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(I like this site even better if you happen to live in Florida — it needed only my name and date of birth to find me.)
We need to win this election by the widest popular margin — both to show the rest of the world we’re not crazy . . . (so even votes in “safe” states like New York and California matter) . . . and to take back the Senate AND the House. Which we absolutely can do if it’s a landslide — and need to, so the country can move forward with what the Republicans have blocked but most Americans want: putting people to work in good jobs revitalizing our infrastructure! hiking the minimum wage! enacting the comprehensive immigration reform the Senate passed 68-32! imposing the universal background checks that even 74% of NRA members favor! allowing federal-student-loan borrowers to refinance at today’s low rates! And more.
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The markets hit record highs yesterday, triple their post-Bush low. Trump tells us Obama’s been a disaster, our future is bleak — and only he can fix it. Investors around the world, expecting Hillary to win, seem not to agree.
Marissa H.: “I loved your story about the lobby renovation, and I’m so sorry you weren’t able to persuade them — $850,000 is an awful lot of money to update a lobby. Regarding Success Academies, though, I wonder if you could devote at least a little space to some of the criticisms of their approach. Even though Eva Moskowitz denies it, there have been credible reports that part of the secret to their success (undeniable for the children who stay) has been systematic efforts to push out children who can’t meet their rigid behavior standards. A Success Academy representative told Newshour’s John Merrow that 10 children of every 100 who start at Success leave within the first year. With an attrition rate that high, it’s not really fair to say that because they initially take all comers in a lottery, their results can be compared to the public schools at large. Beyond that, there’s the question of at what cost this comes. A while back you posted a Moskowitz editorial about a mentor of hers who made a big point of teaching children to track the speaker with their eyes at all times. I think it was meant to be inspiring, but I found it chilling. Yes, teaching children the skills of paying attention and interacting in a mature way is important. But don’t you sometimes look out the window for a moment when you’re thinking something through at a meeting? Should people who do that be forced to stay after school? Success punishes kids when they don’t keep their hands folded. Do you keep your hands folded all day? I’m a pediatrician in academic practice, and I flip my pen like a high school debater in meetings. My colleagues like me anyway. And how will these students do when they go to college and no longer have someone standing over them telling them exactly what to do every minute? That’s been an issue with previous high-discipline charters. ‘This American Life’ did a great story about this a while back, comparing the high-discipline schools to ones that emphasize adult-style group problem solving, and my impression after listening to it was that the high-discipline approach didn’t work as well in the very long term as you would think. I know you’re not a parent, but would you have wanted your nieces or nephews to be sent to schools that enforce these kinds of rigid discipline standards? My (white, middle class) kids are 8 and 12. They go to a Montessori school where the respect between students and teachers is relentlessly bilateral. It violates my sense of fairness to suggest that the best means children from disadvantaged backgrounds have to reach success is something so much less respectful. The Montessori method also has excellent test score data (and improved social skill outcomes, including in randomized lottery situations), but without the forced attrition and the automaton behavior expectations. I agree emphatically that the status of standard public education in many U.S. districts is a disgrace and that there is a moral imperative for immediate action. And I understand that for many parents the high-discipline approach is a good cultural fit, so I guess they should be free to choose it. But with none of these students having yet graduated and gone to college, I guess I feel like we should curb our enthusiasm and keep our options open for other, more humane approaches. I’m not necessarily trying to change your mind all the way, but I’d love to see some consideration of these questions in your column.”
☞ For sure. First, the Success attrition rate is around 10%, as you say, but, I’m told, 13% at regular public schools (many children don’t have permanent homes/families and move a lot) and much higher still in the “co-located” schools with which Success shares a building. So we’re actually pretty good at retaining kids/families. (Because they want to be there?) Second, the kids have a very varied day, doing chess, dance, five days per week of experimentally based science where they are not sitting and “tracking” the teacher with their eyes. Third, they get much more freedom in middle and high school (most of what our critics talk about is kindergarten through fourth grade). Third, I’m told you’re right: there are adjustment issues that come up in Middle and High School (well before college), as a result of the more disciplined elementary-school environment. But we are betting on Success, the kids, and a culture of constant improvement to address those issues. But fourth — and mainly — if you can’t read or do simple math, what will your future be? Weigh that negative against any others Success critics raise and, well, I think it’s not even close.
There’s been loads of push-back from very smart, hugely well-meaning people (like you) — and Success is all for their coming up with alternatives. The more great choices parents have for their kids, the better. I think the facts will win in the end — imagine how much stronger the country would be if there were 4,100, not 41, inner-city schools producing these kinds of results, breaking the cycle of poverty for hundreds of thousands of kids each year.
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They maintain themselves high above the fray, descending only to shoot the wounded.~S.J. Perelman, on the press
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