Getting There is Half the Battle: How the College Advising Corps is Bridging the College Access Divide

Executive Summary

Underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation high school students face unique challenges when applying for college and financial aid. With a current average caseload of nearly 500 students, however, school counselors are unable to provide them with the necessary support. In order to help school counselors guide more students through the complex journey to college, the National College Advising Corps (CAC) places recent college graduates–most of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves–in public high schools across the country. CAC not only addresses the class and racial disparities in college access, but also builds a pipeline of future leaders in school counseling and higher education administration. CAC’S meticulous program design and thoughtful branding make it an instructive model for other college access programs and advocates.


At the beginning of each school year ask almost any high school senior what causes them the most stress, and more often than not the response will be “applying to college.” With increasingly competitive admissions rates and seemingly boundless sticker prices on higher education, the college application cycle has come to instill fear in high school students and their families. After all, the stakes are high. Economists and policymakers consistently cite a college degree as the key to better employment prospects and higher wages. For instance, a Pew Research Center study recently found that college-educated millennials earn $17,500 more on average than their peers with only a high school diploma (“The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” 2014). The economic premium of a college education is even greater for low-income students. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, without a college degree children born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have a 5% chance of reaching the top fifth of the income ladder as adults. With a college degree, their chance of significant upward mobility more than triples to 19% (Isaacs, Sawhill, & Haskins, 2008).

The drive for more students to obtain a college degree, however, overlooks the immense difficulty of getting to college in the first place. There are several moving parts of the application process that are difficult for students to juggle all by themselves. From writing personal statements, securing letters of recommendation and identifying colleges with the proper fit, to applying for financial aid, student loans and scholarships, preparing for and applying to college are daunting to say the least.

Applying to college is especially daunting for minority, low-income, and first-generation students, who may not have the resources or support outside of school to navigate the complex application process. They often must rely on in-school supports such as their school guidance counselors. But with the average student-to-school-counselor ratio in our nation’s public schools fast approaching 500-to-1, counselors are stretched too thin to provide the necessary college advising to students struggling to map out their postsecondary plans. Additionally, school counselors consistently report that they receive inadequate training in college and career admissions and college affordability (National Office of School Counselor Advocacy, 2012). The sobering result is the underenrollment of qualified students from underrepresented backgrounds in four-year colleges and universities. Currently only 45% of students in the bottom income quartile enroll in postsecondary education, compared with 81% of students in the top quartile (Cahalan & Perna, 2015).

Several programs have started to address this college access gap by offering robust mentoring services and scholarships to high-achieving low-income, minority, and first-generation students. Prominent examples include QuestBridge, Matriculate, the Gates Millennium Scholarship and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. These programs represent noble efforts to ensure that the most promising students receive a college education, but their “cream-skimming” practices largely disregard the majority of academically weaker but equally disadvantaged students. In light of the severe school counselor shortage, many of these students resort to facing the college application process alone.

This report is a case study of a national nonprofit aiming to help those who have been left behind. Founded in 2005, the National College Advising Corps (CAC) sends recent college graduates, many of whom are minority, low-income or first-generation themselves, into public high schools across the country to provide school counselors with additional college counseling support. CAC serves a dual purpose of 1) fostering a college-going culture among all students, regardless of circumstance, and 2) giving its college advisers the experience to become future leaders in school counseling and higher education administration. This report will first situate CAC within the current landscape of school counseling in America’s public high schools. It will then analyze the program’s impact, distinctive features, limitations and potential for expansion in order to highlight CAC’s instructive value to other college access programs and advocates.

Knowledge is Power: The role of college counseling in closing the information gap

A critical determinant of whether students apply to and enroll in college is adequate information about the application process. Students from wealthy families usually face few barriers to obtaining such information. Not only do they frequently attend schools with strong college-going cultures and support networks, but they also have the means to afford private counselors to supplement their in-school counseling services (Avery, Howell, & Page, 2014). High-income students with friends and family members who attended college themselves are thus at a significant advantage in the college application process.

