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New York Charter Success: You Know How to Spell It

It’s often been said “you can’t argue with success” (or Success). But that doesn’t stop some from trying.

Last year, I pointed out the collective jaw-dropping that took place when test results came back from students in the Harlem Success Academies, a New York City charter network that overwhelmingly serves poor and disadvantaged families. Just to revisit for the record:

Seven out of the state’s 15 top-scoring schools on math proficiency tests this year were Success Academy charter schools….An astounding 93.9 percent of Success students passed the Common Core math exam and 64.5 percent passed the English proficiency test….

After a closer look at the results, all that critics and skeptics were left to stand on was the suggestion that the astounding, off-the-chart scores for poor kids in the Big Apple must have been some kind of a fluke. With the release of the latest achievement scores, as reported by Reason blogger Jim Epstein, that line just became a lot harder to defend.

The rate of Success Academies students passing the math test stayed level at 93 percent, while English proficiency inched up to 68 percent. The 12 schools in the network with students eligible to take the state test make up 1 percent of New York City schools, yet all finished in the top 4 percent of performers. Five of the city’s 10 best scoring schools belong to the Success family.

But Epstein wasn’t satisfied with the high-altitude look at academic achievement results, recognizing that it can sometimes obscure what’s really going on. So he went to a number-crunching expert:

To clarify what these results really mean, [statistician Aaron] Brown crunched the numbers by putting all the Success Academy students, plus all the kids who go to the top five percent of other schools, in one pot. Then he took a random sample of 3,065 kids to see how they did compared to the 3,065 kids from Success Academy. This exercise is designed to answer the question: What if those Success Academy kids had been distributed among all of the top schools in the city? Would they have done better or worse in math?

Brown found that they would have performed significantly worse: 310 fewer kids would have gotten a level 4 on the exam, the top score. And 203 more kids would have received a 1 or a 2, which are considered to be failing grades. That would have been a tremendous waste of potential. [emphasis added]

Thankfully, though, Eva Moskowitz and her team were there, and are there, along with a network of policy support for high-quality charter innovation. That support hasn’t included first-term Mayor Bill de Blasio or other politicians who recently decried the school because of the identity of a major funder.

I don’t know enough to have an opinion about that particular criticism. I just brought it up to highlight the fact that you just can’t argue with the success of… well, Success. Pair this news with the recent results from New Orleans, and see exceptional public charter schools demonstrating that investment in this type of reform can really pay off, if done right.

It also may help to point out why, despite the recent concerted (and frequently silly) attacks against charters, that the new Education Next poll shows Americans still favor charters by a roughly two-to-one margin.

Now how do we replicate this needed success in Colorado?