incentive structure (Updated)

Charter school leaders sound caution about enrollment targets

Eva Moskowitz and her charter school network are objecting to new targets meant to push charter schools to enroll a fair share of students with disabilities and English language learners.

When they revised the state’s charter schools law in 2010, legislators included a requirement that the schools register a “comparable” number of high-needs students. Now the state has proposed a methodology to calculate enrollment targets for charter schools based on how many students attend the school and the overall ratio of high-needs students in each district. Schools that currently enroll too few students with special needs will be required to show at least a “good-faith” effort to enroll more.

But a top official in the Success Academies network said Wednesday that she objected to any such requirement. Setting enrollment targets creates a disincentive for schools to help students get to the point that they no longer need special services, said Emily Kim, general counselor for the Success Academies network.

“For us, our goal is not to hit a number and stay at that number for English language learners,” Kim said. “Our goal is that they learn English, that they perform at the highest levels, and that they graduate from high school college ready and are successful in life.”

“So if our figures go down, we’re proud of that,” she added.

UPDATE: A state education official said the proposed targets would not penalize schools schools if their students are declassified as special education or ELL. Through what’s being called a “three year lag,” schools would get credit for students who had been classified anytime in the last three years. “With the three-year lag, there is little to no chance that there will be a dinging of schools for declassification of a child,” said Assistant Commissioner Sally Bachofer, who helped developed the targets.

Bachofer also said that declassification rates at individual schools, while not a part of the proposed methodology, could be presented during the charter renewal period as a “good faith effort” to serve these high needs students.

Kim was part of a four-person panel recruited by the New York City Bar Association to discuss charter school co-locations.

That topic soon gave way to a discussion of the general merits of the charter school movement. UFT Vice President Leo Casey, Coalition for Educational Justice organizer Zakiyah Ansari, and New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman also sat on the panel, which Inside City Hall host Errol Louis moderated.

Kim said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Success network, but a spokeswoman later said Moskowitz agreed with her.

Moskowitz is a critic of the way the state currently tracks ELL students and believes a more telling metric is the rate of students who pass a state proficiency exam for English language learners.

Across the city, many students do not pass the exam even after attending city schools for several years. According to a Success network review, 36 percent of first-graders identified as ELLs in 2003 had not passed the exam seven years later.

Of the nearly 2,500 students who attended a Success school last year, 7 percent were ELLs, according to state data. In some of the districts where the network operates, the ELL rate is twice as high. But in the 2009-2010 school year, 36 percent of students in Success schools tested out of ELL, twice the citywide rate, Sedlis said.

“That is a major problem in this city,” said the spokeswoman, Jenny Sedlis. “Charters should not be forced to replicate the dysfunctions of the district.”

Merriman said special education enrollment targets could run the same risk by incentivizing schools to identify students as having disabilities excessively.

“Special education has been used, unfortunately, sometimes as a tool for discrimination against African American males, as a way to isolate them in self-contained classrooms,” he said. “We don’t want to make normative what we all know is a bad system.”

The charter school center that Merriman runs released a report last month acknowledging that the city’s charter schools don’t serve as many high-needs students as they should. He said during the panel that changing the distribution of students isn’t as simple as it might seem.

“It’s not easy sometime to get ELLS to come in to your school,” Merriman said. “They tend to come in as a community. They want to make sure as a community that their students will be served well.”

Plus, with many city charter schools still scaling up, they lack the kind of specialized teachers to serve even small populations. Some charter schools, such has Achievement First Bushwick, which received a shortened renewal in part because of its struggles, have hired English as a Second Language teachers specifically to serve larger numbers of ELL students that live in the district.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”