Gary Rubinstein continues with episode 4 of the podcast about Success Academy. This episode attempts to explain away the embarrassing revelation of the “got to go” list, which was reported in the New York Times. You see, getting rid of “bad” children assures the greatest good for the greatest number. Once ejected, where do these children go? The only place that will take them: the public schools that Eva Moskowitz loathes.

Gary writes:

Part four of Startup’s seven part podcast about Success Academy (found here) is centered on the ‘Got To Go’ incident where a principal was found to have created a list of students he wanted to oust from his school.  This episode explores whether or not the ‘Got To Go’ list was an isolated infraction by a rogue principal or if it is something that is part of the culture of the school.

Episode 1 was about the state of public schools in NYC that would make it ripe for a network like Success Academy to emerge.  Episode 2 was the story of Eva Moskowitz and how she rose to power.  Episode 3 was about the emphasis the network puts on standardized tests and questions whether the high test scores come at some greater cost.

Episode 4 — Growth — is the most critical so far.  The ‘Go To Go’ list was a major story in the New York Times and it corroborated what many families said about Success Academy, that they push out students which, as a side benefit for them, raises the test scores of the school.

The narrator, Lisa Chow, though, got some talking points from Success Academy about how to spin this story.

Candido Brown was a new principal, put in charge of a Success Academy elementary school in Fort Greene, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The school had already gone through two other principals in a year. The place did not represent the Success ideal of quiet classrooms and well behaved kids. It was chaotic, teachers were demoralized, and kids were defiant. Candido had worked at Success for six years but never as a principal before. He was under pressure to turn the school around. But he said drawing up the list was his own idea.

So we are to believe that this was a huge anomaly at Success Academy because that school was in turmoil so he took it on himself to resort to such extreme measures.  But how likely is it that there was actually a Success Academy that was in the chaos that Lisa Chow describes?  Looking at the state data, this school, Success Academy — Fort Greene, had test scores (100% Math, 85% Reading) on par with the other Success Academy schools.  So if they can get such test scores even when the school is in turmoil, perhaps the strict discipline there as described in episode 3 as so critical to their success, is not so important after all.

The next part of the podcast shows the level of control that Success Academy requires at their ideal schools, especially ones that have many inexperienced teachers.

LISA: That silence is the result of Success’ system of behavioral management. For that system to work, teachers need to build strong relationships with their students. Then, on top of that foundation, teachers do three things. Step 1: Set clear expectations… even for the simplest things.

For example, when kids at Success Academy are sitting on the rug, they need to be in what’s called magic five: hands locked, feet crossed, back straight, ears listening and eyes tracking the speaker.

Step 2 is to point out when kids are following those instructions — to narrate good behavior.

TEACHER: Liam is still in magic five. Chastity is silent. Malia’s hand are locked Kalia’s hands are locked, Kalia’s eyes are right on me. Liam is sitting up straight and tall, Sam is sitting up straight and tall. Kalia is tracking Hendrick, Amari is tracking Hendrick

LISA: And, as soon as teachers see a student who’s not following the instructions, they call out the behavior. That’s Step 3: Issue corrections.

TEACHER: Colin is sitting up super tall. Eliany hands in your lap. That’s a correction.

LISA: A correction is basically a warning to the student. The teacher here says it so matter of factly that you barely notice. That’s the point — discipline is woven into the fabric at Success. And if a student gets too many corrections it can land them in trouble — a timeout, a phone call home. For more serious infractions, they’re suspended.

This ‘behavior narration’ is something I had seen on some of the Success Academy training videos (before they took them all down from public site).  It is touted in ‘Teach Like A Champion’ and is also something that Teach For America advises their teachers to do.  Basically, the teacher talks for the almost the entire time the students are working, saying that this student is sitting properly and this other one isn’t.  I find this quite irritating and I would, personally, not be able to concentrate if I was a student and the teacher chattered for the entire time like this.

Open the link and read the rest.