A former teacher at Success Academy charter schools–let’s call her Jane Doe–decided to use her talents as a graphic designer to create advertisements for the school where she had worked. For some reason, there are ads on billboards, in buses, and on subway trains urging students to apply to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools. This is odd because we have been told that there are long waiting lists. The waiting lists are so long that there must be a lottery. If there are long waiting lists, why are there ads to recruit students to apply? Maybe the purpose of the ads is to create a demand to exceed the supply? A marketing tool?

Jane Doe attached this comment:

I chose to respond to advertisements for Success Academy Charter Schools because every time I see those ads on websites or in subway stations, I wish they told more of the story. It’s not that the ads are based on lies; it’s true that “scholars” at Success in every grade have science class every day, it’s true that Success puts a lot of emphasis on parent/family engagement, and it’s true that the average kid at Success does much better on standardized tests than the average kid in a (non-selective) NYC public school. All of those things make it more likely for those kids to “succeed,” especially if your idea of success includes admission into a liberal arts college.

It’s also true that 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. The high test scores are real, and they matter, but are they worth the pressure Success puts on its employees and its students? During testing season, the Success Network ships each school 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. There are countless tiny examples that illustrate this extreme environment, a few of which I chose for this assignment.

Families don’t pay for a Success Academy education. 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. Neither Moskowitz nor DeVos has any actual experience in education, yet they’ve each made a wealthy career for themselves out of advocating for so-called school choice reform. The changes they seek put public schools at a disadvantage, as they are 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 social-emotional 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.

Ultimately, my goal is for people to see a more complex picture of Success Academy. Education reform is a complex issue, especially when a person has their own kids in mind. But we need to talk about charters for what they are: a scheme to gradually privatize education to further benefit the ruling class. I hope that if and when a person sees my “ads” in conjunction with the original Success ads, it will give them a better picture of the motivations, complications, and realities of Success Academy schools.