Archives for category: Charter Schools

I seem to get an unusual number of contacts from people who have left teaching at Success Academy; recently I had a long meeting with someone working at the central headquarters of SA. Everyone wants to clear his/her conscience. I tell them to write it down. Not everyone does. This teacher did.




Why I Left Success Academy



I recently resigned from my teaching position at Success Academy after over a year with the large New York City charter school network. My reason for leaving was twofold: the environment was toxic for children, and, in turn, employees.



As I look back, my biggest regret is not trusting my gut and leaving in the first month.


Upon hire, I was placed in an Assistant Teacher role in a classroom at one of the Success Academy (“SA”) elementary school locations. The teacher I was placed with, a woman who I will call Ms. X, was lauded as having a strong command of the SA teaching model. From the first day that our young scholars arrived, her style was rigid and militaristic. I recognize that every teacher has her own style, and that having order in a classroom is of utmost importance, but I quickly began to feel uneasy with her approach to behavior management and instruction. Multiple children would cry daily because their academic performance was not up to her standards. Corrections and time outs were given for the inability to solve problems the “correct” way. The barking at and scolding of these six and seven year-old children was constant.


Ms. X would refer to certain students as “stupid” during teacher meetings. There was one particular child for which she had little patience. After I felt she was physically rough with this child, I confided in another teacher at the school. This teacher conveyed the incident to the Principal. The Principal immediately met with me. Rather than concern, she expressed frustration at the fact that I had talked to another teacher about the incident. The Principal appeared agitated as she stated she would have to investigate this issue. Despite stating she would investigate, she asked me no questions about the incident. Within a few weeks of this incident, I was moved to another classroom within the school. Nothing came of that incident; I am quite sure it was never mentioned again after that day. I note that Ms. X was promoted in 2015.


The classroom I was moved into was led by Mr. Z. This classroom was a joyous one, and I built strong relationships with the children and parents. Despite the fact that the classroom was joy-filled and the children learned, the leadership team frowned upon Mr. Z’s teaching practice. It was clear that Mr. Z loved children and wanted them to succeed, but he did not fit the SA mold; that rigid, behavior management style where children must sit perfectly straight with locked hands every minute. Mr. Z stayed until the end of the school year, and then found employment at another school.


I did not get to stay with that classroom. In February, the Principal told me she had an “opportunity” for me to help out at another SA location, a struggling school in our Network. I was advised by other teachers that when leadership presents you with such an “opportunity,” you do not say no, as you will be viewed as uncooperative; that this was not an option, but a must.


Thus, in mid-February of 2015, I began teaching fourth grade scholars at another SA location. This particular SA location had gained notoriety throughout the Network for its “unruly” children. Nonetheless, I felt optimistic about having my own classroom; I had received little feedback about my teaching at the first SA location, but had led my second classroom on my own plenty of times and, when I did receive feedback, it was positive.


After seven days of teaching fourth grade, the Principal stated she was concerned about management and moved me out of the position. She had never once observed me teach. I was the fourth teacher to fill that position during the school year. I was left bewildered as to what had gone wrong; I had barely been observed by the Dean, who seemed too “busy” to be bothered, and was given little instruction as to what their vision was for the class.


Thereafter, I became a science teacher for scholars in kindergarten and first grade. Some of the children were labeled as what the Network refers to “BBGLs”: Behavior Below Grade Level scholars, meaning their behavior was an issue. Indeed, there were some concerning behavior issues at the school: children pushing over or throwing desks and chairs, biting teachers, and running out of classrooms. I taught science class alone and often found certain scholars unmanageable. When I asked for support from the Dean, she did not answer calls or texts.


The Dean would intermittently and inconsistently suspend children. Sometimes, if a child ran out of a classroom, he or she would be suspended. But other children were consistently suspended. I could not discern any rhyme or reason to the suspensions. One of my kindergarten scholars, “M”, was suspended constantly, almost every other day of school at times. M’s father had passed away earlier in the year, and he clearly was not dealing well with this change. I do not know how M’s single, working mother, who had other children, dealt with her child being out of school every other day.


I built strong relationships with many of my science students, and they performed well on their science assessments. As a whole, however, my time at this second SA school was difficult and confusing. I and many other teachers felt frustrated and unsupported. During the time I was there, I watched as teachers were mysteriously fired or demoted.


At the end of the year, I was advised by head of Human Resources, Andrew Lauck, that I would be teaching at another SA location in the fall. I was not told there was any particular reason for this move, just that I would be teaching at another location. I had met with Mr. Lauck twice in the preceding year to discuss my trajectory, and at our last meeting in February we had discussed me being a lead teacher in my own classroom for the 2015-2016 academic year.


