Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

Fatima Geidi is the parent of the boy who was featured on John Merrow’s PBS broadcast about the harsh discipline policies at Success Academy charter schools. She writes here that parents should stop being afraid of Eva Moskowitz, the founder and boss of Success Academies, a charter chain of 34 schools.

 

I have been contacted on several occasions by current or former teachers at SA charters, and they always ask me to keep their names a secret. Even those who have left are afraid. Curious.

 

After Fatima’s son appeared on television, SA posted his disciplinary record online. The mother said this act violated her son’s privacy rights, as guaranteed by a federal law called FERPA ( Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). She complained to the US ED. After a lengthy delay, SA finally removed the boy’s confidential information from its website.

 

When Eva appeared at a law school forum, Fatima was one of several former SA parents who questioned and challenged her.

 

Fatima writes:

 

“I had a chance to question Moskowitz at the law school event. I told her she abused children’s rights and gas-lighted the network’s parents. Moskowitz said she thought her schools “have a really high level of customer service.”

 

“Although my exchange with Moskowitz was less than satisfying, I showed my son the video of the speech and my questions. He thanked me for fighting for him and other children, adding “I want to be like you when I grow up.”

 

“That was reward enough for me.”

Eva Moskowitz is a very powerful woman. She has 11,000 students in her 34 Success Academy charter schools, which get extraordinarily high test scores. She might be universally admired but she picks fights. She usually wins, because she is tougher than anyone else, and she has the backing of the moguls on Wall Street whose financial help Governor Cuomo enjoys.

 

But now she has picked a fight that is almost incomprehensible. Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted “universal pre-k,” and he invited charter schools to offer pre-K classes. Every school, public or charter, that agreed to provide pre-K signed a contract with the city. But not Eva. She said it was illegal for the city to demand that she sign a contract. She expects to be paid $720,000 by the city without signing the contract that all public schools and other charters have signed. She threatened to cancel her pre-K programs unless she is paid without signing the city contract.

 

Why? Because no one can tell her what to do. Certainly not the city.

 

Now Eva has appealed to state officials to force the city to back off and pay her, so she can run the pre-K program without signing a contract like other schools.

 

A Success Academy spokesman said the network has received applications from 1,800 families for 126 pre-K seats for 2016-17.

Success Academy operates 34 charter schools that enroll roughly 11,000 kids in total. The schools outperform traditional public schools on state exams.

Despite the reportedly high level of demand for Success Academy pre-K seats, city Education Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Moskowitz must sign on the dotted line to get paid.

“There is simply no basis to conclude that requiring Success to comply with these requirements of program quality would somehow result in Success’ inability to operate its pre-K programs,” Kaye said.

Each of the other 277 pre-K providers — including nine other charter school operators — have already signed the contracts, Kaye said.

City Controller Scott Stringer has also urged Moskowitz to sign the contract, saying in October that “there is no conceivable reason for one charter school to be held to a different standard than every other charter school.”

 

Eva is counting on the state to defend her right not to sign.

 

Meanwhile I received a copy of this letter from a teacher at Success Academy, which includes the letter that Eva sent to the teaching staff, urging them to support her defiant stand:

 

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

 

The staff of Success Academy received an email from our fearless CEO that I thought might interest you. She addresses the current conflict with the de Blasio administration over pre-k funding, and urges her staff to complain to the mayor and our local officials. It’s still incredible to me how she believes that she can use her staff as political capital without presenting a complete picture of an issue. I haven’t read the contract that she refuses to sign, but by all reports it seems benevolent enough. The funding comes from taxpayer money after all, so it seems fair that the city would oversee the programs it supports. And yet, from her email, Eva would like us to believe that this is nothing more than an attack on her schools. She is obviously using this as way to stoke fear that there is a “larger war on Success Academy and charter schools.” It’s simply ironic to me that someone who is running a school system, where we are supposed to value critical thinking, would present such a one-sided and manipulative take of this conflict.

 

I’ve copied the text of the email below. I also have screenshots of the email if you’d like further verification. 

