across the network outperformed every district in New York state on the annual grades 3-8 exams.

Of the New York City charter network’s 5,800 students who took the test, 95 percent passed the math test and 84 percent passed reading. As a comparison, 41 percent of New York City’s students passed the reading test and 38 percent passed the math test, a few percentage point improvement over last year.

This achievement comes from a student group made up of 95 percent children of color and whose families have a median income of $32,000. The five-highest performing districts in New York have less than 10 percent students of color and family median incomes ranging from $130,000 to $290,000, according to a Success Academy analysis.

Of Success Academy’s special needs students, 60 percent passed reading and 82 percent passed math. The network also calculated the achievement of its highest-needs students, who are placed in classes with 12 students and two teachers: 32 percent of those students passed reading and 54 percent passed math.

The school’s students who are homeless or live in temporary housing passed math at a higher rate than the network’s overall student population, at 97 percent. They tied the network’s overall reading pass rate of 84 percent.

This is the first year Success Academy has run an analysis to compare its performance to other districts. Scores at the charter network have been historically high: This year’s achievement is an improvement of 1 and 2 percentage points in math and reading, respectively, over 2016.

Last fall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized Success Academy’s high scores as being a result of a test-prep environment.

However, “Test prep doesn’t explain the performance of our kids,” said Success Academy spokesperson Brian Whitley. “The tests are aligned to standards that ask for more than that.”

Whitley attributed the high achievement to content-rich curriculum and close monitoring of student progress by teachers. The network said it received 17,000 applications for 3,000 open seats this year.

“These results should inspire the de Blasio administration to immediately support Success Academy and other high-performing charters to serve more students in public space,” said Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy founder and CEO, in a press release. The de Blasio administration and Moskowitz have long fought over access to city space for her expanding charter school network. But in a win for charter schools this July, an extension of de Blasio’s control of the city schools included provisions making it easier for more charters to open or grow.

However, Joseph Belluck, head of the State University of New York’s charter authorizer committee, said Success Academy’s further growth would be difficult after its board chair, Daniel Loeb, made racially charged comments about an African-American state senator.

“It would be difficult for me to expand the network of a school that has somebody on the board that holds those views,” Belluck said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Loeb has since issued an apology, which Moskowitz called “absolutely necessary,” but some have argued the response was insufficient and want Loeb to resign. The fallout from the comments reflect a larger divide within the education reform community, which has been split by the Trump administration’s support of school choice initiatives. At the beginning of the summer, Democrats for Education Reform head Shavar Jeffries stepped down from the Success Academy board.

Disclosure: Campbell Brown, The 74’s co-founder, sits on Success Academy’s board of directors.