Hebrew Charter School Movement Shows Signs of Growth — and Growing Pains

With Schools in N.J., N.Y., Fla., Calif. and More on the Way

Hungry for Hebrew: Students at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn interact in class.
Courtesy of the Hebrew Language Academy
Hungry for Hebrew: Students at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn interact in class.

By Andrew Brownstein

Published February 09, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
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The HCSC has not been immune from bad publicity. Last November, the center’s school in Brooklyn received an “F” in New York City’s annual grading of schools.

While calling the grade “concerning,” Rosenberg said it was a “dramatically incorrect overstatement in terms of the school’s overall performance.” He noted that the report card was based on the performance of just one cohort of students on the new assessments for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

“The school’s overall performance would put it in the top third of elementary schools in the city,” he said. “None of this is to say that that school shouldn’t improve, and it will improve.”

Nonetheless, Rosenberg praised the high quality of the center’s offerings, indicating that his goal would be to move more of its schools from “good to great.”

“As we start to perform as an excellent network of schools, then the case for growth becomes much clearer,” he said. “The case for opening more schools will make itself.”

Marya Levenson, director of Brandeis University’s education program, underscored that message. Brandeis, along with Vermont’s Middlebury College, had been working with the HCSC to help support Hebrew proficiency in its schools. But after one phase of the project was completed, a planned second phase was put on pause.

“There aren’t as many schools as they anticipated coming online,” Levenson said. “I think they are moving to add more schools, but to do it in a thoughtful way, where they are able to build good capacity.”

Rosenberg said that during his tenure at Edison, he learned many “hard lessons” about the perils of charter expansion. For example, the politics, rules and regulations surrounding charters vary widely from state to state. The HCSC currently has schools in New York, New Jersey, California and Washington, D.C., and is in discussions to open in other locations.

Expansion would also tax the center’s Hebrew language immersion experts — what Rosenberg calls “boots on the ground” — to train teachers and staff in the field. It is a costly proposition that will draw on his fundraising expertise.

“I’m mindful of the complexity of doing that in a variety of different locations — not daunted by it, but mindful,” he said.

Andrew Brownstein is an education journalist working in the Washington, D.C., area. Contact him at brownstein@forward.com

This article was updated on February 10.


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