Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

Russ Walsh reflects on the high test scores of the students at New York City’s celebrated Success Academy (originally known as Harlem Success Academy).

He has a different definition of success from the charter chain.

The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.

 

Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/10/new-york-city-charters-leave-thousands-of-seats-unfilled-despite-exploding-demand-study-finds/.

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)

After the appearance of the New York Times’ article about the successes and harsh methods of Success Academy, there was quite a lot of discussion about whether the article was accurate and balanced. Eva Moskowitz said it was “slanted” with anecdotes.

I received an email from a former SA teacher who wanted to tell her story. She worked at SA for two years, but quit for reasons she explains below. She now works in another charter school. Her story is self-explanatory. She was not one of the teachers interviewed for the story in the New York Times.

 

 

In the recent New York Times article about Success Academy, CEO Eva Moskowitz defended a school leader’s use of the phrase “misery has to be felt” in an email about students who were not meeting expectations. After spending 2 years as a Success Academy teacher, it’s clear to me that misery was indeed a favorite tactic.

I’ve never worked anywhere where there was such a high chance of walking into the bathroom and seeing a colleague crying. Over the course of my two years there, I walked in on someone in tears at least a half a dozen times, and another half a dozen times the person crying in the bathroom was me. Teachers felt a lot of misery.

The first – and only – time I called out sick, I received a phone call around 9am from my assistant principal informing me that having “just a cold” was not a valid reason to call out sick, and that “unless you are vomiting, you are expected to medicate and push through.” At the end of the year, that sick day was given as a reason why my “level of professionalism” was a concern and why my rehire for the following year was in question.

My principal, who had no formal training as an educator, nevertheless frequently took control of my classroom in the middle of lessons and offered nothing but criticism of my teaching. After several weeks of feeling completely demoralized, a colleague delicately told our principal that it was getting hard to hear nothing but negative feedback, and that we were beginning to feel like the leadership thought nothing we were doing was right. He responded by rolling his eyes and saying “Oh, you want one of those compliment sandwich things? Ugh, I hate those!”

Another teacher who dared to raise the same concern on behalf of many of us at a staff meeting was fired. She was quietly brought back a few days later, but the damage to morale had been done.

One morning our beloved receptionist, an older woman that everyone regarded their work mom, came around classroom to classroom hugging each one of us. “There is a dark cloud over this building,” she said. “I want you to know I’m praying for you and for our kids.”

Misery, indeed.

But of course, the real tragedy of Success Academy is the misery of children. The misery of the low-income children of color who Ms. Moskowitz claims to want the best for. The misery of children who have learning disabilities and routinely don’t score well on the quarterly in-house assessments because their legally-deserved testing accommodations were denied them by the administration. The misery of children who have diagnosed emotional and behavioral disabilities and are still expected to adhere to the developmentally inappropriate behavioral expectations. The misery of any child who might be slightly different than the average, who is forced to comply with cookie-cutter behavioral and academic expectations that don’t respond to the needs of the individual child, in the name of systemic uniformity and “no excuses.”

To this day I feel sick to my stomach over the way I was made to speak to my students, and the things I was forced to demand from them. Backs straight, hands still, eyes tracking the speaker every second. Walking in the hallways silently and with their hands crossed over their chests so they wouldn’t touch things they weren’t supposed to. Working in complete silence almost all day long and hardly ever given an opportunity for collaborative work. For most of one of my years there the first and second graders ate lunch in silence too, because our principal had decided they couldn’t handle talking at an appropriate volume.

But of all of the awful stories from my time at Success, none will top the story of one of my little boys in first grade. He was new to Success, having left some other charter school for unclear reasons, and at first presented as a bright, sweet boy. But sometime in the winter, after months of seeming more and more defeated by a school environment that squashed his fiery spirit, he grew anxious and fidgety. These symptoms quickly escalated into weekly full-blown crisis situations in which he would suddenly start screaming and try to knock down every piece of furniture in our classroom. It was deeply troubling for the other students as well myself because it was clear that something very serious was going on in his little mind, and yet all our administrators seemed concerned about was getting his behavior under control. Their solution was to have our school security officer, a large man dressed in uniform, come upstairs and drag him out of our room. Knowing what I do now about childhood trauma, I understand the extent of the damage that must have done to him, as well as to all the other children in our class. At the end of the year it was not-so-subtly suggested to his family that this might not be the right place for him, and he moved on to to his third charter school in as many years.

Eva Moskowitz says Success Academy is the answer. She says she wants all kids to succeed. But she also says they need to feel misery if they do not rise to her nearly impossible expectations. What kind of success is that?

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.

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