 

Best,

 

XXXX

 

This is the letter that Eva sent to members of the staff of her charters:

 

Team Success:

 

I am writing to update you about Success Academy pre-k for next year. This first year has been one of tremendous growth for our youngest scholars — and for Success as well, as we challenged ourselves to develop a magical curriculum that engaged and delighted 4-year-olds. The response from families has been so positive that we made plans to expand our pre-k to our Union Square and Bensonhurst schools.

 

Unfortunately, in the case of Success Academy, Mayor de Blasio does not truly support pre-k for all. The mayor and the Department of Education have again thrown up a roadblock. He has refused to pay us the pre-k funding to which we are entitled under the law unless we allow him to dictate how we run our pre-k program. A critical aspect of charter schools is that we are not subject to the control of the city government. That is what enables a high-quality program.

 

Success Academy and 24 parents of students in our pre-k program have brought a legal action against the city but it is unclear how long it will take to get a decision. Unfortunately, unless we get a result or persuade Mayor de Blasio to do the right thing within the next two weeks, we will be forced to cancel our pre-k program for the coming year!

 

Please feel free to express your concern to the mayor directly and to you local elected officials. This would be a terrible shame for families and for staff who have worked so hard to create a truly amazing pre-k experience. This is just part of a larger war on Success Academy and charter schools. On a daily basis, we are forced to fight for kids’ rights to a world-class, free education.

 

Thank you for all you do for children.

 

Warmly,

 

Eva Moskowitz

 

 

 

John Merrow officially retired from his long and distinguished career in journalism, but he is not inactive. For one thing, he has printed up some bumper stickers in appreciation of teachers (the other 1%) and is selling them at cost.

 

And on his blog, he has imagined Eva’s testimony when she goes to court to defend herself against parents of students entitled to special education services and New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James. Of course, she doesn’t back down an inch and says that her charter schools treat all “scholars” exactly the same.

 

Here is a small part of her “testimony”:

 

 

“I certainly do not apologize for using out of school suspensions more than any other schools, whether charter or traditional public. They are an important tool in the Success Academy toolbox, as I have written about in the Wall Street Journal. I know that other schools treat behavior issues at the school, but we think sending the child home sends a message to him or her and to the parents.

 

“A child who cannot keep his eyes on the teacher at all times doesn’t belong at Success Academy. A child who continues to call out the answer to questions, even if she’s right, clearly isn’t Success Academy material. A kindergartener who gets curious about the pictures on the bulletin board and leaves his seat to take a close look, that’s behavior we have to stamp out. Obedience trumps curiosity every time, because if we allowed children to follow their desires, curiosity and passions, chaos would ensue.

 

“Yes, it’s true that the parents of children we suspend multiple times often decide to withdraw their children from our schools, but that’s their choice.

 

A lot of kids leave Success Academy, to be replaced by children on our long waiting list. But, your honor, those kids who disappear from our rolls are PITA kids, not special needs.”

 

Read on to find out what PITA kids are.

 

 

It appeared to be a routine event where Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools, could give her pitch for the fantastic test scores of her schools. But in the audience were some disgruntled parents who asked tough questions. Eva defended her policies–which she called “no nonsense nurturing–such as suspending very young children who can be surprisingly violent. 

“The charter school chain Ms. Moskowitz runs—which receives city tax dollars and often shares space with district public schools but is privately managed and does not employ unionized teachers—greatly outpaces regular district schools in terms of standardized tests. But it has also been the subject of scrutiny from those corners Ms. Moskowitz listed, with critics saying that the success is due to the schools not educating the most difficult students, weeding out struggling children, and using harsh discipline including frequent suspensions.
“It seems to have endless fascination with the media,” Ms. Moskowitz said of her school’s success. “There’s sort of a relentless gotcha effort: where’s the catch?”
“Of course, Ms. Moskowitz said there really wasn’t one. The chain’s high performance is due to engaged teachers who make children “fall in love with school,” holding adults accountable for the performance of children; rigorous academic standards—and letting students fail sometimes; and innovation.”

