Archives for category: Discipline and Suspensions


Warning to parents in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Eva Moskowitz is opening a no-excuses Charter School in your neighborhood.

Protect your children against harsh discipline.

Defend your public schools against raids on their funding.



John Merrow overheard a conversation in which someone compared Eva Moskowitz to Benito Mussolini. He made the trains run on time—the saying of his defenders—and she gets results: high test scores.

Moskowitz and Mussolini

Merrow used to cover “reformers” like Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz sympathetically. He seems to have had a conversion experience, not unlike my own. His last show about Rhee marked a turning point. He became disillusioned.

He is not happy with the uncritical puff pieces found in many publications about the education model created by Eva Moskowitz. He was especially disappointed by Chalkbeat editor and CEO Elizabeth Green’s adulatory article. He wonders why she didn’t ask the tough questions about Eva’s harsh disciplinary regime.

He writes:

“How did Il Duce get the trains to run on time? Could he have ordered them to do whatever was necessary to stay on schedule? Perhaps he issued a directive: ‘If people are still trying to get on the train, but it’s time to leave–just leave.’ He might have added, ‘If a flock of sheep, or some school children, are on the tracks, don’t slow down but toot your horn and plow on through so you can stay on schedule.’ Perhaps there was a third fiat: ‘If a train is so crowded that it cannot get up to full speed, just toss some passengers off the moving train and get back up to speed.’

“If tactics like that enabled Mussolini’s trains to stick to the schedule, then he and Eva Moskowitz have something in common, because the latter has a long history of discarding students who don’t meet her exacting standards. As Kate Taylor in the New York Times (also here). Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News (here), (here) and (here), and my colleagues and I on the PBS NewsHour have reported, Success Academies use a wide variety of questionable tactics to weed out students who are not performing–or do not seem likely to perform–well on bubble tests. Those tactics keep her trains running on time, I.E., scoring at the top of the charts on standardized tests.

“Elizabeth Green’s endorsement of Success Academies and their approach to education The Atlantic, headlined “How Charter Schools Won,” is particularly disappointing. Green mentions Taylor’s New York Times reporting but only in the context of Moskowitz’s attacks on her. Green ignores reporting done by Gonzalez, a two-time recipient of the George Polk Award. If she had contacted me, I could have introduced her to a Success Academy custodian who told us about regularly emptying student vomit from the wastebaskets. Although he declined to appear on television, I believe he would have gladly educated Green.

“The omissions in Green’s article (and, to be fair to Green, in most coverage of Moskowitz) are almost too numerous to mention: She does not tell her readers that Moskowitz drives away children–some as young as five–by excessive use of out-of-school suspensions. Banning kids from school for days at a time is an effective device for getting rid of children, particularly when the parents have jobs outside the home. And it’s easy to get suspended from Success Academy. On my blog I published Success Academies’ draconian list of offenses that can lead to suspension, about 65 of them in all. “Slouching/failing to be in ‘Ready to Succeed’ position” more than once, “Getting out of one’s seat without permission at any point during the school day,” and “Making noise in the hallways, in the auditorium, or any general building space without permission” can get a child an out-of-school suspension that can last as long as five days. The code includes a catch-all, vague offense that all of us are guilty of at times, “Being off-task.””

He has much more to say. I urge you to read it.

In an article by veteran journalist Heather Vogell, ProPublica asks hard questions about alternative schools.

The word “alternative” implies a choice. But in an era when the freedom to pick your school is trumpeted by advocates and politicians, students don’t choose the alternative schools to which districts send them for breaking the rules: They’re sentenced to them. Of 39 state education departments that responded to a ProPublica survey last year, 29, or about three-quarters, said school districts could transfer students involuntarily to alternative programs for disciplinary reasons…

Thousands of students are involuntarily reassigned to these schools each year, often for a seemingly minor offense, and never get back on track, a ProPublica investigation has found. Alternative schools are often located in crumbling buildings or trailers, with classes taught largely by computers and little in the way of counseling services or extracurricular activities.

The forced placements have persisted even though the Obama administration in 2014 told schools they should suspend, expel or transfer students to alternative schools only as a last resort — and warned them that they risked a federal civil rights investigation if their disciplinary actions reflected discrimination based on race. Federal data shows that black and Hispanic students are often punished more than white students for similar violations.