Underrepresented student populations tend to be less well-informed for a variety of reasons. Both low-income and first-generation students face the additional challenge of applying for financial aid and understanding which colleges offer sufficiently generous packages (Kuh et al., 2006). They are also more likely to attend schools and live in neighborhoods where the college-going culture and recruitment efforts are not as strong (Hoxby & Avery, 2012). In addition, first-generation students do not have parents who attended college to guide them through the process. Instead they rely on easily accessible information such as online rankings since traveling to visit college campuses for information sessions and interviews is cost-prohibitive (McDonough et al. 1998). Unfortunately these sources of information are extremely blunt instruments that cause students to misperceive the academic, socioemotional, and financial fit of a college.  Educators may also be less supportive of underrepresented students throughout the college admissions process due to their race, as research shows that teachers systematically expect lower academic achievement from students of color (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016).

School counselors are uniquely positioned to ensure that students, particularly those belonging to underrepresented groups, are fully informed about college admissions and affordability. One study shows that visiting a school counselor significantly predicts increased college application rates for high school students. Furthermore, according to a study based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey, an additional high school counselor is associated with a 10% increase in 4-year college enrollment (Hurwitz & Howell, 2014).

Overextended and underutilized: Why school counselors are falling short

Counselors are enthusiastic about promoting college-and-career-readiness within their schools. Nearly three-quarters of school counselors believe they should prioritize giving students an “early understanding of application and admissions processes” (Bridgeland & Bruce, 2011). Even though school counselors can and want to play an important role in closing the information gap and improving college access for disadvantaged students, however, many fail to do so.

The first and foremost reason why is that school counselors, on average, face caseloads of over 450 students per counselor. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-school-counselor ratio of no more than 250-to-1 (“The Role of the School Counselor). This presents an enormous challenge for counselors to develop meaningful one-on-one relationships with students and help guide each student through the college admissions process. Even though school districts would like to expand their counseling staffs, financial constraints prevent administrations from remedying counselor shortages (Karp, 2017).

It is also striking to note how students of color and low-income students bear the greatest costs of counseling understaffing:

School counselors are also unable to provide the proper support for students applying to college because their school administrators require them to perform extraneous tasks unrelated to college counseling, such as creating the master class schedule and administering standardized tests. On average, counselors at public high schools devote less than a quarter of their time to “postsecondary admission counseling” (“School Counselors: Literature and Landscape Review,” 2011). In a recent survey of high school counselors, 58% expressed the desire for more time dedicated to “helping students navigate the college application and financial aid processes” (The College Board 2012 National Survey of School Counselors and Administrators, 2012).

School counselors are often the primary college advising resource for underrepresented students and have the potential to play a crucial role in improving their postsecondary outcomes. Currently, however, they are stretched too thin and over-burdened with other responsibilities. Given that understaffing of school counselors is largely a funding problem, how do we increase access to college counseling services for underrepresented students in the short-run?

Killing Two Birds with One Stone: The National College Advising Corps

Founded in 2005 by CEO Dr. Nicole Hurd, the National College Advising Corps (CAC) is a unique college access initiative that provides widespread access to college counseling services for minority, low-income, and first-generation students. CAC places recent college graduates from 24 partner universities into public high schools across the country. These college graduates are tasked with fostering a college-going culture within their school communities and acting as advisers to students navigating the complex process of college admissions, financial aid, and matriculation (College Advising Corps). CAC advisers must attend an intensive four- to six-week summer training program before they begin working, where they learn from experts about the nuances of the college application process, such as SAT/ACT fee waivers and FAFSA. Advisers commit a maximum of two years to serving in their assigned schools. There are currently over 500 advisers serving high school students in 15 different states (March 2016 Member Spotlight: College Advising Corps, 2016).

States where CAC Advisers work

Since its conception, CAC has served over 600,000 students in both rural and urban high schools. An independent study conducted by researchers at Stanford University analyzed the effectiveness of CAC advisers in Texas and found positive results across several performance indicators (Bettinger et al., 2010):

CAC has also recently added a supplemental program to their in-school college counseling model called College Point eAdvising, which mimics other virtual advising models by providing remote support to high-achieving, low-income students. While the Stanford report only verified the benefits of CAC advisers on the ground, this eAdvising feature clearly allows CAC to cast an even wider net and guide more students through the college application and financial aid process.

Furthermore, Dr. Nicole Hurd envisions CAC as “a double bottom line program” that creates a new generation of education leaders (Hurd, 2016). Key higher education policy debates surrounding financial aid reform, student debt management and loan forgiveness, and the academic and social experiences of first-generation and undocumented students in college have much to gain from school and college counselors who have worked with students on the ground. CAC is thus able to kill two birds with one stone: 1) helping underrepresented students gain access to postsecondary education opportunities, and 2) creating a pipeline of school counselors and leaders into education.

