Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 2, 2016

“No-Nonsense” Charter Once Again Embarrassed

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 4:55 pm

Mother of Girl Berated in Video Assails Success Academy’s Response
By KATE TAYLOR FEB. 25, 2016 NYTimes
Nadya Miranda, 23, is the mother of a student whose treatment by an angry teacher at Success Academy in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was surreptitiously videotaped. Ms. Miranda has withdrawn her daughter from the school. the video.

A safe haven for her daughter: a Success Academy charter school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where she hoped her daughter would get a good education and be put on a path to college.

Then she saw the video.

The video, which was recorded surreptitiously by an assistant teacher in the fall of 2014, captured a first-grade teacher at the school scolding Ms. Miranda’s daughter for being unable to explain to the class how she solved a math problem. The teacher ripped the girl’s paper in half, ordered her to leave the circle to sit in what she called “the calm-down chair,” and said that she was angry and disappointed.

When the video was published by The New York Times this month, Success Academy held a defiant news conference. The network’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, defended the teacher, Charlotte Dial, saying that she had apologized “in real time” to her students, and accused The Times of bias. A teacher suggested that the newspaper did not believe that black and Hispanic children could be academically successful. Two parents stood up to say that they did not need .

A Momentary Lapse or Abusive Teaching?

In 2014, an assistant teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill secretly filmed her colleague, Charlotte Dial, scolding one of her students after the young girl failed to answer a question correctly. The children’s faces have been blurred and their names obscured to protect their privacy.
Ms. Miranda, however, tells a different story.

In two lengthy interviews, she said that she did not know what was happening in her daughter’s classroom before she saw the video. She said that she was so upset by what she saw — and by the network’s rush to rally around Ms. Dial, while showing little concern for her daughter or other students — that she took the girl out of the school in late January.

Ms. Miranda said that while Ms. Dial had apologized to her, the teacher had never apologized to her daughter. She said that a public relations specialist for Success drafted an email for her, asking The Times not to publish the video, and that at a meeting Ms. Moskowitz held at the school on Jan. 20, Ms. Moskowitz asked the parents to support Ms. Dial and to defend the school to the paper. Ms. Miranda said that when she stood up, identified herself and objected that Ms. Moskowitz was asking parents to support the teacher without even showing them the video, Ms. Moskowitz cut her off.

“She’s like, ‘You had enough to say, you had enough to say,’ and she tried to talk over me,” Ms. Miranda said. “So I just really got frustrated, and I just walked out, and the parents that were concerned followed me, and the parents who were against me and for the teacher” stayed in the auditorium.

Ms. Miranda took her daughter home that morning and did not bring her back to the school. The next week, after confirming that there was a seat in the regular public school where her younger son is in prekindergarten, she withdrew her daughter and placed her in that school.

Success Academy declined to comment on the specifics of Ms. Miranda’s account, though in an emailed statement, Stefan Friedman, a spokesman, said the network was “sorry Ms. Miranda chose to withdraw her daughter.”

Ms. Dial did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Miranda, 23, said she sent her daughter to Success Academy because she wanted her to get a better education than she had and to aspire to college. Ms. Miranda was raised mostly by her mother, who spoke only Spanish and was disabled by diabetes and heart disease by the time Ms. Miranda was 13. She became pregnant in ninth grade and dropped out of school, later earning her high school equivalency diploma. She has worked as a home health aide and earns money now by babysitting for friends’ children. She and her children are currently living in a family shelter.

Her daughter attended Public School 10, the Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology in Brooklyn, for kindergarten, but Ms. Miranda was unimpressed with the work.

“I felt that she was doing more drawing than actually learning,” she said.

She entered the lottery for Success Academy, drawn by the network’s reputation for academic rigor, and won a seat. But when the school gave her daughter a placement test, administrators said she had to repeat kindergarten.

Her daughter was placed in Ms. Dial’s class for kindergarten and then stayed with the teacher for first grade. Ms. Miranda said her daughter had done well in math, but struggled with reading and writing and, over time, became discouraged.

“She used to tell me: ‘I’m never going to get it. I just don’t know. I’m not as smart as the other kids,’” Ms. Miranda said. “I would hear that from her, and I’d be like, ‘Where are you getting this from?’”

When she saw the video, Ms. Miranda said, she understood her daughter’s dejection.

“It makes me feel bad as a parent — like, what am I going to do to build her confidence all over again?” she said.

In an interview and at the news conference, Ms. Moskowitz dismissed the video as an anomaly, but Ms. Miranda’s daughter, now 8, said that Ms. Dial frequently yelled at students for infractions like not folding their hands. She said that she did not remember the specific incident captured on the video, but that she was afraid to ask questions in Ms. Dial’s class, because asking Ms. Dial to explain something a second time would lead to a punishment. She said Ms. Dial had on other occasions ripped up children’s papers when she thought they were copying others’ work.

She said she did not complain to her mother, because “I was scared of Ms. Dial.”

Ms. Miranda said she learned about the video when she arrived to pick her daughter up from school on Jan. 13 and was told to get her from the principal’s office. The principal, Kerri Nicholls, told Ms. Miranda that The Times was asking about a video of an incident between her daughter and Ms. Dial, but that she did not know what it showed. The next day, at a meeting with Ms. Nicholls, Ms. Dial and Ann Powell, the network’s executive vice president for public affairs, Ms. Miranda watched the video. She said that Ms. Dial cried and apologized to her, saying that she had had a bad day.