In the first week of June of 2015, I set up a visit to the new SA location at which I would be teaching in the fall. I met and had a brief, albeit bizarre, conversation with the Principal, during which time she discussed the culture of her school as one where behavior management is a non-issue. I felt unwelcome and uncomfortable during my first meeting with her.


In mid-June, this Principal (Principal “Y”) had the Network reach out to me and ask if I would fill a non-teaching (data management) position. I was confused, as teaching experience was a necessity in my career trajectory. I fearfully declined the position, and reached out to Principal Y for clarification on why she wanted me to move into a non-teaching position. After attempting to contact her three times without response, I gave up.


On August 17, 2015, I began teaching an ICT (Integrated Co-Teaching) class with a co-teacher at Principal Y’s school. Essentially, about 40% of my children had individualized education plans, and are educated with peers in a general education classroom setting. From the first day, I knew I had a great group of children, and was enjoying teaching and getting to know each of them with my co-teacher.


On August 25, after seven school days, I was brought to a meeting with the Principal and the Vice Principal. At this time, Principal stated that I had the “lowest performing classroom” in the school, which consists of approximately 600 students. Notably, the children had not taken a single assessment, and I had been observed briefly on two occasions. Their “low performance” was based not on academics, but on their posture and my “scanning and noticing” as to whether their hands were locked, eyes were tracking, and backs were straight at all times. I was told by Principal Y that the bar was set too low in my classroom; that I was an ineffective teacher; and that I had no passion for teaching and should have taken the data management position she recommended in June. I knew better than to ask questions or try to refute their statements, because I would be labeled “difficult” or unwilling to receive feedback. I was, frankly, worried about losing my job. I informed her that I would like to continue teaching, as I knew I could “turn around” my classroom. I left the meeting with no tangible advice or next steps.


Immediately following the meeting, I received an email from Mr. Lauck asking whether I would like to reconsider the data management position. It became clear to me at that time that Principal Y and Mr. Lauck were trying to push me into a non-teaching position because I did not fit the SA mold, one in which children are expected to have locked hands and straight backs all day.


Notably, the first suspension in my class had also occurred on August 25. One of my scholars, a BBGL, was suspended for “violent behavior by balling his fists up and throwing his papers on the floor.” This decision was made by the Dean, and was one with which I did not feel comfortable. This scholar was subsequently suspended again on September 29 for kicking another scholar. I met with the Dean multiple times regarding this scholar; multiple times she stated that “Success Academy is not for everyone.”


Three other suspensions occurred in my class. One of my special education students was suspended twice. On the first occasion, September 23, he was found being disruptive in the bathroom. His disruptive behavior occurred frequently; he was hyperactive and it was nearly impossible for him to sit still during a lesson, let alone lock his hands. As a result, he racked up corrections and became frustrated daily. It was a Catch 22: if I did not give him corrections, I would be deemed ineffective; if I did, the child became frustrated. So, on that particular day, he was brought to the Dean. When he went to the Dean, he allegedly refused to speak to her. On September 23, he was suspended for “Repeatedly refusing to respond when addressed by leadership.”


In the following weeks, Principal Y scolded my grade team for the amount of suspensions that were occurring. Clearly, there was the overarching concern of increasing the school’s suspension data. Like academic data, the suspension data of each school is tracked by the Network, and schools are ranked against one another. Leaders feared being reprimanded about their suspension data.


In October, leadership began to observe in our classrooms daily. No feedback was given during these visits. The grade team felt tense and nervous; it was not made clear to teachers why leadership was present in rooms daily. Principal Y would enter the classroom, scowling, and said very little. When she did speak, she seemed irritated with children and teachers alike. We had daily team meetings during one of our two prep periods about “pressing” the children.


The environment was toxic. Between September and October, teachers quit, were fired, and were hired. Teachers were moved around classrooms as the staff continued to change. Colleagues wondered why leadership was observing in classrooms daily, and whether they were going to be fired. Teachers would hide in the bathroom and cry; leadership found it funny to say “keep the crying to yourself” or “go cry in the bathroom.”


This environment is challenging for both new and veteran teachers at Success Academy. The time constraints of having only one forty-minute prep during a school day that exceeds nine hours, followed by staying late hours after children were dismissed, led to frustrated teachers that worked late nights and weekends. Teachers’ responsibilities are constantly increased. Additionally, teachers felt nervous and tense with constant observations and negative feedback. Teachers were hanging on by a thread, to say the least.