Recipe for Success: What sets CAC apart from the crowd

In addition to achieving impressive results and encouraging more college graduates to consider a career in education, CAC has several features in its design that distinguish it from other college access programs.

First of all, CAC is non-selective with regards to academic achievement. In other words, it does not only provide college counseling services to high-achieving underrepresented students. While programs that do so presumably narrow their focus in order to concentrate its efforts on a smaller demographic, CAC recognizes the value of every student regardless of circumstance and realizes that there are equally valuable alternatives to prestigious four-year universities, such as community college and professional training programs. The fact that CAC has managed to maintain high-quality college advising services at such a large scale is arguably its greatest asset.

CAC’s near-peer mentoring model also gives it a distinct advantage over solely virtual advising platforms. Living within their school communities allows advisers to establish more trust and sustained relations with not only their students, but also their students’ families. In fact, in New York and Detroit, CAC has begun piloting initiatives focused on increasing parent engagement in their child’s journey to college. The power of near-peer mentoring is greatly enhanced by CAC’s prioritization of a diverse advising corps. Over two-thirds of CAC advisers were either low-income or first-generation themselves when they applied to college (Hurd, 2016). It is especially important for college counselors to share a similar background with their advisees because it allows advisers to understand which postsecondary opportunities will best allow their students to thrive academically, socially, culturally, and financially.

Lastly, CAC incorporates details in its design that sometimes go ignored by other college access programs. For instance, whereas education policy is largely biased toward urban schools, advisers serve in both urban and rural settings. CAC also includes college persistence among its performance indicators, which refers to the proportion of students who continue their college education beyond the first year. College persistence is often overlooked but is becoming an increasingly important statistic because policymakers realized that focusing only on matriculation was insufficient if students later dropped out of school. The Stanford evaluation of CAC concluded that 74% of students who met with a CAC adviser and enrolled in college persisted through to their second year (College Advising Corps).

Counseling for America? Potential shortcomings of CAC

CAC is one of several initiatives that replicates Teach for America (TFA), the nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by Wendy Kopp that places recent college graduates in schools for two years. TFA has come under fire for diverging from its original mission of addressing the nationwide teacher shortage and instead sending corps members to schools with adequate staffing, thereby causing competition with and even displacing veteran district teachers (Brewer, 2016). Critics of TFA also point to the detrimental effects of teacher turnover and insufficient training at the expense of student outcomes (Blanchard, 2013). Furthermore, more experienced educators and policymakers lament the proliferation of alternative certification pathways like TFA because they believe they de-professionalize teaching even further (Milner, 2013).

While CAC mirrors TFA’s two-year placement model, it differentiates itself from TFA in two important ways. In terms of program design, CAC is the formal employer of its advisers, meaning its partnering school districts do not need to allocate funds for an additional staff member. Moreover, CAC does not brand itself as a corps of lone saviors. CAC emphasizes that advisers supplement, rather than supplant, existing high school counseling staff, thus helping the school assist more students (“March 2016 Member Spotlight: College Advising Corps,” 2016).

That said, CAC must be careful about contributing to the de-professionalization of school counseling and make greater efforts to explicitly recognize the opportunity costs of forgoing traditional certification. If advisers aim to become a career counselor, CAC needs to acknowledge that earning an accredited degree is necessary for counselors to understand their students’ holistic development and to craft more personalized and beneficial postsecondary education plans.


CAC has several opportunities to expand the scope of its impact in the short term. The organization should continue partnering with more colleges and universities to incentivize a larger pool of college graduates to pay it forward to high school seniors. CAC might also consider broadening its advising services to middle school students, as problems such as low academic performance and financial need arise much earlier than high school. CAC should also extend its performance indicators to include student debt and college persistence rates beyond the second year, which are necessary to understand students’ longer-term postsecondary success. In all, though, over the past decade CAC has made strides toward the goal of helping more underrepresented high school students across the nation apply to and enroll in college.

The college access divide is a multifaceted issue that will require more than one solution in order to fix. CAC represents one such solution that allows more disadvantaged students to reap the lifelong economic and personal benefits of attending college. Looking ahead, however, independent non-profit organizations such as CAC cannot close the college access gap by themselves. College access advocates need to develop long-term structural solutions to these disparities such as equitable school finance laws and more generous financial aid policies.