I received an email from a teacher who resigned her job at Success Academy. She was very unhappy. She wanted to explain why she couldn’t stay. Like everyone who leaves Success Academy, she requested anonymity. I get these emails from time to time. Occasionally, I meet with the unhappy young people (both women and men). They sound like people leaving a cult. Even after they have left, they still refer to five-year-old children as “scholars.” When they start calling them children, I will know that they are completely de-programmed.

 

This young woman writes:

 

 

I left my job at Success Academy because I couldn’t, in good conscience, be the teacher they wanted me to be. I have a lot of trouble writing and talking about my experience with Success because it truly makes me ill. Thinking about the way teachers spoke to children, with such disgust in their voices, makes my stomach churn. Thinking about the way my leaders spoke to me, with that same disgust, leaves me feeling just as sick.

 

 

I was immediately targeted by the leaders at my school for being too soft. I didn’t deliver consequences enough, and I didn’t hold high enough expectations of my four and five-year-olds. I couldn’t get them to walk in two silent, straight, militaristic lines with bubbles in their mouths and their hands glued to their sides. I wasn’t “aggressively scanning” for “defiant” children on the carpet—that is, children not sitting on their bottoms with their backs tall and their hands locked in their laps. I owned up to all of this with my leaders. I admitted to them that I have a hard time with holding such young children to such high expectations. And to build off of that, I found it simply wrong to hold every single scholar to the exact same expectations. You can’t give a fish and a bird the same task and expect the same results.

 

 

But that’s precisely what Success does. They don’t care what the circumstances are: you will stand like a soldier, you will sit with a bubble in your mouth and your hands locked, you will do all of your work neatly and silently, you will “silent laugh” and “silent cheer” when you find things funny or exciting, you will transition from your seats to the carpet “swiftly, safely, and silently,” and if you don’t, you’ll do it again until it’s perfect, even if that means missing recess or blocks time. My biggest mistake was admitting to my leaders that I found this system to be too harsh. The moment you speak out at Success, they come after you. They call it a “mindset” issue. They threatened to put me on a performance plan without giving me any examples of what I was doing wrong, instead simply berating me for these same issues week after week until I would slowly break and obey them. I worked tirelessly to please my leaders. I had never quit a job before, and am an incredibly hard worker, so I was determined to make this work. I wrote long reflections on my days and reached out to veteran teachers for help. I was quickly reprimanded for this as well, though, being told that if I needed help, I should just go to leadership—that I should never make my struggle apparent, or talk about it with anyone at school. This is all part of keeping up the facade of Success. The bright classrooms, the stunning bulletin boards, the perfect posture — everything must look perfect. It all boils down to the same principle: these people care about the wrong things. They feel the constant need to prove themselves through their appearance and their high scores, and in turn they don’t allow for any of the genuine elements of childhood and education to take place in their buildings.

 

 

I spent much of my time at school crying in the bathroom and the stairwell. I cried from the emotional harassment I faced from my leaders, I cried from simply watching my scholars go through such grueling days and intense ridicule, and I cried because I was exhausted, stressed, and anxious, constantly feeling like I wasn’t enough and that I couldn’t be enough. When I helped my own scholars work through their tears, I would often ask them what they were feeling, and they would say “scared.” They told me they were scared to come to school. I was, too. We all entered that building each morning in fear. This all being said, scholars at my school smiled. There are happy children at Success. When they do well academically, or when they get a prize or a “time-in” for their success, they smile. When they do have recess, they laugh audibly and smile. But the fear, anger, and sadness deeply overshadows these small instances of joy. You can’t structure joy. But leave it to SA to try.

 

 

 

Mercedes Schneider dug into the records of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy in Fort Greene (Brooklyn). This is the school where the principal prepared a “Got to Go” list of the students that would be pushed out one way or another.