At SA, there is an emphasis on question-based learning and avoiding direct instruction; direct instruction is indeed a huge “no-no” that will get you in big trouble as an SA teacher (drone?). That said, on the day or days before an internal assessment, teachers will clear schedules to make time to prep for what will be tested on the upcoming assessment. That means drilling students on problems and concepts that will be tested on the assessment. Internal assessments are almost every week; so a large portion of at least one day a week is spent drilling on standards that will be on an upcoming assessment. SA teachers do teach/focus on what will be on the exam. As for state test preparation, that is all testing grade students do come February: prepare for the tests. The entire day is spent on practice tests and questions, and reviewing same. The only breaks are for lunch, recess, and reward/incentive time for students who perform well. Students who do not perform well are corralled into groups to be reprimanded and to re-take their assessments. Teachers are required to come in on certain Saturdays for test prep during this “test prep season,” which lasts for months (February through mid-April).


I knew that this organization was taking advantage of teachers. It became difficult for me to put on the show every day; to act like I was 100% behind their system. I never stopped working hard, but my morale plummeted. While I believed in, and still believe in, Success Academy’s mission of giving children an excellent public education, I could not support their drastic behavioral expectations and discipline policies for children, as well as the way they exploit and demoralize teachers.


I believe my low morale was noticed, and in November, I received a new wave of negative feedback around my “body language.” Leadership claimed I had negative body language not while I was teaching, but while I observed others teaching. I knew that I would never be able to fit the SA mold and could no longer fake agreement with their policies; that they wanted me out; and that they would continue to think of ways to break down my morale. So, I left.


I feel sad that I’ve left the kids and their families. I loved my kids and all of their unique personalities. It thrilled me to watch them learn and grow. I had good relationships with many of their parents, and I feel as though I disappointed them and let them down by abandoning them during the school year. But this was a move I had to make. I could no longer take being a cog in the SA machine, perpetuating what I feel is unfair and abusive treatment of children and employees alike.







The for-profit Chester Community Charter School has been a continual source of controversy. The founder, a lawyer, was one of the biggest donors to Republican Governor Tom Corbett and served on his education transition team. He made millions by supplying the goods and services needed by the school. The charter school, which claimed excellent test scores, drew more than half the students in its district, leaving the public schools teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. By state formula, the charter school is paid more for each special education student than the district is paid, further impoverishing the district since the funding comes out of the district’s allotment of state money. In recent years, teachers have had to work without salary until state aid bailed out the district.


Now the school and its staff stand accused of having systematically cheated on tests.

The Notebook in Philadelphia reports:

A former testing coordinator at Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar charter with more than 3,000 students, has been sanctioned by the state for “systemic violations of the security of the PSSA exams” over the five-year period between 2007 and 2011.

The school was under scrutiny for testing irregularities by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of a statewide cheating scandal that broke in 2011.

CCCS is operated for profit by a company owned by Vahan Gureghian, a major Republican donor and power broker who was among the largest individual contributors to former Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign and a member of his education transition team. During his term, Corbett visited CCCS to tout it as an exemplar of high-quality education for low-income communities.

Now with two campuses, CCCS has drawn more than half the K-8 students who live in the Chester Upland School District.

The state’s disciplinary action against the former coordinator, Patricia A. Sciamanna, was for violating testing rules during years that CCCS was struggling to meet federal student proficiency targets used for critical decisions, including whether a charter should be renewed.

The Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) suspended Sciamanna’s instructional and administrative licenses, as well as her eligibility to work in a charter or cyber charter, for two years….


The school’s statement reiterated its longstanding position that PDE has made no determination against the school itself in regards to cheating.

“The PDE closed its review of CCCS in September 2012, with no finding of wrongdoing by the school,” the statement said.

That month, a letter from PDE sent to CCCS, however, cited “overwhelming evidence of testing irregularities” and required the school to adopt strict testing protocols.

CCCS is now one of nine districts or charters in the state on an “open watch list,” meaning that its test administration continues to be closely monitored and supervised by PDE.

Test scores at the school plunged under new security measures and have remained relatively low since.


Although much of the public attention around adult cheating on standardized tests in Pennsylvania has been focused on Philadelphia schools, the statewide investigation launched in 2011 probed suspicious results in 38 districts and 11 charters across Pennsylvania.


One was CCCS.


In July 2011, the Notebook and NewsWorks reported on a state-commissioned analysis showing widespread test score irregularities at dozens of Pennsylvania schools in 2009. In response, the Pennsylvania Department of Education commissioned a further analysis of PSSA results from 2010 to 2011, then launched an investigation into those whose results was most suspicious. CCCS was flagged multiple times for an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on the test booklets.

