This letter was sent to me by the person who created the SCAM advertisements in the previous post. i asked to explain why she decided to leave her job as a teacher at Success Academy Charter Schools. She sent the following commentary.

She writes:

When I applied to teach at Success Academy Charter Schools, I was just out of college with little teaching experience, and I was interviewing at every school I could, hoping to get my first real teaching job. As soon as I walked into Success’s Wall Street office for the interview, I knew this was a different kind of school. The space looks and feels like corporate headquarters, complete with glass-walled conference rooms and a minimalist aesthetic.

I was called into a boardroom with five or so other applicants, and someone from the “Talent” team (in charge of hiring) showed us a slick marketing video: we were being seduced. Then, one by one, we were asked to deliver a mini-lesson to everyone present. After each turn, we were given explicit feedback, which the next person was expected to implement immediately. It became clear that this was less of an interview, and more of a practical test to determine how well we could emulate the specific teaching style Success subscribes to. It was also an early introduction to the network’s trademark language and unique demands: we were told that every employee pledges support for the “dual mission,” which is to say that our job description included advocacy for “school choice” in addition to our roles as teachers.

I was placed at Success Academy Cobble Hill, which made news last year after The New York Times released a video of “Labsite teacher” Charlotte Dial berating a first-grader for stumbling during “Number Stories,” before she publicly rips the young girl’s worksheet in half. (This practice is common enough to have a nickname within the network, the “rip and redo.”) Contrary to statements made by Ms. Dial, CEO Eva Moskowitz, and Principal Kerri Tabarcea, this type of interaction is not at all out of the ordinary at Success. Ms. Dial’s harsh classroom management was known – in fact, celebrated – by school leaders. Newer hires were even sent to Ms. Dial so they could learn to model her “no-nonsense” teaching, earning her the “Labsite teacher” title and a higher salary. Perhaps most disturbingly, Charlotte Dial is still employed as a first-grade teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill, sending a clear message to students, families, and other teachers in the network.

One of the real and valuable benefits to working at Success is that there is remarkable focus on professional development. Teachers are observed often, given feedback almost constantly, and participate in formal professional development sessions at least once a week. The caveat is that this training is entirely geared towards the specific strategies developed by Success for the purposes of social control over “scholars” and high test scores for the network.

“Scholars” are taught to value urgency. Children are expected to complete transitions in a given amount of time, often as short as ten seconds – taking any longer is considered unacceptable. This teaches students that learning is precious. It also teaches that taking one’s time, moving at one’s own pace, is irresponsible. It was heartbreaking to know that I was imparting on my young students the very same constant pressure that I felt from my supervisors.

Teachers’ directions to students must follow a stubborn formula, and are enforced just as strictly. “When I say go, safely and silently walk to your desk, take out your book, and begin reading. You have ten seconds, go.” Once at their desks, students will already know the correct posture for reading; they know that to avoid a “consequence,” their feet need to be flat and still on the floor, with their backs straight against their chairs, and two hands on their books. When I allowed for a more relaxed atmosphere in my classroom, I was reprimanded and lectured about the value of posture while reading. Any wavering from Success philosophy is treated as heresy, and often encourages unwanted attention from administrators – for instance, a teacher who fails to maintain perfect silence while students are on the carpet might be ordered to participate in “live coaching,” wherein a superior stands in the back of the room during the lesson, whispering directions into a microphone, which the teacher hears through an earpiece. In the middle of a sentence, the teacher will hear, “narrate and consequence voice,” and is expected to immediately use pre-practiced language to correct a murmuring student in the corner. Part of the reason I accepted a position at Success was for the professional development, but this was not what I had in mind.

Most of the students I taught at Success dreaded coming to school, as did most of the teachers. It is a grueling, relentless atmosphere where every second is cherished as potential learning time, and every slip-up garners an immediate consequence. There is a small fraction of people – students and adults alike – who thrive in this extreme environment. More often, the constant pressure makes for tense relationships, high anxiety, and negative affects on health and behavior. During testing season, each Success school is shipped extra pairs of pants to keep on hand, because inevitably several third graders will be so scared to sacrifice test time for a bathroom trip, they’ll have an accident. Some students react to this extreme environment in extreme ways; at the strictest Success locations, it is commonplace to hear screaming and crying in the hallways throughout the day as children as young as five break down for one reason or another. Different Success locations have different ways of dealing with this behavior, ranging from the infamous “got to go” list at Fort Greene to School Safety interventions elsewhere. If there was screaming in the hallway, one of my students would silently get up to close the classroom door. Other students continued working, both because they were unfazed and because they knew they would be held accountable for being on-task regardless of what was happening around them.

Every teacher imparts learning to students outside of their explicit lesson content. Given the tenor of current events, I have been thinking about what priorities and values I want to model in my teaching and embody in my curriculum. I want my students to know the importance of empathy, respect, and generosity. I want them to know that they matter, and that every other human matters too. I want them to feel empowered to speak up to an authority figure – including me – if they feel they are being treated unjustly. These are crucial social-emotional understandings, and though they may not affect test scores, they will surely affect students’ lives. Not only does the curriculum at Success ignore social-emotional learning, but the structure of the day allows for such minimal peer-to-peer interaction that students are unable to learn such skills from each other.

Like so many others, I quit Success because the brand of teaching the network demands prevented me from providing the quality of education my students deserve. When I tried to accommodate a restless student by allowing her to fidget on the carpet, I was told I was doing her a disservice and was ordered to keep her still. When I tried to advocate for under-performing students to undergo psychological testing so that they might receive services they needed, I was ignored or admonished, and in one instance told flat-out that the school was not testing students so as to avoid being legally obligated to provide services to them. I watched coworkers struggle to decide whether to report suspected family abuse when leaders didn’t share their concerns, given that network protocol is for school administration to make such calls. (Legally, teachers and psychologists are mandated reporters and cannot be punished for reporting suspected abuse. But with no union representation, it is difficult for an employee to feel confident that this will hold true in practice.) I was sick of overlooking the profit-driven motivations of the network, and sick of being forced to comply with practices that I believed were damaging my students.

When I use the word scammed, I am not just talking about money, and I am not just talking about those who send their kids to Success. I’m talking about the whole country, because all of us are being scammed by Charter advocates like Betsy DeVos and Success CEO Eva Moskowitz. The changes they seek put public schools at a disadvantage, as they are being forced to fight with Charters for space, funding, and high-engagement/high-resource families. Meanwhile, not all Charters perform like Success. Some are much better, with more emphasis on experiential learning and less emphasis on strict behavioral expectations. Others, like those DeVos lobbied for in Detroit, have test scores similar to or worse than nearby public schools, with the same downsides of Success – no unions, poor treatment of special education students, and high suspension rates, to name a few.

What I want people to know when they see advertisements for Success Academy is that to enroll or apply to a charter chain is to propagate a very specific brand of education. Success is funded in part by private donors like the Koch brothers and the family that owns Wal-Mart, because conservatives and big corporations have a vested interest in chipping away at public education. I call upon all teachers, all parents and caregivers, and all who care about public education to resist this model of teaching and learning. Our students deserve better.

NYT article on Dial vid:

“Got to go” list:

On DeVos in Detroit:

Teacher turnover at SA: