I write frequently about Success Academy, whose thousands of inner-city students — chosen by lottery — do spectacularly well . . . and at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
This is worth coming back to over and over, I think, because replicated nationwide it would have profound positive implications — not just for the kids themselves (and their kids and THEIR kids), but for all the rest of us as well.
As noted, the New York Times has been significantly less enthusiastic, most recently highlighting a Success teacher caught on video shaming a student.
Well, as it happens, two of the readers of this page turn out to be parents of students in that same school. They write:
Clarence Penn: “My kids go to Success Academy Cobble Hill (the school featured in the New York Times you linked to) and they have had an amazing time! It’s agreed the teacher did go too far, but she was suspended and put into further training right away (where else do you see that?). I have a friend who is a substitute teacher in Newark and he says the stuff that goes on in those schools is horrible but for some reason that doesn’t get reported with as much vigor by the Times. By the way, my wife Ellie would like to add something.”
Ellie Penn: “The work Success Academy schools do is simply amazing and it is so sad that people (good people) don’t realize that. (Among them, some of my mommy friends.) They are brainwashed by the media. Things like in this video from Chicago happen every day in the Newark school where Clarence’s friend is teaching. The kids will become statistics and the cycle will never be broken for them. Schools like Success are actually changing that.”
And here is Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by Success founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz.
By Eva S. Moskowitz
March 14, 2016 7:27 p.m. ET
This year charter-school enrollment grew by 260,000 students nationwide. Most of the fastest-growing charter networks, including Success Academies in New York City, which I run, believe we have a responsibility both to push children to achieve their potential and to protect them from the mayhem that in district schools often robs students of their opportunity to learn.
This stricter approach has encountered fierce criticism in certain quarters. The New York Times, for example, has bemoaned Success Academy’s “stringent rules about behavior” that require students to have their “eyes following the speaker” and walk “in formation reminiscent of the von Trapp children at the beginning of ‘The Sound of Music.’ ”
Over the past year the Times’s principal education reporter has devoted 34% of the total word count for her education stories, including four of her seven longest articles, to unrelentingly negative coverage of Success.
We are hardly perfect and are, like all institutions, a work in progress. Yet the expenditure of such a disproportionate amount of investigative resources on one network of schools that educates just 1% of New York City’s students is curious, given the dire failures of the district schools. In Central Harlem’s district schools, for example, just 15% of students scored proficient on the state’s math exams in 2015. The budget at one Harlem district school, P.S. 241, amounted to $2 million for each of its two students who tested proficient in math. By contrast, 90% of the students at Success’s Central Harlem schools scored proficient in math in 2015.
Many education professors are also critical of strict charter schools. But there is at least one group that strongly supports our schools: parents. For the current school year, Success Academies received 22,000 applications for 2,300 spots. Another network in New York City with a similar approach, Achievement First, received 21,000 applications for 1,000 spots. Meanwhile, most district schools with which we compete are massively under-enrolled.
This raises an important question: Why are the views of parents about discipline so different than those of Times reporters and education professors? The answer, I believe, is that parents know from personal experience that when schools have lax discipline, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, children are bullied, robbed of educational opportunities by unruly behavior and even subjected to violence. Indeed, according to state statistics compiled by the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, 2015 was the most violent year in New York City schools in a decade.
Unfortunately, reporters and education professors often fail to realize that they are hampered by their own lack of personal experience with dysfunctional urban schools, which most of them didn’t attend—and aren’t where they are forced to send their own children. The New York Times education reporter claimed that her coverage of Success raised doubt about “How much . . . parents know of what goes on in their children’s classrooms.” The message was clear: Parents send their kids to stricter schools because they are clueless and need the help of a reporter to tell them what’s really going on. Really? Even though these parents speak with their own children every day?
The unstated premise is that parents are susceptible to being duped because they are poor and unsophisticated. (Once upon a time, this view was known as “false consciousness”—the Marxist critique of how the proletariat could be misled by capitalist society.) But if parents of Success students were complacent and so easy to please, they wouldn’t be taking their children out of district schools in droves. Moreover, even affluent families are increasingly recognizing the value of schools that are academically rigorous. We have several schools in relatively wealthy communities, and our oldest, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, received almost 3,000 applications for 100 seats in 2015.
Even the views of students themselves are dismissed by critics. In a 2013 study, Joan F. Goodman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, interviewed 56 seniors from a strict school about its discipline policies. She reported that all but three students spoke favorably about the policies. Without them, the students said, “hallways would be crazy” and students would “act up,” “not do their work” and “mess up in class while someone else [is] trying to learn.” But Ms. Goodman concluded the students’ views just showed how the school had lowered its students’ “self-esteem.” Social psychologists, she later observed in an interview, “call it ‘identification with the oppressor.’ Here oppressor should be changed to authority.”
Critics claim that strict discipline stymies students’ creativity and voice. This just isn’t true. Requiring students to wear a uniform, speak respectfully and pay attention in class doesn’t prevent them from developing their identity or thinking for themselves. Our view at Success is that when schools are calm and organized, children feel free to express themselves precisely because they do feel safe.
Because of school choice, parents are increasingly determining how children in this country are educated. Schools offering an education that parents believe works are expanding rapidly. Those that don’t are shrinking. This is troubling if you have contempt for parents’ intelligence and commitment to their children, but if you have confidence in parents, as I do, this development is welcome and long overdue.
☞ As I’ve said before, not all charter schools are good, by any means. Some are awful. Many are only so-so. But the ones that work? They should be emulated and replicated as widely and quickly as possible.
As I’ve also said before, I’m a huge fan of the New York Times. (Subscribe!). It is indispensable. But no one is perfect; and on this one, they’ve blown it.
Margie Power: “I’m generally with you on ignoring expiration dates, though salad dressing from 2oo1 goes a little beyond my tolerance. Have you heard this podcast about expiration dates? They have nothing to do with safety at all.”
Richard Factor: “I recently found a jar of peanut butter and a jar of Nutella that were 10 years old. The peanut butter was a bit rancid but edible. The Nutella? Good as new! I’m too old to start a new experiment, so [with respect to your 15-year-old salad dressing] I concede.”
Have a great weekend.