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The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking’

Wall Street Journal
February 8, 2015

By Eva S. Moskowitz

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results. Well, a recent report from New York City’s Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false. Unfortunately, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is among those city officials who believe the big lie.

The IBO report, released in January, found that—contrary to what some people have come to believe—“students at charter schools stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools.” The IBO reported that charter schools in the city retain 64% of their students, compared with 56% of students retained by district schools. Among special-education students, the IBO found that 53% stay at their charter schools, versus 49% at district schools.

This means that no matter how many times UFT President Michael Mulgrew repeats the slander in press releases, in letters to his members and in newspaper columns that charter schools unfairly “counsel out,” i.e., expel, struggling students just before state exams—it simply isn’t true.

The IBO report proves that so-called counseling out at charters is a myth. And it should call into question all the other accusations the UFT and other defenders of failing city schools have made against charters. These include the outrageous assertion by Chancellor Fariña at the Crain’s Future of New York City conference last November that the city’s charter schools—which admit students by random lottery—game the system by sending “postcards” to top performers on state exams inviting them to apply.

As the leader of a network of schools—Success Academy Charter Schools—dedicated to providing an excellent education to New York City schoolchildren, including the most underserved in Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn, I found this accusation insulting. It was also absurd, as any lists of high-performing students would have to come from the chancellor’s own New York City Department of Education, a grave violation of confidentiality. Her assertion also ignored that charter-school students are chosen through a random lottery.

After Chancellor Fariña’s outrageous accusation, I publicly challenged her to produce one of the postcards supposedly sent to high-performing students. Naturally, she couldn’t produce even one. In fact, she didn’t respond at all. The reason is clear—the absurd claim of cherry-picking the very best students for charter-school lotteries, like the claim of counseling out, is a lie.

This orchestrated campaign of empty accusations against New York’s charters—which are publicly funded, independently run and, with a few rare exceptions, not unionized—is a sign of desperation by a teachers union that is seeing its stranglehold on education in the city slipping. The more policy makers and politicians who believe the UFT’s lies, the more likely it is that its demand for arbitrary limits on the number of charter schools will be met.

The UFT needs to end the falsehoods and face the facts: According to a report by Families for Excellent Schools, in New York City 143,000 children are stuck in failing schools where less than one in 10 can read or do math; 96% of them are minority children, and 93% are poor. Statewide, nearly 800,000 students in grades three to eight fail to meet grade standards.

New York City’s charter schools, by contrast, are succeeding by putting the needs of students first. Disadvantaged children are excelling with the academic supports—a longer school day, a more rigorous curriculum, extra help after school, arts enrichment—that charters provide. As a result, families are voting with their feet for charters and against the union’s failing education monopoly.

The vast majority of Success Academy students are children of color from low-income families. On last year’s state exam, our schools ranked in the top 1% of all New York state schools in math and the top 3% in English, outperforming schools in affluent areas of the city and wealthy suburbs. On the science exam, 100% of our fourth- and eighth-grade scholars passed, with more than 90% scoring at the highest level.

Success Academy schools have reversed the achievement gap: 94% of African-American students and 96% of Hispanic students passed the math exam, compared with 56% of white students citywide.

For years now, the teachers union has tried to peddle its big lie that charter schools’ successes are illusory. It is time it recognized the big truth: Charter schools work.

Ms. Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools.