Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

Seth Andrews, founder of the charter chain Democracy Prep, created an organization called Democracy Bulders. The latter group of charter advocates issued a report critical of charters that refuse to “backfill,” that is, to accept students who apply after the entry year or other designated points.

Its report showed that this policy means that many charter seats are left empty as the charter sees high attrition.

The target of Democracy Builders’ critique is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy. Eva defends her policy of not backfilling, saying it is not fair to her high-performing students to add low-performing students to their classes.

Mike Petrilli supports Eva, saying the point of charters is to free them from regulations.

I thought charters were supposed to be laboratories for innovations that would be shared with public schools? Is it innovative to take in small proportions of English language learners and students with disabilities and to lose those who are problematic? If public schools did that, their scores would soar. But who would educate the kids that no one wants? And what about the idea of equal educational opportunity?

Sadly, Governor Andrew Cuomo was unable to give the keynote speech at the fund-raising dinner for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain because he was leading a trade delegation to Cuba, but the charter chain still raised $9.3 million from her supporters in the hedge-fund community.

 

Education activist Leonie Haimson reports a story that appears behind a paywall at capitalnewyork.com. Be sure the read the report embedded at the end of the story below, about the hedge-fund managers and conservatives who support Success Academy. The report was compiled by the “HedgeClippers,” a group that calls itself “dark money’s newest nightmare.” The report lists the 50 hedge fund managers, spouses, and allies who contribute to Success Academy.

 

by Jessica Bakeman, Eliza Shapiro and Conor Skelding

 

SUCCESS ACADEMY’S $9.3 M. NIGHT—Capital’s Eliza Shapiro and Conor Skelding: “The Success Academy charter school network raised $9.3 million at its third annual spring benefit on Monday night, according to an attendee, up from $7.7 million at last year’s benefit. The figure was announced by Dan Loeb, a hedge fund manager who serves as the chairman of Success’ board of directors. The event was held at Cipriani in midtown Manhattan. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries delivered the keynote address at the benefit, in lieu of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was slated to give the keynote before his trade visit to Cuba was planned for the same day.

 

“Jeffries, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, is a longtime supporter of charter schools. ‘I stand here because I unequivocally support quality public education and that’s what Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy provide,’ Jeffries said during his speech, according to a quote posted on Success’ Twitter account. ‘It’s easier to raise strong children than it is to repair broken men,’ he also said.

 

“Television host Katie Couric, Weekly Standard founder William Kristol, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens and former Department of Education chancellor Joel Klein also attended the benefit, according to the attendee and Twitter posts. Loeb, philanthropist Eli Broad, and Campbell Brown, the television anchor turned education reformer, spoke. Brown sits on Success’ board of directors. Success’ controversial founder and C.E.O. Eva Moskowitz addressed the crowd, asking audience members to ‘visit our schools and become an ambassador for education reform,’ according to Success’ Twitter feed.” [PRO] http://capi.tl/1E4tvFR

 

—Meanwhile, “an advocacy group affiliated with the Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers’ union-backed organization, has released a report on the donors and board members of the Success Academy charter school network. The report, released by the group HedgeClippers, details the well-documented support the controversial network has received from hedge fund managers in particular. HedgeClippers describes itself as ‘dark money’s newest nightmare’ and is backed by the Strong Economy for all Coalition, which is, in turn, partially funded by teachers’ unions, including the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers.

 

“The report argues that ‘many of Success Academy’s hedge fund board members contribute to political causes that harm the population that Success claims to serve’ by supporting various conservative causes. … Success C.E.O. Eva Moskowitz has responded to criticism about the network’s donors by pointing to the long history of philanthropic giving to education causes, and noting that hedge fund managers also give to organizations that support parks, museums and domestic violence centers.” Capital’s Eliza Shapiro: http://capi.tl/1DEfnBQ

In response to an article that showed the intense, competitive, and abusive practices at Success Academy charter schools that produce high test scores, the New York Times printed a series of statements by parents about their experiences with the schools. The letters, with their sharply divided opinions, actually reinforced the findings of the original article: the schools get high test scores, but they get those high scores in ways that many parents can’t abide. Another point: SA schools are not a good place for students with disabilities or emotional fragility.

Joanne Yatvin, former teacher, principal and superintendent and literacy expert in Oregon, sent me the following email after reading the story in the New York Times about Success Academy and its regimented environment, focused on test scores:

Diane,

I read the New York Times article on the Success Academies around the same time that you did and came away shivering for the children who are being “educated” there. Here is my take on what those charters actually teach.

In my career as a teacher and principal I came to know a great deal about what children learn at school. It’s not only academics and proper school behavior, but also how to operate in personal relationships and the outside world. Reading the New York Times article about the Success Academy Charter Schools earlier this week, I saw some pretty tough demands being made of all kids and humiliating consequences for those who didn’t meet them. I can’t help wondering if Success Academy students aren’t also learning some or all of the following life lessons:
The only thing that matters is being a winner

Competition works better than cooperation

Do what you’re told even if it makes no sense to you

Keep quiet when you see other people being abused

Those who are not successful at their work are just lazy

Punishment and humiliation are good training for children

Prepare yourself for stressful situations by wearing a diaper

If that’s what children learn at the Success Academies, I’m glad my children went to mediocre public schools and emerged as independent thinkers and dedicated supporters of their less fortunate neighbors.

The Néw York Times said that teacher turnover at the Success Academy charter schools is more than 50%. Eva Moskowitz says it is 17%.

Matt de Carlo of the Albert Shanker Institute has the raw data, and he says they are both wrong.

Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy charter chain, complained that the first-page story in the New York Times by Kate Taylor was slanted against her “no-excuses” charter schools.

 

Chalkbeat reports:

 

Times education reporter Kate Taylor wrote a lengthy front-page story on Success earlier this week, which highlighted the network’s impressive standardized test-score performance and demanding school culture. The article included interviews with Moskowitz along with satisfied teachers.

 

Taylor also included anecdotes about children wetting themselves during practice tests, and interviews from former teachers who criticized Success’ tough discipline. The article also detailed Success’ excellent test performance.

 

Moskowitz acknowledged the article’s benefits in her email, saying the story was “the first time the Times has given Success even moderate praise or acknowledgement of what we are doing—and certainly never front-page status.”

 

But Moskowitz also criticized Taylor’s reporting methods.

 

“The reporter constructed a story around unverified but titillating anecdotes from anonymous sources,” Moskowitz wrote.

 

Apparently, Eva forgot that the New York Times published a lengthy and admiring article about her in the Magazine section last year.

 

I actually thought the article was fair and balanced. Kate Taylor reported the high test scores of SA and she reported what former teachers told her. The fact that they requested anonymity does not discredit their views. It shows that they are still afraid of the Wrath of Eva.

Blogger Perdido Street School writes about this article here. he says that Eva is “playing the victim,” but that the real victims are the children.

“But the victims in this tale are the children soiling themselves at their desks because they’re too scared to go to the bathroom during the all-mighty Sucess test prep.

“The victims in this tale are the children sent to “effort academy” (i.e., detention and extra test prep) because their eyes didn’t snap to attention quick enough when one of the teachers snapped her fingers.

“The victims in this tale are the children who are meant to feel “misery” when their teachers feels they’re not trying hard enough.

“The NY Times article did read like something out of Dickens, as I wrote when I first posted about this story.

But that’s not because the author, Kate Taylor, was making things up or “slanting” the piece, as Eva charges.

“That’s because Success Academy is a Dickensian nightmare where the children are subject to stress, misery and physical and emotional abuse.”

And there is an amazing link at the end of the post, announcing that Campbell Brown and Governor Andrew Cuomo are hosting a fund-raiser for Eva’s charters. Tickets start at $1,500, tables at $15,000. Cuomo will be the keynote speaker. “The event will be held April 20 at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan, and will be co-chaired by Success board members Campbell Brown, Daniel Loeb, Joel Greenblatt, and Regina and John Scully.”

Success Academy charters don’t have to worry about Cuomo’s punitive teacher evaluation plan, because their teachers turn over so frequently.

Mark Naison reflects on the cheating scandal in Atlanta and the shaming tactics at Success Academy charters and sees them as two sides of the same coin. When test scores become the measure of education, adults will go to extremes to reach the goal, even when it means cheating or child abuse. What it is not is good education.

I have sometimes wished it were possible to have a completely candid conversation with a teacher at a Success Academy charter school. Last week, with no advance planning, it happened.*

 

A young man who is related to me asked if he could introduce me to his friend, Ms. Smith (a pseudonym). He told me she teaches at Success and wanted to meet me. I said, “Of course.”

 

I had no idea what the evening had in store. I have talked to SA teachers before, always in public, not in the privacy of home, and they were always pleasant, neither boastful nor defensive.

 

When they arrived, I opened a bottle of white wine and broke open a box of macaroons. “Betty” (that’s not her name either) told me that she had worked at SA for five years. She teaches fifth grade.

 

What is it like, I asked.

 

She said she loves the children, but the atmosphere is stifling for both teachers and children. She is looking for another job. Everything is about test scores, and the competitive pressure never lets up. Right now, they are getting ready for the state exams, and signs posted everywhere say “Slam the Exams!”

 

I asked how long the test prep went on, and she said they have been doing test prep for months. She said the kids would not take spring vacation until the exams were finished.

