Archives for category: Harlem Success Academy

Politico reports that Eva Moskowitz fired Mercury, the PR firm that also represented Michigan Gov Rick Snyder during the Flint water crisis. 

This the third PR firm hired and fired by Success Academy. 

How many public schools have the funds to hire a top-shelf PR firm? 

Nancy Carlsson-Paige was able to view the Success Academy video of a teacher teaching reading to a small group of very young children, probably five- or six-year-olds. It is called “Circle Time Reading.” Gary Rubinstein posted the video a few days ago, before it was taken down by Success Academy. I saw the video before it was removed. The teacher speaks in a very loud voice and constantly interrupts the reading to correct children’s posture or their failure to “track” her with their eyes. Maybe it will be reposted. If it is, I will let you know.

Carlsson-Paige, an expert on early childhood education, wrote the following critique of the video:


Review of the Success Academy Video: Teacher Reading to Young Children

This is a very poor example of a literacy experience for young children. Caps for Sale is a classic story loved by young chldren. This teacher interrupts the story constantly to reinforce a behaviorist method of classroom management. She repeats how the children should sit; she praises, corrects, and warns them. The children are distracted from the flow of the story and their own ability to make meaning of it.

Meaning is the driving force in learning to read. Sometimes a skilled teacher will interrupt a story once or twice in order to make sure children understand it, but never to distract children from the story. This teacher’s interruptions take children out of the story, preventing them from experiencing a deep interest in it and the great joy that can be found in reading good literature. The kinds of interruptions the teacher makes also distance her emotionally from the children. For young kids, learning and relationships are intertwined; they thrive and learn best when their relationships with teachers are based in trust and caring. There is no evidence in the video of a caring connection between this teacher and the children.

This teacher seems to lack knowledge about how children learn, how they make meaning of print and learn to read. Her apparent goal is behavioral control and compliance. Her lesson is teacher-centered and has little to do with what concepts might be building in the minds of the children.

Reading books to children is one important component of an early literacy program. The repetition in the story helps build a foundation for reading. The flow of language contributes to the capacity to predict print. But this teacher undermines the potential value of this as a literacy experience by constantly interrupting the story, focusing children on irrelevant behaviors such as folding their hands, and preventing them from getting the full benefit of a read-out-loud story experience.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita, Early Childhood Education
Lesley University
Defending the Early Years (www.deyproject.org)

Please take this opportunity to learn from the best practices of Success Academy.

As you know, it posted nearly 500 videos. Then it took some of them down after Gary Rubinstein posted one of them. Then they were restored. Then they were all removed.

A reader informed me that one of the videos is back up. It is about teaching middle school math.

Please watch and tell us what you learned.

Gary Rubinstein explains here what happened when he posted about the nearly 500 videos that Success Academy put up on the Internet.

They were there. Some disappeared. They reappeared. They all disappeared.

What’s next?

Gary Rubinstein discovered that Success Academy charter chain had posted about 500 short videos to show what they do in the classroom. Success Academy is celebrated for its phenomenal test scores, far higher than other “no excuses” charter schools. Gary watched several of the videos.

In this post, he discusses a reading lesson for very young children called “Circle Time.” The video is linked. Gary discusses the video and invites readers to comment. The comments by early childhood teachers are interesting.

Gary writes:

“She reminds them how to sit to make this “the most enjoyable story yet” which includes having a really straight back and hands clasped together while tracking the speaker.

There is a lot of “behavior narration” going on, where the teacher constantly points out to the class students who are following directions well. (“Yolanni’s tracking up here.” “Davin brought it right back”) I find it very annoying and I feel like if I were a child it would detract from the story.

The teacher is in complete control. She allows the kids to make some gestures from time to time, but then quickly gets them to return their hands to their laps. I’m kind of scared of this teacher, whoever she is.”

After Gary posted this, almost all the videos were taken down. Then they were restored. Then they were removed again. Curious.

Gary Rubinstein found that Success Academy posted hundreds of short videos that demonstrate their methods. Their test scores are higher than any other charter school in the state of New York.

Watch a couple of videos and see what you can learn.

I can’t promise that the videos are still online. After Gary’s first post appeared, the videos were taken down. Then they were put back online. As of yesterday afternoon, after Gary posted another video, they were all taken down again. Cat and mouse. A curious way to react to those who view SA’s best practices.

Statisticians Mark Palko and Andrew Gelman explain why a relentless obsession with test scores ruins the value of the scores. As their prime example, they refer to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, where children and teachers live for higher scores. Not only are the children’s names and ranking posted, so are the teachers’.