Moreover, despite legal protections afforded students with disabilities, a disproportionate number of those exiled in some districts have special education plans…

Now, the Trump administration is being pressed to view such removals more favorably. In November, a group of teachers and conservative education advocates met with aides to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to express concerns about the 2014 guidance. The group said the Obama-era approach made schools less safe, allowing disruptive students to hijack classrooms.

That meeting has raised fears among civil rights advocates that the Trump administration will rescind the guidance, prompting schools to increase the number of children excluded from regular classrooms. “We’re deeply concerned this administration is not committed to protecting the civil rights of students,” says Elizabeth Olsson, senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She cited reports that DeVos may scrap a rule aimed at preventing schools from unnecessarily placing minority students in special education.

A federal education spokesman on Nov. 29 declined to comment on the issue.

To be sure, many students are sent to alternative schools for major offenses involving drugs, alcohol, weapons or violence. But others are forced to go for reasons that include rudeness, using their cellphones at inappropriate times, or — in about half of the states ProPublica surveyed — nondisciplinary problems such as bad grades. In states like Florida, students who fall academically have been pushed to transfer to alternative schools as a way to game the state’s accountability system. Pennsylvania law lets school officials relegate students to that state’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth program for showing “disregard for school authority.” In Aiken, about 40 percent of transfers in 2014-2015, the year Logan was reassigned, were for lesser offenses, including 13 for using profanity, 27 for truancy, 28 for not following an adult’s instructions and 18 for showing disrespect.

[I am reposting since I just discovered that I put the wrong link in the original post. Sorry, Susan!]

Susan Ochshorn of ECE PolicyWorks and a new member of the board of the Network for Public educatio, writes here about two polar opposites: Deborah Meier and Eva Moskowitz.

Ochshorn compares the biographies, the lives, and the education philosophy of these two people.

She begins with Meier, an advovate, like Ochshorn, for children’s right to play:

“More than two decades ago, Deborah Meier warned that the idea of democracy was in peril. “Is it ever otherwise?” she asked in the preface to The Power of Their Ideas, her elegantly argued manifesto for public education. A self-described preacher on its behalf, she has spent half a century nurturing “everyone’s inalienable capacity to be an inventor, dreamer, and theorist—to count in the larger scheme of things.”

“I met Meier in the mid-aughts, when I joined a grassroots campaign she spearheaded in New York City to restore creative play and hands-on learning to preschools and kindergartens. This éminence grise of progressive early childhood education and the small-schools movement (for which she received a MacArthur fellowship in 1987) had begun her career as a kindergarten teacher at the Shoesmith School in Kenwood, a diverse neighborhood wedged between the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park and an impoverished black community.”

When she turns to Moskowitz, she sees a power-hungry woman who uses children for her own purposes.

“The Education of Eva Moskowitz” is a torturous read. After 359 pages of copious detail, an internal structure that defies chronology, zig-zagging across Moskowitz’s life, the evisceration of journalists, politicians and “union flacks,” as she refers to people and organizations fighting for social justice, and anyone else who has crossed her, my mind was numb. Not to mention her hubris, greed, narcissism, humorlessness and lack of self-awareness…

“His hypocrisy would have been comical if the fates of real children weren’t at stake,” Moskowitz writes of Mayor Bill de Blasio, her adversary in building an empire. Ah, yes, the children. “While it can be frustrating to teach them because they don’t know how to behave,” Moskowitz writes in a chapter called “Weevils” (an infestation she attributes to snacks from the Department of Education), “the upside is that they are virtually a blank slate…. if you take advantage of that fact to teach them to become good learners, that investment will pay dividends for years to come.”

“Apparently, Moskowitz isn’t aware that the tabula rasa theory of the English empiricist John Locke has been discredited by decades of neurological and developmental science. As Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik writes in The Philosophical Baby, “Their minds seem drastically limited; they know so much less than we do. And yet long before they can read and write, they have extraordinary powers of imagination and creativity, and long before they go to school, they have remarkable learning abilities.”

“Moskowitz and other charter network operators such as KIPP’s David Levin have cast their “No Excuses” schools in the mold of Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner, whose radical behaviorism ignores internal processes—thoughts, feelings, and neurophysiological processes—emphasizing the relationship between observable stimuli and responses. Through a process called operant conditioning, behavior is modified by positive and negative reinforcement. (See Pavlov and his dogs.)

“With harsh discipline, and incentives offered for good behavior and high scores on practice tests, Moskowitz remains convinced she can close the achievement gap between her students, the vast majority of whom are black or Latino living in poverty, and their more affluent, white peers. Her methods are abusive. Students’ every movement is monitored. Daydreaming is prohibited. Children are shamed, their lackluster performances on weekly spelling and math quizzes posted in a red zone on charts in the hallway.”

As we view these two, we see a struggle for the heart and soul of American education, or for the hearts and souls of our children. Big money is betting on Moskowitz. She is the darling of Wall Street, DFER, and other corporate titans. The survival of our democracy and humane ideals is riding on Meier’s vision.

Here are two of my favorite bloggers, reacting to the same article: Elizabeth Green on Eva Moskowitz.

Elizabeth Green in co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, which covers education in several cities. Chalkbeat is funded by the Gates Foindatuon, the zwalton Family Foundation, and several others.

I would describe the article as loving. Peter sees it as worshipful. Mercedes says it is perplexing.

Read it yourself and come up with your own adjective.

Peter Greene read Elizabeth Green’s worshipful portrayal of Eva Moskowitz and commented in his inimitable stye.

This is the short summary:

In the end, Green seems ready to dump Democracy, scrap public schools, and elevate an autocratic Beloved Leader CEO charter system. In a way, it’s fitting that in an era in which some people are willing to turn to a one-person authoritarian form of the Presidency under Beloved Leader Trump, some folks will also yearn for the same system for schools, arguing that she may be a dictator, she may be autocratic, she may require the suspension of Democracy, but I think she means well, and she makes the trains run on time. Just don’t look too closely at where the train is running or exactly who gets to ride on board.

What surprised me was that in her fulsome praise for Eva and charter schools, Green makes no mention of the NAACP report calling for a charter moratorium or EdNext’s poll showing plummeting support for charter schools in only the last year or the cascading number of charter frauds and scandals. It is a very rosy and one-sided picture that she paints.

Mercedes Schneider sees a somewhat more nuanced article.

“The piece reads as if it were written by two people: One who is impressed with Moskowitz and her schools (and who perhaps wishes to please Moskowitz with this article), and another who sees the problems of the likes of Moskowitz continuing to expand a hedge-funded, education empire that could buy its way to doing whatever it so desires– with the term, “whatever” holding dark and damaging overtones.

“Green might have been trying to include both pros and cons of Moskowitz and a Moskowitz-styled education, but the concerns Green expresses cannot be reasonably reconciled with the language of admiration included in the selfsame article.”

Mercedes sees an undertone of worry and concern in the article.

What do you think?

Most articles about Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools report on her political ambitions, her love of combat with unions and critics, her ability to attract the generous support of billionaires.

Rebecca Mead writes here about the pedagogy of Success Academy charter schools. It is a weird combination of strict discipline and progressive instruction. The question is whether these two divergent approaches can co-exist.

These are schools where student behavior is monitored closely, and the smallest infractions are punished swiftly.

Can Deweyism flourish in a repressive environment?

A Success Academy classroom is a highly controlled, even repressive, place. In some classrooms that I observed, there were even expectations for how pencils should be laid down when not in use: at Springfield Gardens, the pencils had all been placed to the right of the desks, aligned with the edge. The atmosphere can be tense, and sometimes tips over into abuse, as was documented by the Times last year. The newspaper obtained a video that had been recorded secretly by an assistant teacher. It showed a teacher berating a first-grade girl who had made an error on her math worksheet, ripping up the sheet, and sending the child to sit in a “Calm Down” chair. Moskowitz has insisted that the event was an outlier, but the teacher in the video was an experienced educator who had been considered an exemplar of the Success Academy approach. Among some Success teachers, “rip and redo” was a term of art…

At some Success Academy schools, as many as twenty per cent of students are suspended at least once during the academic year. Moskowitz calls suspension “one tool in the toolkit,” and says that most occur during the first weeks of school, when students haven’t yet assimilated the school’s expectations. “I think some people have a fairly idealized view of the kind of language that even young children can use,” she told me. “We have young children who threaten to kill other people. And, yes, they are angelic, and, yes, we love them, but I think when you are outside schooling it is hard to imagine.” According to data from the New York State Education Department, three years ago, when Success Academy Springfield Gardens was starting up and had only kindergartners and first graders, eighteen per cent of the students were suspended at least once. It’s entirely believable that lots of children between the ages of four and seven found it impossible to meet the school’s stringent behavioral expectations. But it’s also fair to wonder whether, if one out of five young children cannot comply with the rules, there might not be something wrong with the rules….

