Praise for New York’s Success Academies in Wall Street Journal

An opinion piece by Joel Klein praises the recent test results from Success Academies in New York City. Joel Klein, “New York’s Charter Schools Get an A+”, Joel Klein, Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2012.

Klein argues that it’s time to stop blaming poverty for the problems in education; on the contrary, good education is a way to fight poverty.

But what really puts the lie to the notion that poverty prevents dramatically better student outcomes than we are now generally seeing in public education is the performance of several individual charter schools or groups of such schools. For example, Success Academies, a charter group whose students are almost 100% minority and about 75% poor, had 97% of the kids at its four schools proficient in math and 88% in English. Miraculously, that’s more than 30% higher in both math and reading than the state as a whole.

The Success schools are performing at the same level as NYC’s best schools—gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests—even though gifted schools have far fewer low-income and minority students. In short, with a population that is considered much harder to educate, Success is getting champion-league results.

Klein notes that charter schools in New York are oversubscribed, so the students are chosen by a lottery.

Rest assured, the status-quo, poverty-is-destiny crowd will try to explain away these remarkable results. They will selectively point to small differences and argue that the charter schools are “creaming” the better students, i.e., not accepting kids with greater needs or lower test scores.

But the dramatic difference in results renders these nitpicks trivial. Let’s get real here: If anyone is creaming kids in NYC, it’s the gifted and talented schools that are designed to select kids solely based on performance, not the Success schools or other high-performing charters that are located in high-poverty communities where they admit mostly poor kids based exclusively on lotteries.

In San Antonio, several districts operate selective magnet schools, including:

At San Antonio ISD, for example, students hoping to attend a magnet school have to fill out a seven-page application. The questions cover grades, attendance, test scores, and more. The magnet schools can turn away any unqualified applicants. By selecting the best students for magnet schools, urban school districts can worsen the gap between the best and worst campuses. See, for example, Dallas ISD: in 2010, it had seven small magnet schools in the state’s top 25 high schools (according to Children at Risk), but also 18 high schools in the state’s bottom quarter. Brian Thevenot, “Small High Schools Do Better in Texas Rankings”Texas Tribune, April 27, 2010.

Unlike magnet schools, charter schools are not allowed to select the best students. For example, KIPP:Indy’s brief online application doesn’t ask about test scores, grades, recommendation letters, etc. (KIPP:SA applications are not currently available online. Here is the KIPP:SA enrollment information page.) As mentioned above, if a charter school receives too many applications, the student body is chosen by lottery. As Joel Klein notes, this makes the success of the high-performing charter schools all the more remarkable.

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