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Evaluating Bloomberg School Reform -- Do You Want to Buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

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Sometimes I feel the current wave of educational reform promoting charter schools is little more than a scam perpetuated by entrepreneurs and politicians to privatize the public school system.

The New York City Department of Education recently released school report cards that included a college readiness measurement for the first time. According to a chart in the New York Times Metropolitan section (October 30, 2011) thirteen high schools had graduation rates of over eighty percent with less than ten percent of the graduates prepared to do college level work. The 135 new, smaller schools, created by Mayor Bloomberg as the leading edge of his school reform initiative on average, "graduate roughly 70 percent of students in four years. But just 12 percent of students who graduate are prepared for college. Similar schools founded before Bloomberg became mayor and started to reorganize the entire school system shutting down what he considered to be underperforming schools have on the average a 64 percent graduation rate, but a higher percentage of their students, 17 percent, are considered college ready."

The most egregious case was the New Heights Academy Charter School on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, whose high school received a progress report grade of "A" for 2010-2011. It serves students from Harlem, Inwood, and Washington Heights.

According to information on its website, the New Heights Academy opened in 2006 as the first charter school in community school district 6. It opened with 192 students in grades 5 and 9 but now includes a high school and with 760 students is the largest charter school in New York City. Its student body is 100 percent Black and Hispanic and 95 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. The school, which is chartered by New York State, prides itself on small class sizes, capped at 24 and its mandatory Saturday Academy which provides struggling students with extra academic support. The school website claims that 90 percent of its first senior class graduated, although the Department of Education website lists the graduation rate as 81 percent, which is still very high given the student population.

One reason for the charter school's apparent success is the extra resources provided by its high-powered, influential, and affluent, Board of Trustees. It includes representatives from the law firm Bingham McCutchen, Goldman Sachs, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Time Warner, and NRG Energy.

According to the Charter School's mission statement, "All young people deserve access to an excellent education; however, not all students are afforded this opportunity due to inequities in the public school system. New Heights Academy Charter School was founded in 2006 to address this disparity by providing a college preparatory education in a safe and nurturing environment to students in grades 5-12 living in Washington Heights and Inwood. Our students participate in a rigorous academic program and take pride in learning how our core values of perseverance, responsibility, integrity, discipline, and enthusiasm will support them in their pursuit of challenging post-secondary education and career goals. New Heights Academy Charter School is where success happens every day!"

These are certainly laudatory goals. But what is the reality? Only 21 percent of the school's students read at or above grade level, which is especially troubling because its incoming class actually performed better than students already in the program. Only 42 percent perform at grade level in mathematics.

But the worst figure is the schools performance on the college readiness assessment. According to CUNY college tests, only 1.1 percent of its graduates were actually prepared to do college level work without remediation. This is for a charter school that received a grade of "A" from New York City Department of Education assessors.

How long are the people of New York and the United States supposed to put up with what appears to be a charter school scam?

Does anybody at the DOE want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

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