But, even as Success seeks to inculcate its students with its strict behavioral codes, Moskowitz has embraced certain teaching methods that would not seem out of place in a much more permissive environment. Surprisingly, she cites John Dewey as an important influence on her thinking, and she champions hands-on science labs, frequent field trips, and long stretches of time for independent reading. Moskowitz has recruited as a consultant Anna Switzer, the former principal of P.S. 234, a highly regarded public school, in Tribeca. Before Switzer retired from P.S. 234, in 2003, she developed a progressive social-studies curriculum in which students undertake months-long projects on, say, the native populations that originally lived on Manhattan Island. At Success Academy, Switzer has been helping to build similar “modules,” such as an intensive six-week study, in the third grade, of the Brooklyn Bridge. For kindergartners, Success offers a six-week interdisciplinary study of bread. After students read about bread and baking—the importance of bread in different global cultures; the grains that go into making various breads—they take a field trip to a bakery, and bake bread as a classroom activity. Success modules remain heavy on reading and writing, Switzer acknowledges: when the kindergartners study bread, “shared texts” play a more prominent role than they would at a very progressive public school. Still, the curriculum for these projects belies the stereotype of Success as a rigid test-prep factory. “Being a progressive pedagogue is hard,” Moskowitz told me. “Your level of preparation has to be much higher, because you have to be responsive to the kids, and you have to allow the kid to have the eureka moment, while still mastering the material.”
Adding to the difficulty of implementing such ideals is the youth and relative inexperience of Success’s staff. On average, a school loses a quarter of its teachers every year; at some schools, more than half leave. Moskowitz told me that teachers typically stay with Success for just three years. This may be consistent with the job-hopping habits of millennials, but according to veteran educators it generally takes at least three years to become a decent teacher. An unseasoned workforce is not Moskowitz’s ideal, but, given the rapid growth of Success and the network’s projected expansion, it may be a structural inevitability. The system compensates for the inexperience of many of its teachers by having a highly centralized organization. Teachers do not develop their own lesson plans; rather, they teach precisely what the network demands. Like the students in their classrooms, Success’s teachers operate within tightly defined boundaries, with high expectations and frequent assessment….

One of the core tenets of John Dewey’s educational philosophy was the belief that, in school, children learn not only the explicit content of lessons but also an implicit message about the ideal organization of society. A school, he argued, was a civilization in microcosm. “I believe that the school must represent present life—life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, or the neighborhood, or on the playground,” Dewey wrote in “My Pedagogic Creed,” which was published in 1897. The society for which the child was being prepared should not be conceived of as an abstraction from the remote future, Dewey believed. It should be replicated, in simplified form, within the structure and culture of the school itself.

“A school should be a model of what democratic adult culture is about,” Deborah Meier, a veteran progressive educator, and a theorist in the tradition of Dewey, told me. “Most of what we learn in life we learn from the company we keep. What is taught didactically is often forgotten.” A corollary of Dewey’s belief is that, if children are exposed in school to an authoritarian model of society, that is the kind of society in which they may prefer to live.

The question posed by the article, left unanswered, is whether a rigid and even repressive culture can be combined with a progressive approach to pedagogy, and whether these classrooms are the best preparation for life in a democratic society.

What can we learn from the Success Academy model? Its students get the highest test scores in the state.

This year, a Success high school, on Thirty-third Street, will produce the network’s first graduating class: seventeen students. This pioneering class originated with a cohort of seventy-three first graders.

So, seventeen out of an entering cohort of 73 first-graders survived to graduation. What does that mean?

Megan Erickson, a journalist and teacher in the New York City public schools, reviews Eva Moskowitz’s memoir in The Nation.

The title: The Miseducation of Eva Moskowitz.

This is a valuable review to share with friends who are not familiar with Eva’s strategies: cherrypicking students, high attrition rates, high teacher turnover, disciplining and suspending those she wants to get rid of, cultivating billionaires, boasting that her methods are scalable when they are not, and so on.

The great lie that Erickson fastens on is that Eva, like others in the charter industry, like to pretend that going to a charter school is an escalator to the middle class, but what they refuse to confront is the social and economic inequality that keeps a few at the top, and a great many at the bottom. Schools can’t fix that, no matter how hard they push “no excuses.”

