School Choice & Charters

This Charter School Network Is Grading Its Parents Too

By Arianna Prothero — October 11, 2017 3 min read
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One of the largest charter school networks in the country has started issuing report cards for its parents—scoring them on how well they support their children in school.

Success Academy, which is based in New York City, is known as both an academic powerhouse serving mostly low-income, minority students and a prominent adherent to the controversial “no excuses” charter school philosophy, which promotes strict codes of student conduct.

The network began issuing the parent report cards this month.

It’s not uncommon for charter schools to place a premium on parental involvement. Some charters have even gone so far as to mandate that parents volunteer at their children’s school (an issue that got a lot of attention in California relatively recently).

But Success Academy—led by Eva Moskowitz, its hard-charging founder and CEO—may be unique for formally rating parents on how involved they are.

Called “parent investment cards,” the evaluations score parents monthly in three areas: school readiness, homework supervision, and responsiveness and investment. Parents receive green for “meeting expectations,” yellow for “approaching expectations,” and red for “not meeting expectations.”

Parental involvement has always been a priority for Success Academy—to such a degree, in fact, that the network is sometimes accused by critics of pressuring families to remove their children from its schools if they don’t live up to its exacting standards.

Parents at Success Academy must sign a contract pledging to get their child to school every day, on time and in uniform; respond to any communication from the school within 24 hours; and in general be “active members of the school community,” according to the school’s handbook.

In an interview with Education Week, Moskowitz said she believes parent engagement is crucial to academic success, a philosophy she developed while visiting schools during her time serving as a New York City Council Member. The most successful schools, she said, involve the parents.

“I think particularly schools that serve poorer kids tend to take what I call a bypass surgery approach to parents: ‘we’re as a school going to educate kids without the parents,’ ” she said. “I both find that disrespectful to parents but also impractical.”

Moskowitz said Success Academy parents have always gotten robust feedback from their child’s school on a range of issues including student attedance, tardiness, and homework completion. The report card, she said, streamlines that communication.

But is issuing report cards for parents going too far?

Perhaps, writes Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a blog post that asks, “Has Eva Moskowitz overplayed her hand on parent accountability?”

Pondiscio, who was the first to report on the new policy, writes on the Fordham Institute’s blog that he has spoken with a few Success Academy parents and none were exactly pleased with the idea of receiving report cards (although the initiative was praised by some education reform advocates).

"[T]here may be a difference between an uncomfortable conversation when there’s a clear and obvious problem and having your child’s school assign every parent a grade, an evaluation, and a color,” he wrote.

Moskowitz doesn’t see this as a big deal, just a new way to communicate policies that have been in place since the network’s inception and encourage parents to do better.

She says she hasn’t received any major pushback from parents over the idea, yet.

“There’s no policy at Success that 100 percent of people love,” she said. “I got a much bigger reaction from parents when I didn’t call a snow day [last winter].”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.