Success Academy Charter Schools reverses opportunity gap

Sep 12, 2019

Education officials in Washington state lament that they have failed to teach low-income, minority children the skills and knowledge needed to do as well as other children on state tests, a problem that for years they have called “the opportunity gap.” Now it looks like charter schools have cracked the problem, and found the answer to closing the racial opportunity gap.

The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that students at Success Academy charter schools in New York City, which serve mostly low-income, minority children, are getting better test scores than white children attending suburban public schools.  Yet already the editors and writers at newspapers like The New York Times, who use every social and economic advantage to choose excellent schools for their own children, use false logic and a hard-hearted attitude to attack charter schools for their student achievement levels.

Here’s more detail.  At traditional New York City public schools, less than 40% of black and Hispanic children pass the state tests in reading or math.  At Success Academy, where 94 percent of students are minorities, 90% of students passed in reading and 98% passed in math.  Robert Pondiscio is a charter school teacher and fellow at The Fordham Foundation.  He spent a year observing classrooms and talking to parents at Success Academy Charter Schools.  He makes this searing observation, “The privileged are unfettered in their pursuit of an excellent education for their children; the rest get ‘equity.’”

Success Academy is a network of public charter schools led by the remarkable Eva Moskowitz.  She opened her first charter school in 2006 to 157 students in Harlem.  Charter schools receive public funds and are open to all students.  Today Success Academy is a network of 45 schools across New York City, with 17,000 minority students. The schools are popular with parents. Success Academy schools have a waiting list of 20,000 students.  

Despite their success, or maybe because of it, charter schools have enemies.  In New York powerful unions and their liberal allies have placed an artificial cap on charter schools, refusing to allow more to open, even though the city has 212 half-empty school buildings. The New York Times has aided charter school opponents by providing unfair negative coverage of Success Academy schools.  The envy and political clout of charter school opponents is stopping more minority children from getting a great public education.

Here in Washington state we also have charter schools that consistently outperform traditional schools, to the benefit of minority students (see the Summit Charter School network, for example).  Sixty percent of students at Washington’s charter schools are low-income, minority children, the same students education officials claim are suffering from the opportunity gap. Yet the same political dynamic is in play here. Jealous and powerful entrenched interests in the union, the school bureaucracy, liberal legislators, and journalists work together to deny low-income, minority families fair and equal access to local levy public funding, to public school buildings, and to facility funding. In the 2019 session, the majority of lawmakers voted to cut levy funding for charter school students.  The governor signed the bill.

Despite the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness behind the opposition to charter schools, the tide has turned in their favor, mainly because students and parents love them.  To see why, check out this terrific video about a Philadephia charter school by John Stossel

For decades we have heard official laments about the racial opportunity gap.  Now, across the country, in places like New York City and Philadelphia and Seattle, low-income, minority families are gaining access to a first-class public education at charter schools, so they can do what elite union executives, lawmakers, governors, media editors and reporters do every year; place their children in an excellent school.