Karen Sprowal: My question and Prof. Noguera's response at MisEducation Nation


For more on the MisEducation Nation forum, held Sept. 27 with Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, Brian Jones, and Leonie Haimson, sponsored by FAIR, see Julie Cavanagh’s report, GothamSchools article, and Peter Murphy of the NY Charter Schools Association.  Here is video of the entire forum; which was excellent.  Michael Fiorello asked a question to Pedro Noguera about his role in authorizing charter schools at 1hr 12 minutes in, and Karen’s question to Noguera and his response are at 1hr 26 minutes in.
There has been a lot of controversy raised about my question to Prof. Pedro Noguera and his response at the MisEducation Nation forum on Tuesday night.  I would like to clarify the issues as I see them.
My son, Matthew, was kicked out of Kindergarten in the fall of 2008 at the Harlem Success Charter.  It took a long time for me and Matthew to get over this experience, and for me to feel comfortable talking about it, but our story was recently documented in an article in the NY Times and further described by me on this blog
Eva Moskowitz has confirmed to the Times that my son was indeed asked to leave, as her school couldn’t “serve” him properly.  He was kicked out along with three other little Kindergarten boys the first few weeks of school. After the article about Matthew appeared in the Times, I have heard from many other parents whose children have suffered a similar fate at her schools.
I have since learned that this particular charter, along with most all the other ones in the Success charter chain, were  authorized and are supposed to be overseen by the SUNY charter committee, which is headed by Prof. Pedro Noguera of NYU.  I also learned that Prof. Noguera has made many comments about the need to hold charter schools accountable for just this sort of behavior.
For example, in an article that appeared in the West Side Spirit last year, about the controversy over putting a new Success charter school into the Brandeis HS building, questions were raised about whether these charters pushed out kids, and Prof. Noguera said that he didn’t believe that this practice had occurred at any of the Success charters:
Success’ critics almost invariably make the claim that the schools force or encourage children with learning disabilities or academic problems to leave the school in an effort to pump up the test scores—but there does not appear to be much evidence to support the accusation….Even Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University....said the accusation looks to be bogus.“I think it’s true of some charters, but I don’t think it’s true of hers,” said Noguera… Noguera, who thinks it may be a good thing if other schools feel competition from the new charter, said the Harlem academies do a great job helping students with individual needs and “are the best charters in the city.” 
Then in May, in an article in GothamSchools, Prof. Noguera said that if any charter school pushed out kids, it should be held accountable:

It really concerns me when I see that there’s some evidence that some of the charters are screening kids and have adopted measures to either screen or to push out students that are more challenging to serve,” Noguera said. “Because it’s creating this very unequal playing field between the charters and the public schools. So I think that the authorizers and the state need to be more vigilant in holding those schools accountable.”
So at the forum, I asked Prof. Noguera that if he thought that authorizers needed to be more “vigilant in holding those schools accountable,” as head of the committee that authorized the school that pushed out my child and many others, what he would do about it.
That’s when he responded that every five years, when the charter comes up for re-authorization, they will look at the attrition data.  First of all, it is very hard to track attrition, because the school doesn’t accurately report how many kids leave and enter the school each year.  But more importantly, I don’t think this reflects a properly “vigilant” attitude on his part.  He and the other authorizers shouldn’t sit back and wait five years, when kids are being hurt every day.
His other comments were no more reassuring.  He said DOE schools push out kids just as much as charters, which is not the experience I have had with Matthew’s new school.  To the contrary, they have been patient and wonderfully supportive, and given him extra help he needed to thrive, despite his ADHD.  Also, Prof. Noguera’s claim that he authorizes “high performing” charters is not relevant either, if they are “high performing” as a result of screening out and pushing out children like my son.
At the beginning of the forum, Prof. Noguera had also said that he cares about promoting more integration in our schools, and I agree.  But it is well-known that charters lead to more segregation – the opposite direction that we should be moving towards as a city.
When I spoke to him after the event, he smiled and nodded his head, but I didn’t get the sense that he was taking my concerns seriously. I went into more detail about how after winning the lottery for Harlem Success Academy,  Matthew was screened, deemed defective and kicked out of the school, all of this happening within his first month of school. Did he have any idea what this does emotionally to an at-risk five year old black boy in this society? Prof. Noguera didn’t seem to care or want to hear from me about this, even though I have saved a meticulous paper trail, revealing solid evidence of the practices used by this charter chain to “cherry pick.”
I shared with him that Eva Moskowitz had personally emailed to me to say that “HSA will not be good fit for my son,” but when I refused to take Matthew out, and requested a non-punitive educational plan for my son, we were treated in a manner that was reprehensible and illegal. Prof. Noguera graciously smiled, briefly listened and brushed me off again!
Even though I found a great public school for my son after he was pushed out, I think more of us need to be angry about how many children like my son Matthew are being marginalized and victimized by the charter school movement. When your actions and policies hurt children, especially those most at risk – it feels extremely personal!
There are now nine Success Academies, all co-located in NYC public school buildings, with three more authorized by SUNY, opening in 2012. As the chief authorizer for the Success Academy network, I wanted to know whether Prof. Noguera would hold Eva Moskowitz accountable. It was a fair question that deserved a direct answer.  And in his way, he gave it, and the answer was no.  As a black single parent, living in poverty, with a special needs son, I am offended. -- Karen Sprowal
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