 

The school was opened in 2013. Its first principal, Kate Cunningham, had a Teach for America background. She had earned her “master’s degree” at the fake Relay “graduate school of education,” where charter teachers teach other charter teachers and give each other degrees without any reference to scholarship. She ran Success Academy’s special education program, although her resume doesn’t mention any credentials for doing so.

 

She didn’t last long–not even a year.

 

She was succeeded by Candido Brown, who had been with SA since 2009. It was Brown who compiled the “Got to Go” list. As Schneider points out, SA in FG needed to be “turned around” less than two years after it opened. Brown has recently taken a leave of absence.

 

Her post includes the details of a lawsuit filed by parents of some of the children who were pushed out. Their complaint goes into detail about the strict disciplinary policies at Success Academy schools. They are suing the principal, Success Academy Charter Schools, the city Department of Education, and the New York State Education Department.

 

This should be interesting.

 

 

 

 

The New York Times reports today that the charter school principal in New York City who created a list of students who had to be removed from the school (the “got to go” list) has taken a leave of absence.

 

The school is part of the high-performing Success Academy charter chain, which has often been accused of excluding or removing students who might get low test scores.

 

The acting principal will be the school’s fourth principal since it opened in 2013.

 

 

Andrea Gabor signed up to tour a Success Academy charter school in the Bronx. She was accepted, but shortly before the big day, her invitation was rescinded. When she inquired why, she was told that the tour was limited only to principals of other schools.

 

So, I was dismayed when, on December 4, three days after my original acceptance arrived, Jaclyn Leffel, the director of New York City Collaborates, which was helping to organize the tour, rescinded my invitation. “In reviewing our guest list, I did see that you are currently not leading a NYC public school. This workshop is specifically designed for people in elementary school education. Unfortunately this event is only available to principals at this time. Thanks so much for your interest!” wrote Ms. Leffel.

 

The only problem was that to register for the event, you had to include your title and affiliation, which in my case is the Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY. It was crystal clear from my affiliation that I was not a New York City principal. Moreover, I knew that not everyone on the tour was a current principal.

 

So I responded to Leffel, pointing out these discrepancies, and asked that she reconsider. She responded that she would not. I followed up with a request that she include me in another tour. Again, she responded cordially to let me know that another tour would be organized in February, but has not yet responded to my request for more information about the date and location.

 

All this is especially puzzling since New York Collaborates is an organization that seeks to “encourage public conversation and on-the-ground partnerships between district and charter schools.” (emphasis added by me.) Nor is this the first tour organized by New York Collaborates; previous tours also have included non-principals.

 

Clearly, the “public conversation” at Bronx 1 was not intended to include anyone who might be the least bit critical of the charter sector. Incidentally, New York Collaborates is “spearheaded” by the New York City Charter School Center and New York City Department of Education, and receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

 

Nor was there much partnering between district and charter schools at the Bronx 1 tour. All but one of the educators on the tour was from the charter sector. Via email, I asked Ms. Leffel about this and she responded: “We had a 50/50 signup.”

 

If half the registrants were from public-school, this of course raises the question: Why was the guest list for this collaborative opportunity so heavily stacked in favor of charter schools?

 

So Gabor relied on the report of a friend who was accepted for the tour. The group of 28 was allowed to spend only five minutes in each classroom. They were very impressed with the provisioning and the happy children. The children sat quietly, hands folded, and their eyes tracked the speaker. The principal of the school told the group that she considers the school to be part of the progressive education movement.

 

If the schools are proud of their work–and clearly they are–why don’t they open their doors to other educators more frequently?

Horace Meister (a pseudonym) worked as a data analyst for many years in the New York City  Department of Education. He is currently conducting research at a major university. In this post, he addresses some of the common misperceptions about charter schools. I cannot explain why everyone who writes about SA feels the need to be anonymous.

 

 

 

 

The Charter School Myth

 

 

Hilary Clinton recently remarked “there are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools…most charter schools, I don’t want to say every one, but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest to teach kids, or if they do they don’t keep them.” This upended a comfortable consensus that had emerged in the past decade. Politicians, both Democrat and Republican, blindly support charter schools. Facts are ignored or denied.