The investigation went on for more than a year. The September 2012 letter, sent by then-Deputy Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, recounted how PDE initiated the probe “based on the statistical improbability that the students made these erasures themselves.”

But PDE then allowed the school to conduct its own investigation, “which did not yield clear conclusions notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of testing irregularities,” the letter said.

In February of that year, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, CCCS attorney Francis J. Catania had written to Dumaresq that the school’s investigation “uncovered absolutely no evidence of testing improprieties or irregularities” – instead establishing that “improvements in PSSA test scoring are the direct result of hard work, innovative educational programming and persistent preparation by the students, teachers, administrators and parents at CCCS, and not some purported nefarious conduct or ‘cheating.'”

Catania suggested the erasures were due to test-taking strategies taught to the students.

Nevertheless, after the school reported the inconclusive results, “PDE returned to complete its investigation,” according to Dumaresq’s letter. PDE then spelled out strict testing protocols that the school said it would follow, including 24-hour security cameras where the tests are stored and in all classrooms in which students take them. In addition, PDE sent outside monitors to supervise all test administrations.

Through its history, CCCS struggled to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the test score and performance targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The school made AYP in 2004 but then fell short for four years in a row from 2005 through 2008.

A fifth year of failing to meet targets would have triggered sanctions under NCLB, including a potential change in management.

The scores climbed in 2009, and for three years in a row, through 2011, they were high enough for the school to earn Adequate Yearly Progress status, an indicator that enhanced the school’s credibility in the Chester community. The school’s enrollment saw continued growth.

After the strict test protocols were put in place in 2012, proficiency rates at CCCS plummeted by an average of 30 percentage points in every grade and subject. In letters to parents and the media, the school blamed the drop on budget cuts.

Since then, scores have remained low – similar to scores of some Chester-Upland district schools.

That district has been in dire financial straits for decades, most recently exacerbated by its huge payments to CCCS and two other charters. Due to quirks in the state charter funding formula, the district sends $40,000 for each special education student at a charter, a figure that far outstrips any other in the state and has helped to virtually bankrupt Chester schools.

This fall, when it was unclear whether Chester’s district schools could afford to open their doors, Gov. Wolf sought a rescue plan for the district in which, among other actions, the payments to the charters for special education students would be lowered to $16,000. The charters, including CCCS, agreed to accept a payment of $27,000 per student as part of a compromise plan that was approved by the courts…

The settlement with Sciamanna was the result of a negotiation. The state Department of Education, which brought the complaint in October 2013, had initially sought permanent revocation of her credentials but settled for the two-year suspension.

A review of the state’s website listing disciplinary actions against Pennsylvania educators shows most of those implicated in the cheating scandal in Philadelphia received harsher punishments than did Sciamanna. For example, the five Philadelphia School District teachers identified by the state for disciplinary action in 2014 – Radovan Bratic, Michael Reardon, Phyllis Patselas, Alene Goldstein, and Deborah Edwards Dillard – all had to surrender their teaching certifications.

Ever wonder who is the supplying the money behind the privatization of public schools?

It is a long list, and it starts with the U.S. Department of Education. Every year since 1994, your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters. Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.

The big foundations support the growth of the charter industry: the Walton Family Foundation has put more than $1 billion into charters and vouchers; the Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation also put millions into charters, often partnering with the Far-right Walton Foundation.

There is a long list of other foundations that fund the assault on public education, including the John Arnold Foundation (ex-Enron trader), the Dell Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Fisher Family Foundation (Gap and Old Navy), the Michael Bloomberg Foundation, and many more.

Here is a list of the funders of 50CAN, which started in Connecticut as ConnCAN, created by billionaires, corporate executives, and hedge fund managers, led by Jonathan Sackler, uber-rich Big Pharma.

Here is an example of a foundation that is very active in support of privatization. Check out where their money goes.

ALEC uses its clout with far-right legislators to promote charters and vouchers, as well as to negate local control over charters.

To see where the Walton Family Foundation spread over $202 million to advance privatization, look here.

The money trail is so large, that it is hard to know where to begin. Certain recipients do collect large sums with frequency, including KIPP, Teach for America, Education Trust, to name just a few.

As we say at the Network for Public Education, we are many, they are few. They have money, we have votes. Out ideas for children and education are sound, their ideas fail every time, everywhere.

I am not sure why one of the largest charter chains in the U.S. is run by foreign nationals. But the Gulen chain has over 100 schools, which operate in many states under different names. One way to tell a Gulen school is that every member of the board is a Turkish man.


