For those looking to get up to speed on the controversy surrounding charter schools, look no further than New York magazine's even-handed profile of a New York City charter network CEO, Eva Moskowitz, leader of the Harlem Success Academies.
Amidst the details of Moskowitz's rise through New York City politics, the fastidiousness with which she runs her schools, and the various comments on her effect on local public education, are some core issues that come up repeatedly with charters (as well as some thorny quandaries unique to Manhattan).
For instance, the first group of third graders at Harlem Success Academy 1 blew away the state's standardized tests, with all of the kids rating proficient or better at math. Test scores of that sort help secure private money for the network and provide proof-of-principle of the charter's methods. According to Moskowitz, those results sprung from just 10 minutes of test prep per day. (Charters tend to have a reputation of drilling test-taking into their students, and, in fact, a commenter on the New York site says that the 10 minutes are "more like two hours.")
Another issue addressed in the profile is Success's reputation of weeding out difficult and special needs children by "counseling out" such students and their families. The story includes the tale of a pair of twins, a brother and sister, who enrolled in a Success Academy. The brother was considered a "difficult" child and is no longer a student at the charter school. Critics say that networks cast these children out so that they don't hurt test scores (and hurt the school's chances to raise private money).
Lastly, a unique problem that Manhattan charter networks face is the question of space. And one of the biggest areas for which Harlem Success Academies and Moskowitz take fire is expansion—which often comes at the expense of the local, standard public school. The Success schools tend to be co-located with regular schools, sharing buildings and some facilities. On more than one occasion, Success has lobbied the New York City government to close schools so that it can expand into their space.
The video below shows a public hearing regarding the expansion of a Harlem Success Academy into the space of P.S. 30 in East Harlem—a well-regarded public school in the New York City system. (Part 2 of the hearing can be viewed here.)
Though Moskowitz is the main subject, the piece, as well as the passionate comments, very accurately portray the charter school battlefield.