It is also imperative that educators, postsecondary institutions, and policymakers look beyond college completion as the ultimate goal. College completion is a worthy goal to strive for, but we as a nation must realize that underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students face several barriers to entry. Fortunately, although getting to college is half the battle, each year more and more students can count on the College Advising Corps for support every step of the way.


Thank you to Professor Mira Debs and Clare Kambhu for their mentorship this semester, and to Elijah Mas, Sara Harris, and Emily Patton for their insightful edits.

Works Cited

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New York’s Success Academy Charter Schools: A Tentative Success

By Alejandra Corona-Ortega, Sara Harris, Elijah Mas, and Ben Wong

Success Academy is billed as the largest, highest performing charter network in New York City, but is that the entire story? At first glance, the results point to significantly high student performance, especially compared to the surrounding New York City public schools. There has been no lack of controversy, however, surrounding this network, especially related to disciplinary policies, potentially biased enrollment, and fiscal management. In light of allegations and mixed reactions, the network has often failed to provide transparent explanations for their actions or solutions. This leaves room for skepticism that Success Academy is not actually meeting the needs of the entire student population within the context of NYC public schools, even considering reports of such high performance. After weighing the existing data on student outcomes against counter claims we believe that Success Academy as it stands provides NYC families with a quality alternative to traditional public schools, but we do not support the network’s plans for rapid expansion until it improves transparency and public accountability.


In order to evaluate data on Success Academy, we conducted a random drawing of six Success schools using an online random number generator. We then compared federal and state data for these six schools with data for the school districts geographically surrounding them. Student demographic and discipline data were collected from the NCES Elementary and Secondary Information System. Student achievement and attrition data, albeit limited, were collected from the NYSED data site. We made extensive use of Success Academy’s website in order to understand the network’s unique brand and student experience. Realizing that Success Academy’s own marketing materials are heavily biased, we also sought news articles, employee reviews, and independent reports that highlight potential counter-narratives from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.

History, Mission, and Pedagogy

Eva Moskowitz, an educator and leader in different levels of education and government, founded Success Academy in 2006. The network currently has 41 schools and educates 14,000 K-12 students. It utilizes lottery admission.

The stated purpose of the organization is the realization of success in children from all backgrounds. Ninety-three percent of students in Success schools are students of color (SOC), according to the organization’s website.

Success schools are driven by a holistic pedagogy, with a focus on critical thinking, core knowledge, cultural experiences, independent study and electives for secondary students, and college readiness, the precursors of which begin in the earliest years. In the upper grades, independent learning is stressed, and students are offered different opportunities for enrichment (elective courses, summer programs, etc.). STEM is an important part of the curriculum, and a special STEM diploma is available for high school students who choose to pursue it; even kindergarteners do science experiments.

Students are expected to hold themselves accountable, challenge themselves to grow, and persevere through difficulty. The organization seeks to foster a sense of community within its walls and in its neighborhoods; students are encouraged to support one another, and parental involvement is expected (Success Academy Official, 2017).

That Success students truly learn to be independent is, of course, not guaranteed. An evaluation of the Bronx 2 school (one of the schools in our sample) in the 2010-11 term by SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute (SUNY-CSI) reported that teachers indeed challenged students academically and encouraged a variety of thinking skills. However, it also found the following:

Teachers implement the school’s comprehensive behavior or management system with fidelity… They use various tactics to elicit class attention or compliance, such as clapping hands or repeating ‘track’ and other key phrases. Occasionally teachers demand 100 percent compliance with directions, requiring multiple admonitions that interfere with the flow of the lesson and learning time. … Teachers continually provide students with directions and praise for quiet student activity and quick transitions.

SUNY-CSI reports that the positive effect of this culture is that students understand clear expectations that they will not disrupt the learning process. It also states that with regard to the school, “the great majority of parents… have strong positive attitudes.” (Charter Schools Institute, 2011) The long-term impacts of this kind of instruction, however, remain nebulous.


