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Why is Harlem Academy a Private School?

Friday, January 9, 2015

One of the questions we receive most often from prospective supporters and parents is why are we a private school and not a charter school?

The short answer is that only as a private school does Harlem Academy have the flexibility to achieve its mission. We identify talented children and provide them with the advanced academics and character development they need to catch up with their peers from more affluent communities.

Below is an in depth look at why we set Harlem Academy up as a private school for students of all economic backgrounds, and how we keep that model viable.

middle school student reading

Why focus on high-potential children?

High-potential students from underserved communities fall through the cracks of our current system. Only 9% of freshmen at top universities come from the bottom half of the U.S. income distribution. High-potential students from low-income families drop out of high school or do not graduate on time at twice the rate of their peers from more affluent communities. Talent and hard work should be a pathway to success. We know that education is the key to unlocking this, but without the right academic preparation and skills these opportunities too often remain out of reach.

Why can’t charter schools serve these high-potential students?

Charter schools must admit students by random lottery and teach students of all academic abilities. The No Child Left Behind Act requires all charter and public schools to pull low-achieving students up to proficiency or face severe penalties. Since this mandate includes the vast majority of students in Harlem, it leaves limited attention and resources for students with high potential.

What about public school gifted and talented programs?

Students must already be scoring above the 90th percentile to qualify for admission to any of these programs, and the best programs require scores at the 97-99th percentile. Low-income students often lack the resources necessary to achieve this, so students from more affluent neighborhoods dominate placements in these programs.

middle school girl writing on board

What is different about Harlem Academy?

As an independent or private school (the two terms are essentially synonymous), we have the flexibility to develop curriculum, admit students, and hire teachers based solely on our mission to support high-potential students from underserved communities. Our average student enters with test scores around the 75th percentile and gains more than 16 points during their first year at Harlem Academy.

Where do our graduates end up?

Our graduates go on to outstanding secondary schools, including Chapin, Spence, Riverdale, Hotchkiss, and Peddie. The first three graduating classes earned more than $890,000 in annual scholarships. Furthermore, 80% of the schools that enrolled one of our graduates have offered scholarships to additional Harlem Academy students because our kids are prepared to do the work at the highest levels and contribute to their school community.

How is Harlem Academy funded?

85% of our revenue comes from donations, because – unlike most New York City private schools – tuition payments cover just 15% of the school’s expenses. While every family contributes something, 97% of students require significant financial aid. And, unlike public and charter schools, Harlem Academy receives almost no government funding to support the school’s operations. We are grateful to our community of supporters for making this transformational opportunity possible.