May 2, 2022

Gary Rubinstein: Bloomberg Donates $200 Million To Success Academy And Promise Academy

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Michael Bloomberg is throwing money at charter schools again. Gary Rubinstein has some thoughts about the schools on the receiving end this time. Reposted with permission.

Two charter school networks that were featured in the 2010 propaganda film ‘Waiting For Superman’ have just received $100 million each from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Success Academy is a network of 47 schools with around 20,000 students. Harlem Children Zone’s Promise Academy is a network of 2 schools with around 2,000 students. They both have been around for about 17 years. The were chosen because, at least to Bloomberg, they have demonstrated proven results.

Back when Bloomberg was mayor and these schools were just starting, the promise of charter schools was that they would increase standardized test scores. In my analysis of the data over the years I’ve found that most charter schools do not have very good test scores and those that do often get those test scores at the expense of something else, usually student attrition. Harlem Children Zone Promise Academy has about a 50% attrition rate and better than average test scores. Success Academy has a 75% attrition rate but outstanding test scores, especially in the 3-8 tests.

Though these are both well known charter schools that were both in ‘Waiting For Superman’ they have very different philosophies. Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy schools are based on the premise that schools on their own cannot overcome poverty. So Harlem Children’s Zone offers many ‘wraparound’ services. On their website they describe this as:

“Harlem Children’s Zone breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty with on-the-ground, all-around programming that builds up opportunities for children and families to thrive in school, work, and life. From early childhood, education, and career programs to community outreach and wellness initiatives, HCZ opens pathways to mobility and prosperity.

Our mission centers around the belief that the most powerful way to fight poverty is to invest in every opportunity for people to rise above it. From education and employment to housing and healthy living, we’ll do whatever it takes so that our children, families, and communities can live up to their promising futures.”

Success Academy takes the opposite philosophy that acknowledging the impact of hunger or poor health on education is just an ‘excuse’ and that schools with high standards will get the high test scores regardless of those external factors.

Both schools have had, over the years, scandals where they have dumped undesirable students. Promise Academy, early on, ‘fired’ one of their cohorts of 8th graders when they were not performing well enough. But other than that one class, I have not heard anything about Promise Academy doing something like this. Success Academy has racked up so many episodes like this. They have paid millions of dollars in discrimination lawsuits, one for creating something called the ‘got to go list’ for students they wanted to force out of their schools. Year after year, Success Academy rids themselves of the students they don’t think fit their mold with an unethical strategy where they threaten to have a student repeat a grade — unless, they transfer out of the school and then they will promote them.

Success Academy is going to use some of the money to build a new facility. If this means that the NYC DOE doesn’t have to pay as much of their rent as before then there will be, at least, something good about this donation. It isn’t clear how Promise Academy can possibly spend $100 million. They only have 2,000 students so per-capita this is about $50,000 per student. They mentioned something about financial aid for graduates who go to college and for loan payments for teachers who work there. If some of that money goes toward helping the physical and mental health of their families, that would also be something that would be helpful.

But I wonder how much of this money will be used as a weapon against public schools. One negative use of the money would be for these schools to increase their disingenuous PR campaigns. Both schools spend a lot of money on advertising, so they should be able to ramp that up with this money. Having all this money will enable these schools to lower their class sizes which can help them get their test scores even better (really, Success Academy can’t really get scores much higher than the nearly 100% passing rates they already have), and if it were still Bloomberg’s education reform era, this would serve as a way to shut down schools that have lower test scores. But the whole ‘shut down schools’ thing isn’t really popular anymore. They did it in New Orleans, they did it in Chicago, and they did it in New York City. But this isn’t a reform that has been happening much lately and I don’t see this $200 million really turning back the clock to the Bloomberg days.

Like Mike Bloomberg’s almost comically awful attempt to become relevant again when he briefly entered the 2020 presidential primary, this effort will probably not have a big impact on his goal of demolishing public schools and teachers’ unions.

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