An article in last week’s New York Times tells the story of child who was accepted (via lottery) into the highly-acclaimed Harlem Success Academy (HSA), a charter school in New York City. The boy’s mother was thrilled, saying she felt like she had just gotten her son a tuition-free spot in an elite private school. From the very first day of kindergarten, however, her child was in trouble. Sometimes he was sent home early; other times he was forced to stay late and “practice walking the hallways” as punishment for acting out. During his third week, he was suspended for three days.
Shortly thereafter, the mother, who had been corresponding with the principal and others about these incidents, received an e-mail message from HSA founder Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz told her that, at this school, it is “extremely important that children feel successful," and that HSA, with its nine-hour days, during which children are “being constantly asked to focus and concentrate," can sometimes “overwhelm children and be a bad environment." The mother understood this to be a veiled threat of sorts, but was not upset at the time. Indeed, she credits HSA staff with helping her to find a regular public school for her child to attend. Happily, her son eventually ended up doing very well at his new school.
It’s very important to remember that this is really only one side of the story. It’s also an anecdote, and there is no way to tell how widespread this practice might be at HSA, or at charter schools in general. I retell it here because it helps to illustrate a difficult-to-measure “advantage” that some charter schools have when compared with regular neighborhood schools – the peer effects of attrition without replacement.