How did they proliferate? The old-fashioned way: By making friends in key places.


USA Today reports that Turkish men with modest incomes working for the Gulen chain made donations to members of Congress and Presidential candidates. If USA Today digs deeper, it will find contributions to state legislators as well as free trips to Turkey, all expenses paid.


USA TODAY has identified dozens of large campaign donations attributed to people with modest incomes, or from people who had little knowledge of to whom they had given, or from people who could not be located at all. All the donors appear to have ties to a Turkish religious movement named for its founder, Fethullah Gülen. USA TODAY reported last month that the movement has secretly funded more than 200 foreign trips for members of Congress and their staff.


In response to USA TODAY’s queries about suspicious donations she received on April 30, 2014, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. refunded $43,100 to the donors. “Out of an abundance of caution, the campaign has refunded the contributions in question,” said Ayotte campaign manager Jon Kohan. Ayotte also called on others who have received money from the same donors — including President Obama and Hillary Clinton — to return that money as well.


Some of the 19 Turkish Americans donating to Ayotte that day, who all lived outside New Hampshire, seemed to know little about the first-term senator, who is a woman. “He’s a good guy. He’s doing good so far. … I know him,” said Iman Cesari, a 30-year-old Nassau County employee on New York’s Long Island, who gave Ayotte $1,200.


“I just liked what he said at that time and wanted to make a donation,” said Hayati Camlica, who owns a Long Island auto repair shop and donated $2,400 to Ayotte on the same day.


Five of the Turkish Americans who donated to Ayotte that day could not be located at all, and in some cases, neither could the employer listed in Federal Election Commission records. Others did not return calls and emails seeking comment.


USA Today also reported that more than 200 members of Congress have accepted free trips to Turkey from the Gulenists.


Another article reports that Hillary Clinton has received large donations from Gulenists, as well as major contributions to the Clinton Foundation.


Maybe all this cash is meant to protect the Gulen charters, which have been a major revenue source for the Gulenists. The FBI has raided Gulen charter offices in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and in Louisiana.


Is it even legal for elected officials to accept contributions from foreign nationals?

Jamaal Bowman wrote a powerful and important letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Bowman is a Néw York City middle school principal.

Please read and share. Help it go viral. It is an incisive critique of corporate reform. When did it become “liberal” to attack unions, career teachers, and public education? This used to be the agenda of the far rightwing of the Republican Party.

He writes:

“I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health and good spirits. I write not only to you, but also to those who share your view of public education….

“I also want to personally thank you for allowing me to provide testimony to the common core commission at the College of New Rochelle…..The work of the commission, along with your hiring of Jere Hochman as Deputy Secretary of Education, has me very excited about the direction in which we are moving.

“My excitement turned to devastation however as I watched your November 17th interview with David Gergen at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Leadership [link to video is in Bowman’s post]. As an education practitioner for sixteen years, it was both frustrating and disheartening to watch the two of you pontificate about public education in what I consider to be a dangerous and irresponsible manner.

“Your discussion was wide ranging; covering topics from police reform to the new construction at LaGuardia Airport. As the conversation shifted to education, you told the audience that you are in constant conflict with the teacher union. You shared that your “unabashed” support for charter schools, to which you refer to as “laboratories of invention,” as well as your teacher evaluation mandate, are two of the causes of this conflict. You also went on to share your excitement around the possibilities of technology as a means to help circumvent the “machine” of the teacher union bureaucracy.

“Mr. Gergen, to whom you refer to as one of the experts and craftsman of his generation, recklessly framed the conversation in a way that greatly mis-categorizes the public education narrative. Mr. Gergen stated that teacher unions don’t want “young smart” people from Teach for America entering the profession. He then went on to praise charter schools as places that provide “24/7 support to children and families,” and “really work with the children themselves.” While Mr. Gergen made these comments, you nodded your head enthusiastically in agreement.

“There are two things that are incredibly careless about this conversation. First, it lacks a valid and reliable research base. Second, the two of you have a platform to really shape public discourse. As such, you must take extra special care to avoid facilitating misinformation regarding public education or any other topic. If you don’t, the perpetuation of child suffering will continue in schools throughout the state — as it does in schools all over the country.

“What does the data tell us about these widely discussed topics? First, public schools as a whole “outperform” charter schools. I place the word outperform in quotes because of our narrow view of what it means to perform in public schools today. The few charter schools that are celebrated for closing the alleged “achievement gap” have faced extreme criticism and scrutiny for their draconian test prep and recruitment practices, and boast incredibly high student and staff attrition rates. Some may argue these practices are the price to pay for achievement, but consider these questions:

“Are we ready to accept the instability and emotional trauma that comes with schools designed around draconian test prep practices?