 

Simultaneously, a number of unflattering stories came out in the press about the Success Academy charter chain in New York City. It turns out that the charter chain suspends large numbers of kindergarten and first grade students.[i] It also turns out that the charter chain tries to force out challenging students.[ii]

 

Success Academy should serve as a lesson, debunking the mythologizing of charter schools that has become so widespread in education reform and political circles. But before examining the myth of Success we must address a deliberate obfuscation often introduced into such analyses by some defenders of charter schools.

 

We assume that the purpose of charter schools is to educate the same students as the public school system. In other words a successful charter school should have great outcomes with students living and growing up in challenging circumstances and environments. A charter school that creams students, that selectively gets rid of large numbers of challenging students, or that otherwise manipulates its outcomes is not fulfilling the purpose of charter schools. Talk of magnet public schools or the all too many zoned public schools that, due to the unfortunate segregation in American neighborhoods and communities, are not diverse, is irrelevant to the policy issue under discussion. The bottom line is that thousands of public schools and tens of thousands of teachers are dedicated to students that American society has put at significant disadvantage. The relevant policy question is—do charter schools show up the public schools doing this critical work?

 

So, what do we know about Success Academy?[iii]

 

Success Academy schools have a student body very different than public schools. The New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDOE) School Quality Report data show that. Success Academy has a very different student population than the NYC public school system.[iv] On average, a Success Academy school has sixty six percent fewer English Language Learners (4.7% vs 13.8%), forty three percent fewer special education students (12.3% vs 21.4%), eighty six percent fewer of the highest need special education students (.9% vs 6.5%), and forty percent fewer students living in temporary housing (8.1% vs. 13.4%) than a public school. These disparities will only grow as Success Academy’s push into gentrifying and middle class neighborhoods continues.[v]

 

 

 

Success Academy has very high and selective attrition rates. SA has high attrition rates particularly among special education students and English Language Learners.[vi] The attrition rate increases as students advance to the grades when they will be taking the state tests.[vii] “This pattern repeats cohort after cohort with growth in early grades, followed by sharp winnowing accumulating over time.”[viii] The selective nature of the attrition is crucial, since that is the distinguishing characteristic between attrition at Success Academy and that at public schools. Such selective attrition is characteristic of the charter sector.[ix]

 

Success Academy suspends students at extremely high rates as a deliberate strategy to get challenging students to leave. “The charter school network suspended its students at more than double the rate of the New York City public schools, eleven percent to five percent” with a much less challenging student population.[x] “In its first two years, Success Academy 1 suspended 8% and 2% of its students respectively. Over the next five years, however, those numbers jumped to 12%, 15%, 22%, 27%, and 23%…By the way, the out of school suspension rate for 2011-2012 at Upper West Success, a school where 29% of students qualify for free lunch and 10% for reduced price lunch? 5%. Apparently suspension rates in the high 20s are a necessity for schools where 78% of the students are in or near poverty.”[xi] Insiders report that “school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.”[xii]

 

Success Academy forces high need special education students to leave. “But The News found a disturbing number of suspension cases where the network’s administrators removed special-education pupils from normal classrooms for weeks and even months, while at the same time pressuring their parents to transfer them to regular public schools.”[xiii]

 

Success Academy employs additional strategies to winnow out challenging students. For example, they mail the annual reenrollment forms to only preferred families.[xiv] By the way, public schools as a general rule don’t even have reenrollment forms. A student on the roster of a public school remains on the roster.

 

Teaching at Success Academy is focused on test prep and practice. It appears that teachers are mandated to focus overwhelmingly on test prep.[xv] To such an extent that students wet their pants out of the induced anxiety.[xvi] This leads to high teacher attrition rates, with over 30% of teachers annually leaving the charter chain entirely.[xvii] Often because the teachers could not abide by the way SA wanted them to treat students.[xviii]

 

Despite these shenanigans the academic outcomes of Success Academy schools are questionable.

