Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PS 123 and Harlem Success: not separate, not equal

GEM joined with parent activists yesterday at PS 123 for another protest against the placing of a Moskowitz charter school in an existing public school. The speakers kept hammering the point they’ve been making at earlier demonstrations in front of the school, that quality education should not just be for some children, but for all children.

Community activist Bill Hargraves and former PS 123 parent said: “All we are asking is to stop systematically, methodically, destroying out schools. They are destroying us under the pretense they are helping us.”

“If the charters go under the umbrella of the DoE,” he said, “everything should be equal. We have to thank the mayor, because the mayor has woken up the sleeping giant in this city. We will not be rebuffed. We will do this continuously. We want to go down and tell him what exactly this mayoral control is. It’s not leadership. It’s control.”

The selection process for the charter school, it turns out, was not so much by lottery as some of us had thought. At inception, the DoE supplied the Harlem Success with a list of students who had scored a 3 or 4 on the citywide tests. The charter then wrote to the parents of these students to invite them to apply. Creaming is one aspect of the inequality charters are injecting into communities.

Another aspect is the quality of the learning environment. Not only is there an infusion of money into charters that the public schools dont get, but there's a question of how to handle disruptive behavior. During the course of the year, the children in Harlem Success who ended up being unmanageable got returned to PS 123. The message everyone’s getting from the DoE is that some children can be afforded a better equipped and more stable learning environment while others can’t.

Creaming kids for smaller and more manageable classrooms in a better funded facility is already divisive to the community, but it's divisive to some families as well. Parents told us that there are cases where one child is going to the charter and a sibling to the public school. They used the metaphor of the plantation, where back in the days, only some were allowed into the big house.

“Take care of us,” another parent said. “Public schools were here first.” It’s not that the DoE doesn’t get such a simple truth. Their agenda is bigger, and it's ruthless. It also has nothing to do with what’s good for kids, or they’d be making charter-quality education available to all of them.

A parent I spoke with who has a child in Harlem Success was very happy with the school, but he said two things that left some of us wondering what other levels of community engineering are going on underneath the charter school wars. “All this fighting over the space is nonsense,” he said, “because they’re going to shut it down and make condos.” He also said that Harlem Success had not wanted to be in PS 123 but in an unused school building a block away. Tweed wouldn’t allow it. In fact, we were told, there are quite a few empty school buildings in the vicinity. Someone should be finding out why that is.

At the event was a member of Harlem Success Academy’s staff, who took pictures for a half an hour but would not say why he was sent to do this and refused to be interviewed. Also present were a couple of people from Tweed. No UFT officials showed up this time.

Councilman Robert Jackson (Dist. 7) was there. He said Bloomberg and Klein were going into their 8th year and they can only blame themselves for the problems in the schools. Jackson never did answer the question he got at a rally a couple of weeks ago: why did he support Bloomberg’s bid for a third term.

The support of the city council people who have shown up to these demonstrations has been welcome. But, they need to start figuring out how they can start turning this whole thing around.

— JW


Anonymous said...

The claim that charter students are handpicked is absolutely incorrect. Harlem Success students are from the exact same demographic as PS 123 students. Approximately 20% of HSA students are receiving some form of Special Education just like PS 123 students. However, at PS 123, less than 40% of 3rd graders are reading on or above level. 95% of HSA's 3rd graders are reading on or above grade level.

If the protesters cared at all about educating Harlem children, they would be absolutely thrilled to have Harlem Success. Sadly, it seems the fight is more about the status quo.

Anonymous said...

The students who are selected to attend Harlem Success Academy (HSA) are handpicked: The lottery system that HSA uses to select students is a system for handpicking students. Also, HSA students tend to skew very heavily toward those who come from homes were the parents are very invcolved in their child's education.
And in terms of special education students, they are not all created equal. After all, some special education students are high functioning students who achieve graet success in the school environment, which means that HSA probably only accepts the most highly functioning, academically successful, special education students available. (see the July 20th Daily News article on how charter schools push out the students that they don't want)

Anonymous said...

Harlem Success does not handpick students as they use a computerized system that literally randomly picks students names out of the system. That's what a lottery means. It is incredibly unfortunate that thousands of students do not have the opportunity to be in a Harlem success school. Hopefully, there will be more and more of them in the future!

HSA is not a 12:1 set up, which means that it, like most public schools (and it IS a public school) is not set up for low-functioning special education students. Most public schools are not. It does, however, have a similar, if not more percentage of special education students to surrounding Harlem public schools.

Harlem Success has proved that with the same demographic of kids and families, teaching and learning at a high level is possible.

GEM member said...

We at GEM heard this: The DoE made a available to HSA a list of kids (don't know if it was a list of just 3s and 4s or a full list with all the scores), but the levels 3 and 4 got invitations to apply to this school.

We were also told that a child had to take some kind of test at HSA, and that mark, together with school records and recommendations, were part of the evaluation for selection. Another parent also said school record and recommendations were involved in selection.

Whoever is claiming this "lottery" thing, please identify yourself so we can request an interview and invite the press to come with us.

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