 

What’s so bad about test prep, I asked her. She said some of the kids explode or break down. They are very young, and the pressure gets to be too much for them. They might start screaming or crying, and they have to be removed from the classroom until they calm down. The children are assigned a color depending on their test scores, and every classroom posts the names of the children and their color–red, green, blue, or yellow. I forget which is best and which is worst, but the goal is to shame the lowest performing students so they try harder to move up into the next level.

 

The test prep plus the ” no-excuses” climate of tough and strictly enforced rules unnerves some children, she said. And she felt badly for the children who were humiliated. The harshly competitive environment, she said, was dispiriting and joyless.

 

What happens with the children who can’t adjust to the highly disciplined demands of the school, I asked. She replied that these children might be suspended repeatedly or their parents or guardian might be called to the school every day. Day after day. Eventually, the child’s parent or guardian will withdraw the child because they can’t afford to miss work every day.

 

She realized she had had enough. The money was good, she said, but the stress was exhausting. She was also troubled by the non-stop political propaganda campaign. This year, she didn’t get on the bus with thousands of others to go to Albany and demand more money so the chain could expand. She didn’t like the way the children, parents, and teachers were being used as political pawns.

 

When I told her that none of the eighth grade students who had attended Success Academy had passed the competitive exams to enter the elite high schools of NYC, either last year or this year, she was momentarily surprised. Then, she said, that explains why Success Academy is opening its own high school.

 

Our conversation continued for more than a hour. It was clear that the scales had fallen from her eyes. She felt certain that the hedge fund managers bankrolling SA charters know nothing about the children, nor do they care about them. They want to win. They want high scores, period. Just like Wall Street. They want to be able to say at cocktail parties and dinner parties that “my school” got higher test scores than “your school.”

 

Why have you stayed this long, I asked her. I love the kids, she replied. She said someday she hopes to work for a nonprofit that won’t require her to sacrifice her ethics and principles.

 

*I thought this story was a real scoop, but then Kate Taylor of the New York Times beat me to it with this story.

Kate Taylor of the New York Times got a rare look inside a Success Academy charter school and reported on a stressful, competitive, joyless environment. The photograph that accompanies the story is worth a thousand–or more–words. Little children, walking in straight lines, not a smile in sight. OOPS! THE TIMES REMOVED THE PHOTOGRAPH THAT WAS POSTED WITH THE ORIGINAL STORY. IT SHOWED TWO ROWS OF CHILDREN IN UNIFORMS, LOOKING DEPRESSED AND GLUM. IN THE WHOLE GROUP, THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE HAPPY FACE. WHEN THE STORY APPEARED IN PRINT, THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS GONE, REPLACED BY CHEERFUL CLASSROOM SCENES.

Its founder, Eva Moskowitz, now has 43 schools in her chain; with Governor Cuomo’s help, she will soon have 100. The goal of her schools is high test scores, and she gets them. Whatever it takes, including humiliating children in front of their peers. That works.  Not every one can deal with the stress. Not even teachers. Teacher turnover is high.

In a rare look inside the network, including visits to several schools and interviews with dozens of current and former employees, The New York Times chronicled a system driven by the relentless pursuit of better results, one that can be exhilarating for teachers and students who keep up with its demands and agonizing for those who do not.

Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea.

Incentives are offered, such as candy for good behavior, and Nerf guns and basketballs for high scores on practice tests. For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is “effort academy,” which is part detention, part study hall.

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores. Teachers who do well can expect quick promotions, with some becoming principals while still in their 20s. Teachers who struggle can expect coaching or, if that does not help, possible demotion.

Nothing matters but test scores on the state test. Two successive cohorts of eighth-grade students have applied for entry to New York City’s selective high schools, like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, and not one was able to pass the admissions test despite years of test prep.

Jasmine Araujo, 25, who joined Success through the Teach for America program, quit after half a year as a special-education teacher at Success Academy Harlem 3. She now teaches at a charter school in New Orleans. “I would cry almost every night thinking about the way I was treating these kids, and thinking that that’s not the kind of teacher I wanted to be,” Ms. Araujo said.

If test scores matter more to you than anything else, this is the place to send your child.

Bloomberg News reports that Néw York City’s public employees’ pension fund is considering an investment in a hedge fund managed by one of Eva Moskowitz’s key backers.

“The board of the $54 billion pension for civil employees, including lunchroom workers and other school aides, plans a vote Tuesday on whether to invest in Joel Greenblatt’s Gotham Asset Management LLC, according to a copy of the executive agenda. Greenblatt is co-founder of Success Academy, New York’s biggest charter-school network. Its director, Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, helped block Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid to cut aid to charter schools.”

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