school turnaround

State board members applaud progress at schools run by for-profit company despite low grades

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board members David Freitas and B.J. Watts at a 2015 meeting.

Five years after the Indiana State Board of Education took control over three Indianapolis Public Schools and controversially hired a for-profit management company to turn them around, those school have not shown marked improvement on annual state exams.

But when the schools came up for discussion at a board meeting Wednesday, members said they were impressed by progress the schools have made on an interim test that tracks whether students are improving.

“The data presented today by Charter Schools USA is going in the right direction,” said board member David Freitas. “To turn around schools is a very difficult progress. They are making, in my opinion, extraordinary progress toward turning those schools around. They’re not where we want them to be yet, but the data that was presented today is really making inroads into turning those schools around.”

The board heard a presentation from the management company, Florida-based Charter Schools USA, which took over Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School in 2011 after years of posting rock-bottom test scores.

Sherry Hage, chief academic officer for Charter Schools USA, said students at the three school are still posting test scores that are below national averages on the MAP test, which is designed by the Northwest Evaluation Association and is given several times throughout the school year. But results were ticking up during the last school year, she said.

“We are seeing great growth with our students and getting them to grade level,” Hage said. “Now we are providing more opportunities in terms of after-school tutoring, office hours and online (support).”

More students are now meeting grade level expectations than early 2015, but Howe and Donnan still were rated F’s by the state in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Manual received a D in 2014 and 2015. At all three schools in 2015, between 70 and 89 percent of students couldn’t pass state exams.

Here’s the NWEA MAP data on the number of students achieving at grade level:

  • Manual High School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made a 7 percentage point gain in math (29 percent to 36 percent) and a 5 percentage point gain in reading (36 percent to 41 percent).
  • Howe High School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made a 8 percentage point gain in math (16 percent to 24 percent) and a 22 percentage point gain in reading (17 percent to 39 percent).
  • Emma Donnan Middle School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made an 8 percentage point gain in math (15 percent to 23 percent) and a 22 percentage point gain in reading (13 percent to 35 percent).

Freitas proposed that Charter Schools USA come back to the board at some point with proposals about creating feeder elementary and middle schools that would get kids involved in the charter network’s curriculum even earlier.

“All the education research says you should have these students as early as possible in the system, so that’s what I’m promoting,” Freitas said. “We need to push Charter Schools USA’s influence back as far as possible so that students have an experience, potentially a K-12 experience, with Charter Schools USA. Based on what I’ve seen across the country, if we were to make that happen in Indiana, students would be better served by that model.”

Indianapolis Public Schools officials, however, are less impressed with the charter school network. In August, WFYI reported that IPS board members were troubled by data from an elementary school run by the company that feeds into Donnan that showed students were about one year or more behind in reading and math.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the board would talk more in the future about whether to expand Charter Schools USA’s footprint within IPS.

“That’s one of the reasons for Charter Schools USA and IPS to come back for presentations because the board wanted to keep abreast as to what is going on and how it’s looking and what is the data you are using to drive your instruction,” Ritz said. “That will be a continued conversation.”

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.