 

A Success Academy education does not seem to prepare students for success in high school. Only 21% of SA middle school graduates passed their classes and earned at least 10 credits (44 credits are required to graduate high school in NYC) in their 9th grade courses. Note that since SA is a relatively new charter chain these data only exist for their first school, Harlem Success Academy 1.[xix] And not a single SA student scored well on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).[xx]

 

Success Academy seems to do a mediocre job of growing their students academically. For the sake of argument we will use test scores on the New York State exams as a measure of success, since Success Academy likes to boast about those scores. The NYCDOE calculates growth targets for every school.[xxi] On the English exams three Success Academy schools exceeded, two schools met, one school approached and one school did not meet expected growth targets.[xxii] On the Math exams only two schools exceeded, four met, and one approached the expected growth targets.

 

Success Academy seems to do a very poor job with their high need students. The data provide a measure for how students in each school’s bottom third do. Only two Success Academy schools exceeded and two schools met English growth targets for these students, while two approached and one did not meet the target. In Math, four schools did not meet the expected growth target while two exceeded and one met the targets.

 

Other analyses have found similarly poor outcomes from Success. An examination of 2012 and 2013 fourth grade scores found that “Success schools dropped by about 40 points while other schools that had such high 2012 scores dropped by about 20 points. But in math, two of the four Success schools had a smaller drop than the other schools and the other two Success schools had about the same drop.”[xxiii] A different analysis of the 2013 data found that “Success Academy scored in the 39th percentile on English exam growth for their overall student population and in the 21st percentile on English exam growth for the students who began with scores in the lowest 1/3 of students.”[xxiv]

 

Overall these are rather sorry outcomes that nonetheless overestimate Success Academy’s performance since even growth measures don’t account for selective attrition and other SA tactics. Still the growth metrics do a better job than pure performance metrics in measuring the true contribution of a school to student learning.

 

What can be learned from Success Academy? There are of course positive take-aways from Success. Additional learning time, such as that mandated by SA, is likely a positive intervention strategy for some students requiring additional academic support. SA offers the equivalent of about fifty additional schools days, thanks to their extended school day.[xxv] That is of course expensive and we know that SA spends thousands of dollars more per student than public schools with similar populations.[xxvi] There is no question that additional funding for schools helps improve outcomes for students growing up in poverty.[xxvii] New York City is now directing additional funds, along with other initiatives such as extended learning time, to their Renewal schools, schools that serve a disproportionately disadvantaged student body. Providing schools with such supports can benefit students at both charter and public schools.

 

Teachers must be given the time and support to grow into the tremendous responsibility that every educator has for student success. As Success Academy first year teachers are assistants in the classroom ideally working with and learning from excellent and experienced teachers. Such an initiative, at a national scale supported by local districts and the federal government in collaboration with schools of education, is definitely worth a look.

 

 

 

[i]http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/kindergarten-young-suspend-student/

 

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/nyregion/at-a-success-academy-charter-school-singling-out-pupils-who-have-got-to-go.html

 

[iii] An earlier review of claims made by and about Success Academy can be found here http://dianeravitch.net/2014/09/12/researcher-charter-chain-built-on-hyperbole/.

 

[iv] The data can be found in the file here http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/06F7DE89-AA46-4509-9A0C-600038728D14/0/2014_2015_EMS_SQR_Results_2015_12_09.xlsx. For explanation of the various metrics see http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/5347DA79-B985-4CBF-B56E-B05C8380C53B/0/201415EducatorGuideEMS11122015.pdf. The Success Academy schools with data include five schools in Harlem, two in the Bronx. Two schools, one in Bedford Stuyvesant and one on the Upper West Side have demographic but no academic performance data as they are too new. All the other twenty three SA schools are so new that they have no Quality Report data at all.

[vi] http://commonal.tumblr.com/post/58209601458/harlem-success-academy-charter-and-attrition

 

[vii] http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000359-vanishing-students-at-harlem-success#

 

[viii] See the data here http://danielskatz.net/2015/11/25/eva-moskowitz-cannot-help-herself/.