To examine whether Success abides by its principle of maximizing the potential of students from all backgrounds, we briefly examined the schools’ demographics in the 2014-15 term. In most cases, the sample schools have higher SOC enrollment than their surrounding districts. Two of the three districts in which these schools are located have similar SOC concentrations to Success Academy on the whole:

The distributions vary for students who are traditionally disadvantaged because of economic or language barriers:

Both Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem 5 have significantly lower concentrations of free/reduced-lunch students than their surrounding districts, and Cobble Hill also has a smaller (but still measurable) difference. Most schools (save for Harlem 5) have low rates of ELL enrollment, both in absolute and district-relative terms.

Student Achievement

(Note: Certain data elements for different schools were not available, and no data are available for Hell’s Kitchen or Crown Heights. All data shown pertain to the 2014-15 term.)

Where state-level data is available, Success Academy schools tend to dramatically outperform their city and districts, with the strongest gains observed in math. This maintains across demographic groups, including traditionally underrepresented/disadvantaged students:

Figure 4 provides the district comparisons for third grade students:

Bronx 2 is the only school with available (albeit limited) data on ELL students are; as expected, proficiency rates are higher for ELL students in Success schools.

In addition to state/district comparisons, it is important to examine whether Success closes achievement gaps within its own walls. In terms of economic disparities (the only comparison for which we had sufficient data), it seems that this is what Success does:

In Cobble Hill, disadvantaged students outperform non-disadvantaged students. Due to lack of data, we do not know whether this trend continues beyond 3rd grade. Recall that in our sample, Cobble Hill has the lowest FRL concentration and second-lowest ELL concentration.

Success students perform highly, but why they exhibit this performance is beyond the scope of this data. Selection effects, attrition, or other factors could account for this; it is also possible that the quality of the schools is the dominant reason for the observed differences. We realize that proficiency rates are only one measure of attainment, which does not reveal more-detailed score distributions.

Data on student attainment beyond the Success chain are difficult to find. Diane Ravitch reblogged an article from the NY Post telling that very few Success students have gotten into the most-selective NYC public high schools: 0 in 2014, 0 in 2015, and 6 in 2016. It is possible, as Moskowitz alleges, that the low rate of acceptance is due to the fact that students are not coached for these exams (Ravitch, 2016). It is also possible that the apparent performance of Success students is exaggerated while they are in the charter system.

School Discipline

Success Academy is renowned for its students’ high achievement. While its website makes no mention of a no-excuses policy, it emphasizes the importance of maintaining high standards and personal responsibility. Moskowitz has continuously spoken about her support of the use of suspensions and other common “no-excuses” strategies such as the enforcement of uniforms (Feldman, 2017). According to SUNY-CSI, Success instructors do not accept even minor forms of misbehavior, an approach which bears semblance to the broken-windows ideology behind no-excuses models (Charter Schools Institute, 2011). Still, in 2016 the organization’s Chief Academic Officer Michele Caracappa spoke out against the no-excuses label:

In contrast, our analysis of racially disproportionate discipline in randomly selected schools reveal Success’ higher rates of out-of-school suspensions than the surrounding district:

It is important to note that district schools tend to discipline a higher proportion of the students using in-school-suspensions. The charter schools did not practice in-school suspension (click here for our work on discipline demographics). The network has been attacked for refuting the findings of the U.S. DOE declaring these practices discriminatory. Success Academy has been found to suspend seven times more students than district schools that serve the same age group (Casey, 2015). We were unable to find raw data on arrests or violent crimes occurring in Success schools.

Their discipline model has also continued to fall under scrutiny. One of the most notable episodes occurred when a math teacher was recorded screaming at a first-grader who failed to answer a question during class (Taylor, 2016 Feb.). The network was also criticized after the New York Times found documents revealing a “Got to Go” list of students that the administrators of a Success school thought were detrimental to school quality. The parents of some students on the list mentioned that administrators had told them repeatedly that the school was not a good fit for the children (Taylor,  2015 Oct.).

Consistent with the “Got to Go” list, there is consistent evidence of attrition between grades 3 and 5:

These data reinforce the idea that charter schools are successful because they can choose their students. We saw the high levels of out-of-school suspension that Success Academy practices (Fig. 6), which along with practices that make parents or students unwelcome could explain the lower number of students in subsequent grades. These data suggest that the schools are making sure to only have children who comply with the organization’ model of teaching and discipline which, leading many families to opt out of the schools. Contrary to public district schools, which cannot choose the students they serve, charter schools could improve their scores and discipline compliance by literally ostracizing kids from their schools.

