Monday, April 20, 2015

How Do You Spell Success (Academy)?

Success Academy, the New York City charter school chain run by the education reform darling Eva Moskowitz, has been a hot topic in the news lately, with two lengthy articles in the New York Times, here and here that highlighted Success Academy’s success in raising test scores, but which also raised questions about the methods used by the schools to achieve this success. The articles spurred a predictable reaction from Moscowitz calling out the reporter for using sensational anecdotes to discredit the methods used in Success Academy schools to achieve those improved test scores. In reality, the articles came across to me and others, including Diane Ravitch as reasonably fair and balanced.


What is lacking in the articles is a perspective on what education should be and how Success Academy falls woefully short of that mark in the pursuit of the higher test scores. This single minded pursuit of test scores brings Moscowitz praise from politicians like New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and buckets of money from her hedge fund management  supporters.

How does Success Academy spell success?

·         S – Strict enforcement of a “no excuses” code of behavior
·         U – Underprepared and inexperienced teachers who can be bullied into long hours of work and who are malleable enough to accept a narrowed curriculum and prescriptive discipline policy
·         C - Curriculum that focuses on test preparation to the exclusion of deeper understanding, the arts, and physical education
·         C - Coercive discipline built on shaming students into compliance
·         E – Exclusion of students with learning differences, discipline problems, and English language  learners through repeated suspensions or requiring parents to come to school with the child every day.
·         S – Stressful, competitive, joyless learning environment
·         S – Systematic courting of support of politicians, including closing schools so parents and students can go to Albany to lobby legislators into giving Success Academy more money.

It is clear from even a cursory look at the Success Academy test focused curriculum and draconian discipline policies that this type of “education” would be totally unacceptable to parents sending their children to public school in the suburbs. Is it acceptable to use these methods with inner city (mostly minority) children?

There is no question that children raised in poverty present unique and often intractable challenges to successful learning, but do we really want to say that the only way to make sure these kids do well in school is to submit them to a Dickension model of schooling?

It is a model of schooling deeply imbued with a prejudice against what Michael Harrington called the “Other America.” That is the poor America that we wish to see swept under the rug and where now 25% of America’s children live. Easier to blame the poor for their poverty and to treat their children as inferior beings meant to be driven to compliance through a school model designed by those who consider them inferior beings, than to actually grapple with the issue of poverty.

Easier to view poor children as having deficits that must be remediated, rather than as vital, complex human beings with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, who, like all children, are seeking to find their place in the world.

Success Academy achieves its very narrow successes through what can only be called the abuse of children.

Tonight Governor Cuomo will speak at a $1,250 dollar a seat dinner to raise money for Eva Moskowitz’ Success Academy. Enough said.