The Los Angeles Times published an article about reactions to LAUSD board member Ref Rodriguez’ Legal problems.

It is time for him to leave the board.



What a model for children.

If teachers were under indictment for multiple crimes, he or she would have to get out of the classroom. Now.

Please note that the president of the California Charter Schools Association issued a statement expressing his concern but does not call on him to resign. The charters in Los Angeles are asking for new rules to speed up their renewals, Free them to shape their own suspension policies, and protect them from burdensome accountability, so they must hang on to their majority. Prominently featured in the article is Caprice Young, CEO of the Turkish Gulen charter chain called Magnolia. Some of its charters were not renewed, and Magnolia is hoping to reverse that deci$ion. Young was previously president of the California Charter School Association before taking charge of the Imam Fetullah Gulen’s Magnolia Charter chain.

Please read the NAACP report on charter schools.

Ever since it was released, charter supporters have complained bitterly about the report and accused the NAACP of being paid off by the unions.

This is ridiculous. It is a sound and sober report.

Consider its recommendations.

1. There should be more equitable and adequate funding for schools serving children of color. The school finance system is extremely unfair and inequitable over states, districts, and schools. School funding in 36 states has not returned to its pre-2008 levels, when budgets were slashed. Federal funds in real dollar amounts have declined for Title I and special education over the same period.

Do charter supporters disagree?

2. School finance reform is needed to ensure that dollars go where the needs are greatest.

Do charter supporters disagree?

3. Invest in low-performing schools and in schools that have a significant opportunity to close achievement gaps. “Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared caring adults.” Authorities must invest in incentives to attract and retain “fully qualified educators”; they must invest in creating instructional quality that provides a stimulating and challenging learning environment; they must invest in wraparound services that meet the need of children, including early childhood education, health and mental services, extended learning time, and social supports.

Do charter supports disagree? What would they object to? Maybe they would reject the idea that teachers should be “fully qualified,” since that might be a slap at Teach for America’s teachers, who are never fully qualified when they begin teaching.

4. Mandate a rigorous authorizing and renewal process. States with the fewest authorizers have the best charters. Only local school districts should be allowed to authorize charters, based on their needs.

This would be a problem for many charters, because they like it when there are many authorizers, and they can go shopping to find one that will give them an okay. They hate being overseen by local districts, because they see themselves as competitors to public schools, not collaborators. But that is part of what makes charters obnoxious.

5. Eliminate for-profit charter schools and for-profit charter management companies that control nonprofit charters. Not a dollar of federal, state or local money should go to for-profit charters. The report notes that the widespread reports of misconduct of for-profit charters and their for-profit managers is reason enough to forbid them. As for-profits, they have an “inherent conflict of interest,” and may well put the interest of their investors over those of students.

Do charter supporters disagree? Obviously, this is a sticking point for many charter supporters, including Betsy DeVos, who welcomes for-profit charters. More than 80% of the charters in her home state of Michigan operate for profit, and they get poor results. That doesn’t bother her at all. It bothers the NAACP.

Now, I ask you, what part of these five recommendations suggests that the NAACP is wrong? That it was doing the bidding of teachers’ unions? Is it so objectionable to charter advocates to propose that children should be taught by fully qualified educators? Are they prepared to fight for teachers who are not fully qualified?

Later in the report, on page 26, is an expanded discussion of the recommendations, including a recommendation that charters hire only certified teachers and that charters abide by common standards for reporting on disciplinary practices and admitting and retaining students.

I commend the NAACP for its common sense proposals to reform the charter sector.

Are charter advocates prepared to go to the mat to defend for-profit operations?

What part of this report and its recommendations has lit a fire of outrage in charter land?

Astana Bigard, parent activist in New Orleans, reports that poor children are regularly suspended and expelled from charter schools because they can’t afford to pay for a uniform.

“When a New Orleans charter school made headlines recently for kicking out two homeless students because they didn’t have the right uniforms, people were shocked. They shouldn’t have been. Suspending poor students for “non-compliance” when they can’t afford to buy the right shoes, pants or sweaters is standard operating procedure in our all-charter-school education system. More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina, poverty in the city is worse than ever, even as rents have doubled during the past decade. Yet students and their parents are routinely punished—even criminalized—just for being poor.”