Marketing & Media

Success Academy prioritizes two standards of their schools on their website, which is their main source of marketing: student success, and accessibility to all students interested. In the section titled “Who We Are” their performance, rigor, and credibility is prioritized. This section states that they are “ the largest and highest-performing free, public charter school network in New York City”, and also that enrollment is open to all students. Enrollment statistics for historically disadvantaged, under-supported groups— such as low-income students, current and former English Language Learners, current and former special needs student and students of color—are made easily available.

The network is attempting to demonstrate a dedication to high performance, accessibility and inclusion by including this information in an extremely visible, accessible portion of the website. In the growing market of charter schools, networks often market themselves to a specific audience of parents and students. Wilson and Carlsen examined differences in marketing techniques by different charter schools, categorizing schools by the groups their marketing targeted. Success Academy fits the parameters of the “Progress Oriented” category, defined by Wilson and Carlsen as having an emphasis on achievement, “group-based instructional strategies”, and “coherent school culture”. This targeted marketing understandably affects the student population that chooses to pursue enrollments (Wilson & Carlsen, 2016).

Their mission statement echoes these goals, stating their goal to “Build exceptional, world-class public schools that provide children from all backgrounds can succeed in college and life…” the graphics below demonstrate the most used words in their “About” section, which highlights their marketing focus on academics and diversity in curriculum, as well as focus on rigor and outcomes by using words such as “scholars” and “achievements”.

Accountability and Oversight

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer released an audit report of Success Academy from fiscal years 2013 to 2015, noting “serious concerns” about the network’s insufficient fiscal oversight. One of the audit’s most salient findings was an overcharge of $51,000 for special education services to the NYC Department of Education, but no evidence that Success Academy actually provided those services to students. The report also criticizes the network for unreported expenditures and improper loan documentation (Stringer, 2016).

In response to the Comptroller’s Office, Success denounced the audit as an empty political ambush (Harris, 2016). Instead of reacting bitterly to the audit report, however, the charter network may have drawn less scrutiny if it simply acknowledged the financial irregularities and made the appropriate repayments without fanfare. At the same time, the Comptroller’s Office may have exaggerated the significance of its findings. Although Success Academy should be held accountable for taxpayer dollars, the report did not find any evidence of fraud or criminal behavior, and poor record keeping does not necessarily imply darker motivations. Additionally, the magnitude of the fiscal mismanagement in question is relatively small compared to the network’s multimillion-dollar budget. The audit’s findings provide little reason to believe that these instances of fiscal mismanagement are systemic.

That said, Success Academy should accept and respect the Comptroller’s audit and simply work to make accountability an even higher priority in the future. One way in which the network can begin improving accountability is by sharing more details about the formal duties and practices of its Board of Directors. While biographies of board members are listed on Success Academy’s website, the board has yet to publicly disclose important information about CEO oversight, ethics and transparency, and board selection and self-assessment procedures (GuideStar, 2017). Sharing these details will ensure Success leadership is fulfilling its legal and fiduciary obligations to the network’s students.


A mixture of public and philanthropic dollars funds Success Academy schools. In 2014 the network earned nearly $42.5 million in revenue, consisting primarily of contributions, grants, and funding from New York for the operations of its schools. In the same fiscal year, 63% of the network’s revenue paid for program services directly benefiting students. The remainder went toward administrative costs and fundraising expenses. The sources of these 37% in overhead costs are unclear, but the network’s Form 990s reveal that top executives receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual compensation plus bonuses. The network earned a net profit of $9.25 million (GuideStar, 2017).

The fact that over one-third of Success Academy’s revenue goes to overhead costs instead of student programs raises skepticism in light of its most recent skirmish with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Moskowitz refused to sign a contract with a city that entitled them to $720,000 in funding for the network’s pre-kindergarten program because she believed the contract would have given the city too much oversight (Taylor, 2016). But the network’s outrage over the forgone $720,000 seems unwarranted given its millions of dollars in remaining revenue after subtracting current program costs. Using its existing funds to keep the pre-K program afloat would not place much of a financial burden on the network, which raises questions about ulterior fiscal motives Success may have had in this most recent feud with the city.