“Does high performance on standardized assessments truly equate to what we all mean by achievement?
Research shows otherwise: In 2003, the “gold standard” of charter schools, KIPP, had a graduating class that ranked fifth in New York City on the math standardized tests. Six years after entering college, only 21% of that cohort had earned a college degree.

“In the landmark book, ‘Crossing The Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities,’ former college presidents William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson found that student high school G.P.A. was more predictive of college success than S.A.T. scores.

“As you can see Mr. Governor, high performance on standardized tests alone do not equate to a quality education. What research identifies as a determinate of quality schools, lies in a well rounded curriculum inclusive of both academic and adaptive skills, where students get to solve problems creatively, work with their peers, and experience both teacher and student centered pedagogy.

“As to your comments regarding charter schools serving as “labs of invention,” allow me to remind you that some of the most innovative schools in the country are public schools right here in your state. From the NYC iSchool, to Westside Collaborative, to Brooklyn New School, to Quest to Learn, there is amazing work happening in unionized public schools that we all can learn from. Charter schools that promote silent breakfast, silent lunch, silent hallway transitions, and have teachers walking around with clipboards to give demerits to students who misbehave, do not sound like labs of invention to me — they sound like labs of oppression.

“Your statement related to wanting teacher evaluations because “right now we have none” is categorically false. Teachers have been evaluated throughout my entire career. With regard to the new evaluation system, the issue isn’t that teachers are averse to evaluations, they just want evaluations that are fair and just. An evaluation that is 50% aligned to invalid and unreliable tests, created by a 3rd party for-profit company, aligned to new standards and curriculum with minimal teacher input, is both unfair and unjust. What makes matters worse is by continuing to turn a deaf ear to the research on child and brain development, we continue to have an achievement gap that will never be closed by an evaluation system tied to test scores.

“Furthermore, why are charter schools exempt from your teacher evaluation plan? That also doesn’t seem fair or just.

“Regarding Mr. Gergen’s comments, teacher unions aren’t afraid of “young smart” teachers entering the profession. On the contrary, that is what they want! Teacher unions oppose Teach for America (TFA) because the majority of TFA recruits leave the classroom within three years, with most leaving the profession entirely. This obviously creates a continued vacuum in our most vulnerable communities and has indirectly undermined the recruitment and stability of teachers via traditional pathways. Further, Teach for America has been around for 25 years and our so called “achievement gap” has grown. Their impact has been a net zero at best for the profession.

“Mr. Gergen also seems to think only charter schools support students and families 24/7. To this I say check my phone records, and the phone records of educators throughout the country. We all love our students as our own children and we are constantly in touch with families into the evenings and on weekends to support them with whatever they need. Mr. Gergen disrespects and undermines the profession with these nonsensical statements.

“Lastly, regarding your excitement for technology, technology is simply a tool to help us get things done more efficiently and effectively. It will not in and of itself “revolutionize public education” as you say. The education revolution begins with a paradigm shift driven by the needs and brilliance of the children we serve.

“If we really want to transform public education, Mr. Governor, we have to stop investing in purchasing, administering, and scoring annual assessments from grades 3-8. We know 3rd grade reading scores predict future outcomes, so let’s invest heavily in early childhood education, teacher training, and school support. Lets focus on birth to age eight programs, implement a strong literacy and Montessori curriculum, and institute portfolio based assessments and apprenticeships in grades 6-12. If we do this, you will have a model education system for the world to aspire to.

“Mr. Governor, you, like many of your elected colleagues, are lawyers, not educators. I am an educator. I have been throughout my professional life. I do not know the law, and would never try to speak with any conviction about what should happen in a courtroom. What’s most dangerous about the public education discourse is the fact that finance, tech, government, and the “elite” are all driving the conversation without educators included. They have the audacity, to make life-altering decisions for other people’s children, while sending their children to independent schools.

“The masses of people, which are our most vulnerable, continue to be handled without empathy or care. Empathy requires that we walk in the shoes of others; something that charter reformers, common core advocates, and Teach for America has never done.

“In closing, I want to turn your attention back to your announcement of the Common Core commission. Do you realize that in that speech you mentioned the word “standards” ten times, and the word “tests” fifteen times, while only mentioning the word “learning” one time? Standards and tests are meaningless if they aren’t grounded in learning. Learning is innate, natural, and driven by the needs of children. This is why we must change the conversation from standards and testing to teaching and learning. This fundamental flaw in ideology continues to lead our education system down a destructive path.

