The three finalists for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, announced on Monday, include two STEM-oriented charter networks and a high-profile set of charters in New York City.
DSST Public Charters in Denver runs 12 middle and high schools focused on STEM education programs. Success Academy, also a finalist for the prize last year, serves 41,000 students at 41 schools in Gotham, where it’s the largest charter operator. And Harmony Public Schools in Texas operates 48 K-12 schools that also focus on STEM. Harmony is the second-largest charter school network in the country.
The $250,000 prize is given out by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, in conjunction with the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, to reward charter management groups for strong academic outcomes, especially among low-income students and students of color. Neither organization played a role in selecting the three finalists—former Secretary of Education John King, however, was one of 10 members of an independent board that reviewed 39 eligible charter networks for the prize for this year.
From 2002 to 2014, the Broad Foundation ran a separate prize for urban school districts that demonstrated progress in closing achievement gaps. The foundation shut down that prize in 2015.
The winner will be announced in June in Washington.
We’ve written about DSST several times in recent years. Just three weeks ago, we wrote about their place in a Denver debate about the role of charters focused on college prep versus a those with different missions. DSST is looking to expand, along with other similar charter networks, but not everyone thinks that’s a great idea at the moment. In 2014, Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter wrote an Education Week Commentary about DSST’s success in using weighted lotteries to attract a racially and socioeconomically diverse set of students.
The Broad Foundation and National Alliance praised DSST for having 95 percent of its students take the ACT, and for those students achieve an average score of 23.3, which is above the college-readiness benchmark score of 21.3.
Success Academy, a Broad Prize finalist last year, is led by CEO Eva Moskowitz, one of New York City’s better-known charter leaders and advocates. Supporters have praised her charters’ record on student achievement, but others have highlighted reported problems related to discipline at Success Academy schools. Moskowitz also met with President Donald Trump before his inauguration, fueling speculation that she would serve as education secretary in his administration. She ended up supporting Betsy DeVos for the secretary’s job on the basis of DeVos’ track record of supporting school choice.
All the elementary and middle schools in the network scored in the top 10 percent of all such schools in New York state in 2016 on English, math, and science, Broad and the National Alliance noted in announcing Success Academy as a finalist.
Harmony Public Schools
Harmony Public Schools is the second Texas-based finalist for the Broad Prize in two years. Like Success Academy, Harmony has been linked with political headlines recently. The network has been linked by various media reports to Fethullah Gulen, the founder of what’s often called a moderate Islamic movement in Turkey, although Gulen does not directly run the charters himself. The Turkish government and others have complained about Harmony’s practices with respect to Gulen’s movement. The Turkish government accused Gulen of having a hand in the failed coup against President Recep Erdogan last year. Former CIA Director James Woolsey said in March that Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, discussed how to send Gulen back to Turkey after the coup.
All of the Harmony network’s black students graduated in 2015, compared to 75 percent of black students nationwide. And Harmony’s Hispanic and low-income students also graduated at rates higher than the national average, Broad and the National Alliance said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.