Private donations are solicited in order to build new schools. For example, hedge fund billionaires Julian H. Robinson and John Paulson collectively gifted $33.5 million to Success in the past two years, which Moskowitz says will help the network expand to 100 schools by 2024 (Taylor, 2016). Many pro-Success hedge fund managers like Paulson also actively support the Trump administration, which explicitly endorses choice policies such as charter schools, vouchers, and magnet schools. Hedge Clippers released an incisive report condemning Success Academy for accepting major gifts from hedge fund board members who support conservative social and economic policies that harm the disadvantaged populations that Success intends to serve. The report identifies several managers and their spouses who are tied to the charter network, several of whom presumably champion school choice and other conservative education policies on the Trump administration’s policy agenda (Hedge Clippers, 2015). It is unclear whose interests these private philanthropic donors have in mind.


Success Academy teachers receive “extensive professional development from experienced teachers and talented school leaders” according to Success’ website. A position called “Associate Teacher” is used as a stepping stone to a “Lead Teacher” position. Associate teachers are supposed to receive more support from their peers and professional development on their way to a Lead position. Many of the new teachers are recent graduates. There are mixed reviews from former Success teachers who held many different positions. Some past teachers praise the network’s support and professional development, while others criticize the high-stress and demanding environment (“Reviews”, 2016). It is unclear if this variance stems from differences in specific Success schools, or differences in positions. There have also been high turnover rates reported at many Success schools, as high as 50% at several. The transparency and interpretation of this data has not been straightforward, as Success Academy representatives have pushed back, stating that these numbers are inflated due to intra-network transfers counted as teacher resignations. Critics have cited New York Department of Education statistics which show overall retention rates below 70%, and same-school retention rates around 50% (Di Carlo, 2015).

Teacher diversity, or purported lack thereof, has been another publicized topic surrounding Success Academy. Cited statistics from the Teachers Diversity Committee of NYC showed that the percentage of white teachers at several Success schools during the 2013-14 school year was significantly higher than the district average of 58.6%, some seeing this number climb past 90% (“Success Academy Charter School Staff Diversity”).

Relationship to the District

Success Academy is often revered as a high-quality charter network where predominantly minority children in New York City have access to a challenging education that often puts them ahead of suburban schools. However, this praise is far from ubiquitous. Since entering office, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has opposed Moskowitz’s commitment to expanding charters because he believes networks like Success siphon off money from district schools. (Bergner, 2014). While some Success Academy parents believe the network is preparing their children for the future better than their traditional public schools, others resent the levels of discipline in the school and began looking for other options for the following year (Spear, 2015). In an extreme case of communal distrust, this past March a Success school co-located with M.S. 145, a NYC school in danger of being closed. M.S. 145 was promised three years to turn itself around, but Success Academy had prematurely moved into the space, creating tensions with the neighborhood community. There is suspicion that the charter network has greater sway in the decision to close M.S. 145 and plans to remain there once M.S. 145 closes (Vinopal, 2017). Despite these problems, however, there are signs that the charter is certainly trying to collaborate with educators in traditional public schools. According to the NYC Charter School Center, Success Academy hosted a professional development workshop for educators across the city to discuss best pedagogical practices (Reinish, 2015).


Success Academy sells itself as a mission-driven organization dedicated to the success of all students and improvement of pedagogy. Scholarliness and accessibility are its most prominently stated goals, and it supplies that 93% of its students are of color. State data reveal superior performance in Success schools in the youngest grades, and we expect nothing different for higher ones. As the network stands today it has had a net positive impact on public education for NYC students and families, even in spite of criticism of its discipline policy that echoes other charter networks’ “no excuses” philosophy. That said this criticism leads us to question whether Success Academy’s laser-like focus on academic excellence comes at the expense of other student outcomes, such as their socio-emotional and behavioral health. More data on how students fare beyond Success Academy are needed to evaluate this claim.

Furthermore, we demand greater transparency from the network before supporting their expansion to 100 schools by 2024. Even our brief examination shows high variability in FRL enrollment, deficits (some minor) in ELL enrollment, and high rates of suspension. Success touts the quality of its teachers and professional development, but it may harbor unhealthy, detrimental professional environments. Different individuals and offices have attested or probed claims that Success denies opportunity to all students and makes unfair use of public funding; Success officials staunchly deny this. We believe that the Success Academy’s growth must be accompanied by increased public accountability to ensure that all NYC district students have fair and equal access to its opportunities for academic enrichment, as well as to ensure that the network is not abusing public funding that traditional public schools unquestionably need.


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