You remember Campbell’s Law? That’s the axiom that says when you attach consequences to a measure, the measure loses its validity.

They write:

“When a school uses selection and attrition policies that effectively filter out many of the extremely poor, students speaking English as a second language, and the learning disabled, that clearly calls into question test score advantages that such a school might have over an ordinary public school.

“But the problems run even deeper than most critics realize: A look at the data combined with some basic principles of social science suggests that the practices of no-excuses charters are undermining the very foundation of data-based education reform.

“As statisticians with experience teaching at the high school and college level, we recognize a familiar problem: A test that overshadows the ultimate outcomes it is intended to measure turns into an invalid test.

“Back in the old Soviet Union, factories would produce masses of unusable products as a result of competition to meet unrealistic production quotas. Analogously, many charter schools, under pressure to deliver unrealistic gains in test scores, are contorting themselves to get the numbers they’ve promised. They’re being rewarded for doing so. But that monomaniacal focus on test scores undermines the correlation between test scores and academic accomplishment that originally existed.”

They note that Success Academy has astonishingly high test scores, yet for two years in a row, not a single one of their eighth grade students won admission to one of the city’s elite high schools. In the third year, some did (11% of those who took the test from SA).

In a comment on this post, Gary Rubinstein (a blogger who teaches at Stuyvesant High School, an exam school) writes:

“One thing to note, the 11% specialized HS acceptance rate–6 out of 54–is inflated since there were 200 kids who feasibly could have sat for that test but only 54 did.” Of 200 students at Success Academy who were eligible to take the test, 54 did, and 6 gained admission.

It is better to have high scores than low scores, but they should never be the measure of teacher quality or school quality. Making them too important ruins their value.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, has written an excellent summary of the reasons that charter schools are not public schools. As she puts it, they are private schools that receive public funding. They are like private contractors who are working with a government contract; when they are sued in court, they claim they are not state actors, they are private contractors. That is, they plead that they can’t be held to the same laws as public schools because they are not public schools.

What makes public education advocates angry, she writes, is when charter schools claim “success” but play by different rules.

She uses the example of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters to show that her charters do not enroll the same proportions of children who are poor and children with disabilities as the neighborhood school. In addition, they don’t accept new students after a certain grade because they don’t want to ruin their “culture” by bringing in new students (this is called “backfilling”).

Public schools have public governance, with open meetings and financial transparency. Charter schools almost never do.

The differences between public schools and charter schools go well beyond issues of governance. One of the strengths of a true public school is its ethical and legal obligation to educate all. Public school systems enroll any student who comes into the district’s attendance zone from ages 5 to 21 — no matter their handicapping condition, lack of prior education, first language, or even disciplinary or criminal record. Not only will empty seats be filled at any grade, if there is a sudden influx of students, classes must be opened.

In contrast, charter schools control enrollment — in both direct and subtle ways. In 2013, journalist Stephanie Simon wrote a comprehensive report exposing the lengthy applications, tests, essays and other hurdles used by many charters schools to make sure they get the kind of student that they want.

Even when some charter chains, such as Aspire, Success Academy and KIPP, have simple applications and lottery entrance, student bodies are not necessarily representative of neighborhood schools.

Burris asks:

The Democratic National Convention is about to begin. Will the party show commitment to rein in the “Wild West” of charter schools, as new platform language suggests? Friends of public education will be watching.

Kate Taylor in the New York Times describes education legislation that was rushed through in the closing days of the legislative session in Albany. Quietly slipped in was a provision allowing charter schools to switch to a different authorizer that would be enable them to evade state regulations about certified teachers. The primary beneficiary is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain, which is expanding rapidly and can’t find enough certified teachers, in part because of the expansion but also because of high teacher turnover in the chain.

In the fraught final hours of the legislative session on Friday, the Republicans in the State Senate agreed to give Mayor Bill de Blasio control of the New York City schools for one more year, but in return they demanded two provisions related to charter schools.

One made it easier for the schools to switch between charter-granting organizations. The second gave the charter schools committee of the State University of New York’s board of trustees — one of the two entities that can currently grant charters — the power “to promulgate regulations with respect to governance, structure and operations” of the schools it oversees.

The broadness of the language at first left something of a mystery as to what the provision was intended to accomplish and who might have wanted it.

A few days later, the mystery cleared up a bit.

Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school advocacy group that is closely tied to Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy charter school network, sent an email to the leaders of several charter networks on Tuesday calling the provisions “a massive victory.” In particular, it said in the email, the SUNY-related bit of legislation meant that SUNY would be able to waive current requirements that limit the number of uncertified teachers that charter schools can employ.

In fact, the Senate had pushed for a provision that would have done that directly, by giving teachers at charter schools three years to become certified, but the Assembly, which is controlled by the Democrats, rejected it. After that explicit provision on teacher certification was taken out, the broader language appeared.

The three-year allowance had been a top priority for Ms. Moskowitz, who faces difficulty hiring enough teachers as she rapidly expands the number of Success Academy schools. Currently, under the state’s charter school law, a charter school cannot have more than 15 uncertified teachers. Success hires mostly young teachers. Many of them are uncertified when they begin and attend a master’s program managed by Success while they are teaching.

Apparently SA likes to take uncertified teachers and mold them, rather than certified teachers who may have their own ideas.

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Success Academy, expressed support for the idea of giving charters flexibility on the certification rules. “To continue to deliver the strongest academic results for children, as well as exceptional chess, debate and art programs, schools must hire the most highly qualified teachers available and give them extensive training and support,” he said in a statement.

Success Academy claims it is creating a national model for inner-city education. No excuses and uncertified teachers.

Ever wonder what it is like to teach at a Success Academy charter school in New York City? I have been contacted by several teachers who quit and told me their stories, but they were never willing to allow their name to be published. They were afraid that their future job prospects would be damaged. Here is a statement by a former SA teacher, Sasha Guiridongo, posted on her own blog and then shared with Mercedes Schneider.

What is unusual, of course, is that Sasha is not afraid to tell her story and give her name.

She didn’t last long at Success Academy. She explains why in her post. SA is known for teacher churn and burn out. That explains why Eva Moskowitz’s supporters in the Legislature were pushing hard to get a special exemption for charter teachers in the law, relieving them of the necessity of being certified to teach for three years. Since so many teachers don’t last three years, this creates a large pool of prospective “teachers,” wannabes without certification.

Sasha complains about the competition among teachers to produce the highest test scores; I had earlier heard from a leaker at SA that the charters post the names of teachers in public and rank them by their students’ scores. This is an inherently humiliating practice. They also post student test scores in public. It must be humiliating for all but those at the top.

Here is an excerpt from Sasha’s post:

I was set to join “the team” for T-School, a brainwashing series of seminars aimed to mold you into a “Success teacher” because it’s somehow different than a regular teacher. Success teachers are notregular teachers, no sir, they are above that. The seminars retaught me how to teach and fed my newfound Success ego while stealing an entire month of my well deserved summer vacation. The outcome? I was thoroughly convinced that it took a “special” kind of teacher to teach at Success and I was part of the chosen few. This mentality is what kept me there as long as I did despite looming depression due to my sudden loss of identity and free time to pursue personal passions.

I had heard horrors about SA prior to accepting the job: the long hours and pressure to perform, but coming from another charter school I had confidence that I could accept and overcome any difficulties; Besides I was coming from teaching in East New York and nothing toughens you up more than working in a school where someone is shot dead at the end of the school block during Parent-Teacher Night. So was I intimidated by SA? No. But once I began teaching as a newly baptized SA teacher I quickly realized the toxic environment SA strived to create and force feed educators who had real passion for teaching. SA had managed to create an educational environment that disregarded the well-being of the teacher. It promoted a cut-throat, monetarily incentivized corporate environment in which you prayed for the demise of your peers for an opportunity to inadvertently glorify yourself. Is this what teaching is about?

My 6 months at Success forced me to evaluate who I was as an educator and revise my motivation, a minute personal gain. Success mostly made me doubt my personal success every day. I became doubtful of the importance of teaching; if we could all be trained to be the same, think the same, and act the same then as educators we were inevitably relaying this same message to our students. Every day I relayed the message that just as all teachers had to think and act and be the same, consistency among classrooms, the same was expected of students. SA didn’t celebrate originality or praise the individual, no, SA thrived on doubt, on the inevitable fear of not doing enough, being there enough, talking enough, thinking enough, preparing enough, or absorbing enough information. The underlying message was that this doubt and fear somehow made you better because it encouraged you to take immediate action as you strived to BE THE BEST at the expense of your mental stability, of course. If I couldn’t survive here, I often thought, I had failed and I was not “one of a kind,” I was weak and had no business teaching.