Jamaal Bowman is principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx, a borough of Néw York City. Knowing that Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy was planning a mass rally today, he wrote an article saying that schools need to focus on the whole child not just test scores.
Bowman describes the harsh disciplinary policies at Success Academy schools to the supportive environment at his school. Unlike SA schools, school has very little teacher turnover, very minor student attrition, and low suspension rates.
“During a recent conversation with a sixth grader who attends a Success Academy charter school, she referred to her learning environment as “torturous.” “They don’t let us be kids,” she told me, “and they monitor every breath we take.”
Although praised by many for its test scores, the draconian policies at Success are well documented. Students must walk silently in synchronized lines.
In classrooms, boys and girls must sit with their hands folded and feet firmly on the ground, and must raise their hands in a specific way to request a bathroom break.
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Most disturbingly, during test prep sessions, it has been reported that students have wet their pants because of the high levels of stress, and because, simulating actual test-taking, they’re not permitted to use the restroom except during breaks.
Regarding the praise for Success Academy’s test results, we must be mindful of overstating the quality of an education based on test score evidence alone….
“As reported by Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News, the first Success Academy opened in 2006 with 73 first graders. By 2014, only 32 of the 73 had graduated from the school.
“What happened to most of that student cohort? Did they leave willingly just because their families were moving? Did they leave for other schools because Success Academy wasn’t right for them? Were they pushed out?
“Further, school suspensions and teacher turnover at Success are disproportionately higher than district schools. Said one teacher in a recent New York Times article, “I dreaded going into work.” Another teacher, when requesting to leave work at 4:55 p.m. to tend to her sick and vomiting child, was told, “it’s not 5 o’clock yet.”
At Bowman’s school, 99% of the students are black or Hispanic.
“Although 90% of our students enter sixth grade below grade level, we’ve had success on the state standardized tests, ranking number one in New York City in combined math and English Language Arts test growth score average in 2015.
“But testing is not how we measure success.
“Our mission is to create a learning environment anchored in multiple intelligences. Student voice and passion are embedded into the curriculum. In addition to traditional courses like mathematics and humanities, S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art of Architecture, Mathematics), computer science, the arts, leadership and physical education provide a rich and robust learning environment.
“A favorite course of both the staff and students of C.A.S.A. is “Genius Hour.” Borrowing from the 20% time concept of Google, Apple and Facebook, we give students two 60-minute blocks per week to work on “passion projects.” Using design thinking, students explore issues within their community that frustrate them and conduct research into how to create solutions to identified problems.
“Finally, at C.A.S.A., during the 2014-15 school year, only 2.3% of our students received a suspension. Our teacher turnover rate is 1.5% annually. We also have an average of less than a 1% student attrition rate annually over a six-year period.
“Parents and students of Success Academy schools will rally Wednesday against Mayor de Blasio’s agenda of investing in public schools to turn them into community schools and otherwise improve their learning environments. Their goal instead is presumably to turn ever more schools into privately run charter schools — though it’s unlikely Moskowitz would agree to take over any struggling schools if she had to keep the student body intact.
“Our city needs more public schools that serve the whole child without an obsessive focus on tests. Only then will our children truly feel at home. This is a cause worth rallying for.”