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Success Academies: “Reinventing High School” for the Few Who Remain.

March 22, 2018

On March 22, 2018, I received the following promotional email from Success Academies (SA) CEO Eva Moskowitz regarding her SA high schools:

I am excited to announce the latest addition to the Success Academy Ed Institute: a deep dive into our reinvention of the American high school. This is an important expansion of our online resources — including virtual sites for elementary and middle school design, as well as curriculum and other materials — that have been viewed by 25,000 visitors across 47 states and 80 countries.
Our country faces a dire college completion crisis. College enrollment among low-income students has more than doubled over the past 40 years, but graduation rates have barely budged, with fewer than one in five low-income students earning a four-year degree. This staggering educational failure undermines our democracy and threatens to create a permanent underclass. American public high schools, which encourage students to enroll in college but fail to prepare them for its challenges, are largely to blame.
After pioneering distinctive elementary and middle school designs, Success Academy has spent the past four years intensively focused on creating a rigorous and innovative high school model that fully prepares graduates from all backgrounds to thrive and triumph in college and beyond. We are proud to share this virtual experience of our high schools, which documents our approach and values, and the core components that we feel are essential to achieving excellence with a nonselective student body. You can enter classrooms, meet teachers and scholars, and explore the sophisticated academics, diverse extracurricular and summer programs, and robust advising and college preparatory programs that are designed to propel students to and through selective colleges.
Closing the college completion gap is a crucial step in achieving equity for poor children and ensuring the future strength of our country. We hope our virtual high school will inspire and support educators and public officials across our nation as they work toward this goal, and ultimately advance the national movement for educational justice.
Eva Moskowitz
CEO & Founder
Success Academy Charter Schools

I wonder how many SA students would actually make it to graduation.

Not many.

Moskowitz is not forthcoming about enrollment data on SA’s two high schools, High School of the Liberal Arts–Manhattan and High School of the Liberal Arts– Bronx. However, the data is  is somewhere on this extensive spread sheet of NYSED data.

Fortunately, it seems that New York teacher Gary Rubinstein has done the work of locating the numbers; in this January 2018 post, Rubinstein notes that SA has 17 students in the Class of 2018– SA’s first senior class. Some more about SA attrition from Rubinstein’s post:

Something that I think has not been reported widely enough is the attrition rate for Success Academy students.  Success Academy opened in 2006 with 83 Kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Eleven years later there are now 17 twelfth graders set to be the first graduating class.  So we know for sure that at least 56 out of the initial 73 students, which is 77%, have left Success Academy before graduating.  But it is likely more than 77% attrition because Success Academy allows ‘backfilling’ in the early grades.  We don’t know how many of those 17 students currently in twelfth grade were among the 73 original first graders in 2006 and likely we will never know.  But even assuming that all 17 were among the original students, that is still 80% attrition.  Even over an 11 year period, that amounts to about 10% attrition per year for that cohort.

Eighty percent attrition from first to twelfth grade.

This is not how public education operates, but it is how SA operates.

I also noticed that the link in Moskowitz’s promo email includes language that indicates “ensuring” SA’s grads are admitted to “selective” colleges and universities. I wonder if students who cannot be so easily “ensured” choose to exit SA high schools before they reach the point at which college admittance appears to be a non-reality.

The promo further mentions prepping high school students for college beginning in ninth grade– for those who make it that far.

In trying to gain more info on SA high schools, I also examined information regarding the address of SA’s fledgling high schools, which comes with the attendant notes:

111 East 33rd Street, Floor 4 New York, NY 10016

SA High School of the Liberal Arts – Bronx will also be located at this location for the 2017-2018 school year.

SA HSLA – Manhattan main office is on the fourth floor and SA HSLA – Bronx main office is on the sixth floor.

When I googled the address, I came up with another school, Manhattan Academy for Arts Language (MAAL).