 

[ix] See http://dianeravitch.net/2015/02/09/the-unholy-alliance-charters-the-media-and-research/.

 

[x] http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/student-discipline-race-and-eva-moskowitz%E2%80%99s-success-academy-charter-schools

 

[xi] http://danielskatz.net/2015/11/25/eva-moskowitz-cannot-help-herself/

 

[xii] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/nyregion/at-a-success-academy-charter-school-singling-out-pupils-who-have-got-to-go.html?_r=0

 

[xiii] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/success-academy-fire-parents-fight-disciplinary-policy-article-1.1438753

 

[xiv] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/nyregion/at-a-success-academy-charter-school-singling-out-pupils-who-have-got-to-go.html?_r=0

 

[xv] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/04/mole-in-success-academy-speaks/ and http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/07/my-conversation-with-a-success-academy-charter-teacher/ and http://nymag.com/news/features/65614/index3.html. Interestingly enough there has been a recent attempt by some apologists to claim that Success Academy is a progressive pedagogy paradise. First-hand reports by teachers (i.e. those not describing carefully arranged guided and pre-scheduled tours) provide an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.

 

[xvi] http://www.businessinsider.com/students-wetting-pants-success-academy-charter-schools-2015-4

 

[xvii] http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/teacher-turnover-success-academy-charter-schools with data suggesting even higher attrition rates found here http://citylimits.org/2014/08/20/why-charter-schools-have-high-teacher-turnover/.

 

[xviii] http://www.wnyc.org/story/302768-high-teacher-turnover-at-a-success-network-school/. It has been suggested that “The pedagogy in the Success Academy schools is rote, highly disciplined and punishment, suspensions, are commonplace, perhaps the pedagogical/discipline practices chase away teachers of color.” https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/success-academy-charter-school-staff-diversity-why-is-the-staff-overwhelming-white-tone-deaf-by-choice-a-diverse-workforce-is-essential-in-the-21st-century/. Some telling reviews of Success Academy’s culture can be read on Indeed.com http://www.indeed.com/cmp/Success-Academy-Charter-Schools/reviews and on glassdoor.com https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Success-Academy-Charter-Schools-Reviews-E381408.htm. Other first-hand accounts can be read here http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/27/a-former-success-academy-teacher-steps-forward-to-tell-her-story/ and here http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/01/former-success-academy-teacher-why-i-resigned/.

 

[xix] See column CW on the following file http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/06F7DE89-AA46-4509-9A0C-600038728D14/0/2014_2015_EMS_SQR_Results_2015_12_09.xlsx under the “student achievement” tab.

 

[xx] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/gonzalez-success-charter-students-fail-top-city-schools-article-1.1833960. It would not be surprising if SA has already begun intense SHSAT prep for this exam for their students in response to this, now widespread, statistic. While unfortunate that tests are driving so much of what happens in schools that may be the best way to open high school opportunities for their students.

 

[xxi]The data can be found in the following file http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/estimated-versus-actual-days-learning-charter-school-studies. See columns P, V, AT, and AZ under the “student achievement” tab. Broadly speaking one third of all schools each exceed, meet or approached their growth targets. The remaining ten percent of schools did not meet their target. See pages 24-25 in the document here for an explanation of these growth targets http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/5347DA79-B985-4CBF-B56E-B05C8380C53B/0/201415EducatorGuideEMS11122015.pdf.

 

[xxiii] http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2013/08/13/how-to-define-success/

 

[xxiv] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/09/12/researcher-charter-chain-built-on-hyperbole/

 

[xxv] Somewhat disappointingly it appears that the better test results claimed by many charter schools often reported as an “estimated days of learning” metric are less than the actual extra days of learning at those charter schools. See http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/estimated-versus-actual-days-learning-charter-school-studies.

 

[xxvi] See Table 2 here http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/ttr-charter-rent_0.pdf

 

[xxvii] See http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ruckerj/Jackson_Johnson_Persico_SFR_LRImpacts.pdf. Of course the additional funds must be spent sensibly.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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