An article printed in the June 6-12 edition of the paper objected to EMBER Charter School’s submitting a request to the Department of Education for an expansion from K-8 to K-H.S. This week, EMBER founder and Managing Partner Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II responded, presenting the merits of the school and correcting what he says are some inaccurate assertions.

To the Editor:

Let me begin by thanking the editors of Our Time Press for providing us with the opportunity to address the misleading and false information conveyed about our school in the letter from Nequan McLean, President of Community Education Council 16. As a Black- founded and led community-based nonprofit organization, we value highly our connection to and engagement with other Black-founded and led organizations like Our Time Press, and thus, we are eager to set the record straight.

 

The CEC statement and previous article poses the following questions as a means to criticize Ember and our proposed expansion to high school:

 

  • “Why should [Ember] receive expansion to high school status?”
  • “Why aren’t charter schools held to the same standard as [traditional] public schools?”
  • “Are charter schools really as strong and effective as reported?”

 

While it is clear that Mr. McLean seeks to suggest that Ember is a failing school being given special treatment, let me state, unequivocally, that this is far from the truth. In fact, because of the great success Ember has been able to achieve as an Afrocentric, culturally relevant and innovative public school (e.g., middle school student achievement completely eliminates the achievement gap), we receive even greater push back and discrimination than our charter school peers from all sides—from the people who are invested in the current traditional public school system in order to maintain their own power and jobs at the expense of what’s best for kids to those who claim to want to change schooling for our children yet treat them like they are in prison and need to be controlled.

 

We have and will continue to receive the greatest support and encouragement from those who care most about Black and Brown self- empowerment and liberation. This is our mission, that is our truth, and as Brother Malcolm X said, “We will make it plain.” We will not be deterred, no matter how loud the voices of negative and doubting white government officials, no matter how clamorous the jeers and rebukes from self-hating Black and Brown folks, all who loathe Black and Brown people taking command and responsibility for the education, empowerment and future of our community’s children.

 

“Why should [Ember] receive expansion to high school status?”: Ember was recommended to expand to high school by the NYC Department of Education because we have been able to achieve very strong results and growth for our students as they spend more time enrolled with us, all without using any test prep whatsoever. While it is unclear to us what data source Mr. McLean used to inform his letter from CEC16, the data available via the official New York State data site is clear: Ember’s state test results exceed our district’s (CSD16) in Math (Ember: 32% vs. CSD16: 30%), as well as in ELA (Ember: 48% vs. CSD16: 34%). In fact, unlike nearly every traditional public school in our district, as students continue on with Ember thru middle school their results soar, with our middle school outperforming our district, city and state in Math (Ember: 57% vs. CSD16: 12% vs. NYC: 40% vs. NYS: 43%) and ELA (Ember: 62% vs. CSD16: 22% vs. NYC: 46% vs. NYS: 45%).

 

Ember ELA State Test Comparative Analysis (Overall):

Year Ember CSD 16

(Bedford- Stuyvesant)

New Yok

City (Overall)

New York

State (Overall)

New York State Black Students New York State Latino Students New York State White Students
2016 38% 30% 39% 39% 28% 28% 47%
2017 40% 26% 38% 38% 28% 28% 45%
2018 48% 35% 47% 45% 34% 35% 52%

 

Ember Math State Test Comparative Analysis (Overall):

Year Ember CSD 16

(Bedford- Stuyvesant)

New Yok

City (Overall)

New York

State (Overall)

New York State Black Students New York State Latino Students New York State White Students
2016 19% 26% 40% 43% 27% 29% 54%
2017 19% 23% 41% 43% 26% 29% 53%
2018 32% 30% 43% 46% 29% 32% 57%

 

The longer students are with us, the greater their success …

 

 

Ember Middle School (Grades 6-7) ELA State Test Comparative Analysis

Year Ember CSD 16

(Bedford- Stuyvesant)

New Yok

City (Overall)

New York

State (Overall)

New York State Black Students New York State Latino Students New York State White Students
2017 47% 13% 32% 32% 20% 21% 40%
2018 62% 22% 46% 45% 32% 34% 52%

 

Ember Middle School (Grades 6-7) Math State Test Comparative Analysis

Year Ember CSD 16

(Bedford- Stuyvesant)

New Yok City (Overall) New York State (Overall) New York State Black Students New York State Latino Students New York State White Students
2017 56% 9% 36% 40% 22% 25% 52%
2018 57% 12% 40% 43% 25% 28% 54%

 

 

As for the other accusations highlighted in the CEC’s letter, they are similarly misleading and false:

 

  • Our suspension rates have NEVER exceeded 3% (we rarely suspend, and do so only as a last resort).
  • Teacher turnover has NEVER exceeded 20% (2016-18, it was less than 15%).
  • We have never expelled any students (even when such behavior may have qualified for expulsion).
  • ALL public schools are responsible for scoring the open response portions of the state exams. Like other public schools in New York State, we choose to score in-house to save money on outsourcing costs and ensure all guidelines are followed to the letter of the In fact, our scoring has been audited by the state nearly every year without any negative evaluation.
  • Our student attrition is neither high nor unusual for our district given the skyrocketing rental costs and gentrification in Bed-Stuy. More than 50% of students who leave our school have transitioned out of our district, city and/or state. Yet, despite this attrition, Ember’s enrollment increases significantly each year, more than 40% since 2016, an indication of the very strong demand for our innovative, holistic and culturally responsive

 

“Why aren’t charter schools held to the same standard as [traditional] public schools?”: Charter schools are held to even higher standards than traditional public schools. Unlike our traditional public school peers, charter schools must not only conduct an annual third-party financial, operational and programmatic audit, provide extensive reporting to the city and state, and host monthly public meetings with our leadership team, we must also prove our efficacy every five years or risk being closed. There are traditional public schools in our community who have been failing our kids for many, many years without any accountability whatsoever.

 

“Are charter schools really as strong and effective as reported?”: While I cannot speak for all charter schools, I can certainly express that Ember is most definitely as strong and effective as reported. We provide an empowerment and love-based instructional environment, one that centers the development of the whole person through a deep investment in culturally responsive pedagogy, Socratic inquiry, critical thinking, game theory and mindfulness. We specialize in supporting students who have been exposed to trauma and have built our organization around being responsive to children and youth most in need of our nurturing environment. We offer everything from STEM and integrated arts, to study abroad, yoga and Capoeira. 100% of our leadership team and 95% of our lead teachers are Black and Brown, and we all live in Bed-Stuy/Central Brooklyn, the same communities as the students and families we serve—we are deeply community-rooted and are among the most dedicated and committed social justice warriors walking our streets. We are unapologetically engaged in education for liberation and will endeavor to do all we can to serve our people with honor and distinction. That is Ember, this is who we are, and for the legion of reasons we’ve highlighted herein, we should be permitted to expand to high school. Indeed, the many hundreds of families and supporters here in Bed-Stuy demand it, and we will do all we can to answer this call.

 

 
   

Amandla Awethu,

Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II, Esq. Founder & Managing Partner