I also found these May 15, 2013, minutes from the public hearing regarding Moskowitz’s high school co-location at MAAL. From those minutes:

Community Education Council 2 (“CEC 2”) members and school leaders were given an opportunity to speak first:

  • CEC 2 Member Michael Markowitz repeated information, in multiple resolutions CEC 2 passed, calling for a moratorium on charter schools and co-locations in CSD 2. Mr. Markowitz questioned why SUNY would allow a charter school to be approved with no final facility plan in place.
  • CEC 2 Member Paola de Kock went on record protesting the invasion of public space by private interests. Ms. de Kock stated that this is a “land grab” before Mayor Michael Bloomberg vacates his seat. Ms. de Kock also objected to charter schools that do not provide opportunities for all students, and SA-Manhattan HS would deny high school seats to students who did not attend a middle school which fed into the high school program.
  • City Council Member Rosie Mendez spoke of her previous objections to Success Academy charter schools. Ms. Mendez believes that they do not create options for students in the city. Specifically to M620 (111 East 33rd
    Street, New York, NY 10016), Ms. Mendez expressed concern that the new high school would still overcrowd the building and push out programs and students who currently receive great benefit from the space.

Members of the public gave the following comments:

  • Students from MAAL were fearful that the charter school would take away from their education. One student was concerned that the students from SA-Manhattan HS would not follow the same rules and procedures, which the current students know and with which they are comfortable.
  • A parent spoke out against the co-location, stating that MAAL currently is a place where her child was able to live her dreams. The parent asked the NYCDOE to allow them to continue developing a place that is already succeeding and growing progressively over time.
  • Alice O’Neil, the Manhattan High School District representative of the United Federation of Teachers, urged the public to visit the Brandeis campus, where co-location has resulted in complaints and discord. She said the charter school said that it would not expand, but the facilities are being overtaken by the charter school.

Of course Moskowitz plans to expand her charter school. Moreover, given her adversarial stance towards traditional public schools, I expect that overtaking the entire building would be just fine with her, and, indeed, is likely a byproduct of her plans to ever grow SA.

On the other hand, SA attrition is such that Moskowitz might be hard pressed to retain the student enrollment numbers necessary to aggressively expand SA-brand high schools.

As for leadership: Her two high schools are operated by Teach for America (TFA) alumni, Andrew Malone and Lisa Sun, both of whom are well-versed in the specific corner of ed reform that is SA culture, and both of whom graduated from elite colleges (though one followed her bachelors with a masters from pseudo-postsecondary Relay Graduate School):

Andrew Malone (High School of the Liberal Arts – Manhattan)

Andy began teaching in Sunflower County, Mississippi, as a member of the  2008 Teach for America (TFA) – Mississippi Delta corps. He joined Success Academy in 2011 as a founding fourth grade teacher at SA Harlem 4. He went on to serve as a student achievement manager and leadership resident before becoming the principal of Harlem Central. Andy has a B.A. in American History and Literature from Harvard University and a M.A. In Education Leadership from Columbia University Teachers College. He is the recipient of Harvard’s Jonathan W. Levin Prize for Teaching and Social Justice, TFA-Delta’s Regional Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award, and the Serena Williams / John Nash MISSION Service Award. Aside from education reform and middle school design, Andy’s interests include tennis, cartooning, and writing.

Lisa Sun (High School of the Liberal Arts – Bronx)

Born in China, Ms. Sun grew up in the Vancouver area of Canada and moved to New York in 2010 to serve as a Teach for America corps fellow. She taught third and fourth grades at SA Harlem 2 for two years before returning to Teach for America as a manager of Teacher Leader Development, where she supported corps members across New York City. Rejoining Success Academy in the summer of 2013, Ms. Sun helped to open SA Harlem North Central as a leadership resident. She served as the principal of SA Harlem North Central from 2014 to 2017. Ms. Sun received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her master’s degree from Relay Graduate School for Education.

You can see both Malone and Sun in this SA high school promotional video.

What is not mentioned is how few SA students will make it to this point.

The SA high school experience:

Mission Possible for Very Few.

eva-moskowitz-3  Eva Moskowitz


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Charters, TFA

  1. “…overtaking the entire building would be just fine with her, and, indeed, is likely a byproduct of her plans to ever grow” What most parents don’t see coming in through the front door: co-location brings a parasite which will methodically kill off its host.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: Eva Moskowitz Says She Has Reinvented the High School | Diane Ravitch's blog

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