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The Success Academy Network

The Success Academy model for growth has the potential to cause an existential threat to traditional public schools as it is proliferating at a faster rate than any other New York City charter network, given its ability to attract students from traditional public schools which lose Title 1 dollars when students enroll elsewhere. Financial information which has been acquired through the SUNY Charter Schools Institute is utilized to describe how deregulation has positioned public/private entities to operate out of a prism of neoliberal ideals. In his article Involvement in Curriculum Planning, author Dick Rich posited that “citizens desire to be made aware of charter schools finances and curriculum” (Rich 34). This matters for two reasons as a precedent has been set by the prior work of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, in Michigan, where she “worked to create programs and pass laws that require the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers” (“A Sobering Look at What Betsy DeVos Did to Education in Michigan — and What She Might Do as Secretary of Education”), which essentially diminishes funding for public schools, and because the loss of funds reflects poorly on the quantity and quality of students in public schools and their educational needs. These concerns matter because should charter entities dominate the educational landscape, how students are educated could be essentially effected by policymakers who are non-educators as occurred in NCLB and RTTT so that educators remain on the margins of creating pedagogical practices that enrich literacy and equity.

This discussion centers around the growth of the Success Academy network, providing a lens for how proliferation might occur while framing the argument that deregulation and privatization are detrimental to education in minority communities. A separate geospatial map for Success Academy illustrates the charter’s growth. Founded in 2006, Success Academy currently has 34 schools in its network. Twenty-four of these schools are included in this project with locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. These schools report their finances under Success Academy Charter School – NYC which serves as an umbrella organization. This data was located through their charter authorizer, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute (“SUNY Charter Schools Institute”). Harlem 1 through Harlem 5, Bronx 3 and Success Academy Charter School – High School, have reported gains in net assets at year end in the June 2014 Financial Statements so that together, the Success Academy network enjoyed year-end total assets in June 2014 of $24,764,028. All other schools in the network reported losses. Net assets at the flagship schools are listed below (levels of achievement at the various schools are listed at Appendix F):

Opening Year Net Assets Grades Enrollment
Success Academy Harlem 1 2006-2007 $7,557,306 K-12 942 Students
Success Academy Harlem 2 2008-2009 $6,430,413 K-8 744 Students
Success Academy Harlem 3 2008-2009 $4,494,321 K-8 797 Students
Success Academy Harlem 4 2008-2009 $3,015,157 K-8 617 Students
Success Academy Harlem 5 2010-2011 $2,497,311 K-6 523 Students

Success Academy’s plan to open four schools during the 2015-2016 school year and additional ten schools during the 2016-2017 school year changed when according to educator Geoff Decker, “the City offered it public space suitable for 10 schools” (Decker 1). Opposition to co-located schools is occurring more often as the City re-situates schools, often rankling communities. These are not unfounded concerns as in this instance, Success Academy was granted space in 2015 that impacted pre-existing plans at MS 53. Chapter Leader Lucia Moffa “voiced concern that loss of space to co-location of the school’s alternative learning center, mental health, optical and dental clinics would sabotage efforts to turn around her struggling school” (Landau).  Plans for expansion are based on the notion that choice will garner better achievement results than can occur at traditional public schools. Appendix F describes math results at Success Academy Schools 1 – 5 from 2013 through 2016, but I strongly argue against the charter’s methodologies for educating minority students which as their methodologies do not bring about literacy or educational equity.All other Success Academy schools (besides Bronx 3 with assets of $79,952 and Success Academy Charter School – High School, with net assets of $280,537) have reported losses likely because they are in their early years of operation, have lower enrollment numbers and have not exceeded grade 5. To illustrate the growth within established charter entities, the June 2014 financial report of Success Academy Charter Schools – NYC states that “Success Academy Charter School – High School, will open in August 2015” (Fruchter Rosen & Company, P.C. 11), which means that although the school began the 2014 reporting year with losses of $83,486, the school reported net assets of $280,537 at the end of the year. The network’s Replication Report states its plans for expansion by “adding one grade each year until it services kindergarten through the 12th grade” (Fruchter Rosen & Company, P.C. 3, 6, 17, 18), so that it is reasonable to perceive that the schools within the Success Academy network will experience growth similar to the flagship schools, contributing to the network’s substantive presence in New York City.

Success Academy utilizes the teaching to the test method where a disproportionate amount of time is spent guiding students into familiarity with test structure and content. In a letter to noted scholar Diane Ravitch, a Success Academy teacher wrote anonymously to make Ms. Ravitch aware of the methodologies and pedagogical practices at Success Academy which confirmed that teaching to the test methodologies was in place at the school. The letter “described the use of test prep packets that were based on State guidance, and which were much more aligned to the actual Common Core as they were closer to the test than other published books, the use of quizzes that took on the formatting of the test, and the incentivizing of students through bribery” (Ravitch, Mole in Success Academy Speaks | Diane Ravitch’s Blog) [1] These actions, together with punitive methodologies affect scoring, attract parents to choice entities, but fail to educate students despite elevated test scores. This matters because the values of the DH and ITP posit collaborative learning, inquiry and open access that are important constructs for the enrichment of education, and their methodologies support pedagogies that utilize blended and project learning, experimentation, and active making and building exercises so that students are actively engaged in the production of knowledge, which is unlike the void of experiment that is experienced when students are subject to curriculum narrowing, tracking, drill and other punitive methodologies.

In its Replication Proposal Transmittal Form relating to the then proposed opening of new schools in August 2015 and August 2016, Success Academy touted its high achievement rate within the African-American and Hispanic Communities, and posits that “children need to be highly engaged in school to become great writers, thinkers, and scholars” (Success Academy Response 06-4). The network did not share what pedagogical practices are used to consistently produce high knowledge outcomes amongst their students, but in the section titled Sharing Best Practices (Partnerships and Relationships), the network put forth that it “shares its methodologies with co-located schools who have adopted the network’s best practices such that one school has modeled parts of its school culture on a Success Academy school in Harlem, including posting college paraphernalia on classroom doors and hallways” (Success Academy Response 01-47). Having “examined schools throughout New York City and the country” Success Academy has asserted that the proposed schools will take part in their concerted efforts to share its approach to education and best practices with the community” (Success Academy Response 01-47), evidencing its goals to impact communities through partnerships that replicate the charter network’s methodologies. The danger here is that choice may not deliver qualitative educations that parents desire for their children.

[1] (Ravitch, Mole in Success Academy Speaks | Diane Ravitch’s Blog)