Numbers Don’t Lie? High-Stakes “Recruiting” at Democracy Prep Charter School

For those parents dreaming of a charter school as a “last resort” for their struggling child, that affection is probably unrequited.

In a world where low test scores mean school closure, struggling students is the last thing a charter needs—and their recruiting tactics back that claim.

Recently, a couple of my fifth grade students received a recruitment flyer and application from Democracy Prep Charter School, a school that boasts among the best test scores in the city. This is not new: fifth grade kids get bombarded with literature about the various middle-school programs available to them. So I just saw Democracy Prep as one of many suitors vying for their attention…

…that is, until I discovered an ulterior motive.

According to two stories, one in Fox 5 News and one in Gotham Schools, Democracy Prep got the green light from SUNY to take over the governance of Harlem Day Charter School, which is at the opposite polar end of its new overseers. Harlem Day was consistently among the lowest-achieving charters in the city, and reformers across the city championed Democracy Prep’s takeover.

In light of such movement, I took a look at Democracy Prep’s literature. The flyer was pretty non-descript, touting it’s perceived status as “the #1 middle school and the #1 charter school in the entire city of New York.” It had a nice mission statement, too: something about educating “citizen-scholars” (great bullshit term, thanks TFA!) to succeed as college graduates and “become active citizens in our community.” Nothing too inflammatory there.

Tucked away in the middle was the notice that Democracy Prep was “working to open a new elementary school in the fall…”, neglecting to mention that this new school did not come out of the blue, but rather from the frequently pissed-on ashes of Harlem Day. Still, if you fire the staff, dump the administrators and redesign all aspects of structure and curriculum from scratch, it’s essentially the same thing.

Then I took a poll, in each class, of the students who received such a letter. To a man, all the students—and ONLY the students—who received passing grades of Level 3 or 4 on their state English Language Arts (ELA) and Math exams in 4th grade were recruited by Democracy Prep.

Furthermore, the application was a slick exercise in covering its own ass from the ravages of an ACLU lawsuit. It stressed there was no admissions exam, and that “English language learners and students with special needs are especially encouraged to apply.” (their italics).

“Encouraged” meaning “…as long as your test scores don’t bring us all down and drag us into the painful light of DOE or SUNY scrutiny.”

If Democracy Prep was open to everyone, they had a funny way of demonstrating their openness.

It didn’t take long for me to figure it out—and not long after to explain to the kids my misgivings. In no uncertain terms, I shared my skepticism about Democracy Prep’s aims and their viability as an option:

(1) Democracy Prep is taking over a failing school. Chances are, propping up that failing school will take priority—regardless of what they say to you. Resources will be siphoned off their more “successful” schools at your expense.

(2) Democracy Prep has no admissions exam. If you are planning to go to a great middle school, what kind of school would not vet its applicants to assess their prior knowledge and skills?

And the most damning evidence of all:

(3) Even though they claimed to be open to everyone, Democracy Prep only sent letters to level 3s and 4s. This should tell you that this school probably cares more about their test scores than about how ready you are for high school and college.

This was only one charter school. Imagine the hijinks going on among schools across New York City. If ever there was proof that charters are not the “silver bullet” that will solve the ills of education, this is it.

It’s even more ludicrous considering Democracy Prep’s superintendent Seth Andrew and his remarks about their new acquisition:

“Harlem Day had incredibly low class size, tons of adults, one of the highest philanthropy per-pupil rates if not the highest, and a really nice building. So all of the traditional arguments that people make about what’s needed to fix schools: more money, smaller class sizes, more teachers, are just wrong. What you need is better teachers in a rigorous academic program.”

…that, and cherry-picking the best students from fifth grade to fill your rosters with ready-made “achievement.”

Lastly, this could not have been done without the connivance of someone within the bowels of Tweed. Middle schools in the city do get information about all fifth graders who are applying. However, how many of them have the top-scoring students already set apart on a silver platter—all the while expressing their desire to work with students at all levels.

If charter schools like this are your “Superman,” then they only work under a Lex Luthor-like web of deceit and slight-of-hand.

Would you entrust the education of your child in an institution that bases itself on such dishonesty? The education reform crowd seems to think so…which speaks volumes to their moral fiber.



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5 responses to “Numbers Don’t Lie? High-Stakes “Recruiting” at Democracy Prep Charter School

  1. silly mr d

    Mr. D. Your post is egregiously insane and factually wrong on basically every count. It perpetuates all the lies. Democracy prep has three from scratch middle schools in harlem. Those schools mail an application letter to EVERY 5th grade student in DOE schools. EVERY student can enter a lottery and they have a shot at Democracy Prep’s new 6th grade classes. Harlem Prep is already Fully Enrolled. Only kindergarteners will be new. Finally, if you have low-performing students in your class (1’s and 2’s, ell’s and iep’s) you should help and encourage their families to apply to a safe and high performing school like democracy prep which has built its reputation on taking 25 percent sped kids and turning them around academically into the CPR’s #1 middle school.

    Oh silly mr d, I don’t expect you to all of a sudden like charter schools, but don’t lie about them in print, instead do a bit of research and learn the facts. EVERY fifth grader in D4 and D5 got a black and white application mailed to their house. That’s not nefarious, it’s the opposite of creaming…truly equal opportunity. Do you attack mott hall? Fda? Tag? Brooklyn tech?

    Don’t be silly.

    • Of course D4 and D% got an app…it’s their local school. Why then did my D12 school get such selective recruitment?

      Believe me, my kids should be going to schools that help and nurture them. Yet what I saw and what my fellow teachers and administrators saw was not a lie.

      Only the level 3s and 4s received an application. You can ask me in private if you want further information.

      Furthermore, if you feel the need to remain anonymous with a ridiculous e-mail domain, it stands as a testament to the lack of courage to hold to your convictions. I may have a pseudonym, but its pretty easy to deduce my real name if you look close enough.

  2. JB

    You’re right Mr. D. If you need more data, you can request it from the charter schools under FoIA. After all, they are “public schools”. Request data from national exams and compare state data with it.

  3. This is an interesting post and I’m glad to have this info. I was contemplating applying for a position DP has posted for a data/tech associate, but was hesitating because I believe so firmly in fixing the real public schools for the kids who already attend, rather than shutting them down and replacing them with charters and their rigged stats. Glad that Google led me here. I will share my skills in a non-charter school or, more likely, off the grid.

    • ugh, and I just read this at
      “Students earn and lose “DREAM Dollars” based on their behavior and academic performance and can use their dollars to participate in a variety of activities and field trips.” I don’t believe schools should be meritocracies that make children dealing with bigger personal and academic challenges feel “less than” those who earn those DREAM dollars. UgHHH!!

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