“Further, although you and Mr. Gergen discussed innovation as essential to moving the education agenda forward, during your Common Core commission announcement the words creativity, collaboration, and communication, which many experts believe are pillars of innovation, received a total of zero mentions. Innovation is not just about using a computer, tablet, or smartphone; innovation is a way of thinking, doing, and being.

“Thank you Mr. Governor for all that you do for our state. In the future please be mindful to handle the topic of public education with extreme care. Be weary of your pro charter school advisors. The charter school money train and gentrification plans are well documented. Our work isn’t about teacher unions, charters, or technology; our work is about children — and the future of our democracy.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final say in reality.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

This comment was posted today. I don’t usually disclose the names of writers unless they disclose it themselves. I googled the author and she is real.


Having worked for Eva from 2006 to 2012* I got to know Paul Fucalaro and saw him in action. I saw him belittle and undercut teachers, and browbeat students with merciless drill. Since Harlem Success was not open in 2002, his methods preceded Eva’s adoption of them. If the Queens School you mention was PS 65, its principal was also brought on board for HSA”s start. Mr. Fucalaro is a large man, not subtle or gentle in his methods, probably significantly scary to young children. Avuncular maybe, but a little sinister too. Early on, ( 2008, 9?) he and I were asked to evaluate a young teacher who was up for re hire. She was one of those young people who genuinely love children and interacted with them intuitively and effectively. She was also knowledgeable in science, the subject she was being hired to teach. We both walked out of our observation agreeing how impressed we were. The next thing I knew, she had been fired. The word in those days when people were let go was that they ” didn’t get the school culture.” We now know that means they wanted to treat children as human beings rather than “test taking machines,” or robots who cannot question, talk, play, laugh, or, God forbid, enjoy learning.
If tests were NOT used as a measure of success, or Success, it is doubtful Eva would have gotten this far. Not until schools, charter or otherwise, are judged by their success as places of learning, creativity and joy, and the scourge of test prep and drill is gone, will real teachers, not taskmasters like Mr. Fucalaro, feel welcome in them.

Annette Marcus


* I worked on setting up an inquiry based science curriculum for Success Academies. It was fairly free of test prep until 4th grade. When Eva extended HSA into MIddle school and wanted students to take high school regents exams in 6th and 8th grade, I quit.

A reader sent this link to a speech about Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools, delivered at the Manhattan Institute, which is New York’s premier conservative think tank. The speaker is named Charles Upton Sahm. I googled him and could not find any information about him, other than a piece in the Daily Beast defending the Common Core.


Sahm here defends the Success Academy schools against their critics. He describes them as idyllic. The children are happy and highly motivated. The teachers are well-trained, enthusiastic, and cheerful about their work. The curriculum is rich with literature, history, constructivist math, and projects. The attrition rate is no different from city public schools. Despite published reports, the teacher turnover is very low because they are so happy. The charters not only take a fair share of students with disabilities and ELLs, but many of them leave that status because SA remedies their needs. He admits that the schools don’t take the most disabled children.


He makes it seem as though Eva should be chancellor of the public schools, so every school could be equally rich in learning and joy, and of course, the millions that the hedge fund managers give to her.


One new fact that I had been searching for: He acknowledges that in the first two eighth grade graduating classes not a single student was able to pass the admissions test for entry to one of the city’s highly selective high schools. Now, this is puzzling. If these students are so well educated in math and science and literature, starting in the earliest grades, if they knock the socks off the state tests, why are they not acing the test for schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Townsend Harris, Brooklyn Tech, Bard, and a few others? These schools have small numbers of black and Hispanic students, and the general assumption is they were ill-prepared. But why are Eva’s graduates unable to pass this test? If you are well educated, if you have mastered the tested subjects, you should be prepared for any test, not just the one you prepared for.



It is a puzzlement.

Since Eva Moskowitz explained in the Wall Street Journal that the iron discipline at her school was devised by a veteran teacher named Paul Fucaloro, I decided to google him.


The first thing that popped up was this reference to him in an article about the high test scores of Success Academy charter schools:


Because the state’s exams are predictable, they’re deemed easy to game with test prep. But in contrast to their drill-and-kill competition, Moskowitz says her teachers prepped their third-graders a mere ten minutes per day … plus some added time over winter break, she confides upon reflection, when the children had but two days off: Christmas and New Year’s. But the holiday push wasn’t the only extra step that Success took to succeed last year. After some red-flag internal assessments, Paul Fucaloro kept “the bottom 25 percent” an hour past their normal 4:30 p.m. dismissal—four days a week, six weeks before each test. “The real slow ones,” he says, stayed an additional 30 minutes, till six o’clock: a ten-hour-plus day for 8- and 9-year-olds. Meanwhile, much of the class convened on Saturday mornings from September on. Fourth-grader Ashley Wilder thought this “terrible” at first: “I missed Flapjack on the Cartoon Network. But education is more important than sitting back and eating junk food all day.” By working the children off-hours, Moskowitz could boost her numbers without impinging on curricular “specials” like Ashley’s beloved art class.


The day before the scheduled math test, the city got socked with eight inches of snow. Of 1,499 schools in the city, 1,498 were closed. But at Harlem Success Academy 1, 50-odd third-graders trudged through 35-mile-per-hour gusts for a four-hour session over Subway sandwiches. As Moskowitz told the Times, “I was ready to come in this morning and crank the heating boilers myself if I had to.”


“We have a gap to close, so I want the kids on edge, constantly,” Fucaloro adds. “By the time test day came, they were like little test-taking machines.”



Then came Juan Gonzalez’s article in 2014 describing Eva’s move from Central Harlem to Wall Street offices, where the rent will be $31 million over a 15-year period. We learn too that Paul’s salary as director of pedagogy jumped from $100,000 to $246,000.


Then I read an article about the “miraculous” transformation of an elementary school in Queens, financed by Wall Street hedge fund manager Joel Greenblatt, working with the same Paul Fucaloro; the key to the dramatic rise in test scores was adoption of the scripted Success for All curriculum. That was in 2002. I searched some more and found that on the latest state tests, the same school did not do very well. Despite the hype, it was ranked 20th among 36 schools in the same district in New York City. Virtually 100% of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is struggling. Greenblatt and Fucaloro have moved on to Success Academy charters.


(The original name of the chain, which is a category on the blog, was Harlem Success Academies; the word “Harlem” was dropped as the chain moved into other neighborhoods across the city, like Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, a solid middle-class community.)

Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy charter schools, the uber-“No Excuses” chain, explained in the Wall Street Journal why her schools do not tolerate daydreaming in class.


Even five-year-olds must learn to sit quietly, “track” the teacher, pay strict attention to the teacher at all times, and follow every rule. We learned from John Merrow’s recent report on PBS that children of five or six may be suspended from school repeatedly for breaking the rules of strict order and obedience.


She also makes the claim, off-handedly, that the attrition rates in her schools are lower than those of district schools, but this is doubtful.

The New York Times published an article today about the “success” of charter schools, especially for low-income black students. The article was written by Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan.


It seems odd that anyone living in the state of Michigan could express enthusiasm for private management of public schools in light of the disastrous experience of that state. About 80% of the charters in Michigan operate for profit, a scandal in itself. The Detroit Free Press ran a weeklong series of articles last year

about the failure of charters to be transparent, accountable, or better than public schools. The year-long investigation concluded that charters got worse results than traditional public schools, received $1 billion a year taken from public schools, and were not held accountable for waste, fraud, abuse, and poor outcomes.


Professor Dynarski looks not at her own state, but at Boston, where there is a heated debate about expanding charters. She says they are successful for poor black kids, but not so much in the suburbs, where parents mobilize to keep them from destroying their public schools.


In her research, she pulls the reform trick of looking at data only from charters with lotteries. These are the successful charters. Bad charters don’t have lotteries; charters with lotteries have more applicants than places. The students who lose the lottery usually go to a public school that has larger class size and fewer resources than the charter.


Bruce Baker has explained this phenomenon.  Comparing charter winners and losers is not a randomized study; it is a lottery-based study. The lottery losers are likely to go to a public school with the kids the charter doesn’t want: the children who don’t speak English, the ones who have behavior problems, the ones with disabilities–physical, cognitive, and emotional. There is something called “peer effects,” meaning that students are influenced by those in their group. If they attend school only with well-behaved, motivated students, they tend to act like their classmates.


So, what is the innovation that public schools should adopt? Excluding the “losers”? Excluding those who might lower scores? That works for elite private and public schools. But public education must educate all, not just the winners.


We are hurtling towards the re-establishment of a dual school system–one for schools allowed to choose their students, the other for those that the charter industry rejects. We are resurrecting the “separate and unequal” system that the Supreme Court held unconstitutional in 1954. This new system allegedly helps black kids, except that it leaves most behind.



PS: I know that baloney is spelled Bologna. I am using a colloquialism.


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