Upset after viewing the video, Ms. Miranda said she did not want it published, to protect her daughter’s privacy. Ms. Powell suggested she send an email to The Times. When Ms. Miranda said she did not know what to write, Ms. Powell drafted the email for her and told her to send it from her email address because it would be more powerful coming from her.

On Jan. 20, after the schoolwide meeting with the parents, Ms. Miranda sent another email to The Times saying that she was not happy with how the school was handling the incident and asking to be contacted. She did not speak with a reporter until last week.

Ms. Miranda said Ms. Moskowitz did not try to contact her until after the meeting on the 20th, and at that point, she felt it was too late. What most distressed her, Ms. Miranda said, was that the network and even many of the parents united behind Ms. Dial and did not seem to care about how her behavior affected children.

After the video became public, Ms. Moskowitz sent an email to parents at the network’s schools asking “for your compassion and understanding in judging this video and Ms. Dial.”
Despite having publicly described the incident captured on video as an isolated one, Ms. Moskowitz said in her email to parents that the network was “taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.” Ms. Moskowitz said those steps included retraining “teachers on our approach and the importance of setting high expectations and demanding that scholars give their best effort, but always in the context of deeply respecting children,” and “refining our introductory training to include more sessions on self-awareness, stress management, and the ability to manage up and ask for the help.” She said that from now on Success would provide training on those issues three times a year.

Seeking to hold someone accountable for what happened to her daughter, Ms. Miranda went into a Department of Education building in Brooklyn to ask about filing a complaint, but was told that Success was independent from the school district. She said that Ms. Nicholls, the principal, had given her information about how to reach Success’s board of trustees, and that she had sent a letter, but she was not optimistic that she would get a response.

Ms. Miranda said she felt betrayed by the school that she had hoped would give her daughter a better life.

“I trust you guys with my daughter, and now I feel like I can’t trust you,” she said.

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February 14, 2016

“Model” teacher at “no-nonsense” school in New York is abusive to children

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 2:49 pm

Watch an abusive teacher at Success Academy in New York. This is part of the Eva Moskowitz network of “no-nonsense” charter schools. This particular teacher has been honored as a “model” teacher.

Go to:
http://tinyurl.com/gnflq4c

November 1, 2015

Charter School “De-selection”, “Counseling Out”, High Behavioral Suspension Rates and Now, “Got to Go” Lists

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 6:33 am

Many independent charter schools across the country have been identified for finding ways to rid their schools of special education students, disruptive students and low-testing students.

At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’

By Kate Taylor OCT. 29, 2015 NYTimes (See at: http://tinyurl.com/nkrxgpq)

The Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the “Got to Go” list was created at the principal’s direction.

From the time Folake Ogundiran’s daughter started kindergarten at a Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the girl struggled to adjust to its strict rules.

She racked up demerits for not following directions or not keeping her hands folded in her lap. Sometimes, after being chastised, she threw tantrums. She was repeatedly suspended for screaming, throwing pencils, running away from school staff members or refusing to go to another classroom for a timeout.

One day last December, the school’s principal, Candido Brown, called Ms. Ogundiran and said her daughter, then 6, was having a bad day. Mr. Brown warned that if she continued to do things that were defiant and unsafe — including, he said, pushing or kicking, moving chairs or tables, or refusing to go to another classroom — he would have to call 911, Ms. Ogundiran recalled. Already feeling that her daughter was treated unfairly, she went to the school and withdrew her on the spot.

Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.
The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”
Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.

In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.

In a written response to questions, Success Academy’s spokeswoman, Ann Powell, said that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake and that the network quickly got wind of it and reprimanded Mr. Brown, the principal.

Ms. Powell said that Success schools did not push children out, and that what might look like an effort to nudge students out the door was actually an attempt to help parents find the right environment for their children. Some on the list required special education settings that Success could not offer them, she said.

Mr. Brown said in an email that he thought the disruptive behavior of the students on the list was dragging the whole school down, and “I felt I couldn’t turn the school around if these students remained.”

Once he was reprimanded, though, he and his staff tried to work with those students, he said.

Even so, five left before the end of the school year, and four more departed over the summer.

As to the child’s withdrawal being a “big win,” Ms. Powell said, “if we have a parent whose child really needs to be in a different school, which was a better learning environment for him/her to succeed in and the parent had trouble accepting their child’s needs, might that be characterized as a ‘big win?’ Yes.”
On Thursday, after this article was published online, Eva S. Moskowitz, a former New York City councilwoman who runs Success Academy, was asked by reporters about the “Got to Go” list. Ms. Moskowitz said that given her network’s size, “mistakes are sometimes made.” She declined to answer further questions, saying she would hold a news conference on Friday to discuss “the mistake that was made in that particular case.”

Frequent Suspensions
Success Academy is the city’s largest charter school network. It has 34 schools, and plans to grow to 70 in five or six years.

The network serves mostly black and Hispanic students and is known for exacting behavior rules. Even the youngest pupils are expected to sit with their backs straight, their hands clasped and their eyes on the teacher, a posture that the network believes helps children pay attention. Ms. Moskowitz has said she believes children learn better with structure and consistency in the classroom. Good behavior and effort are rewarded with candy and prizes, while infractions and shoddy work are penalized with reprimands, loss of recess time, extra assignments and, in some cases, suspensions as early as kindergarten.

Charter schools are privately run but publicly funded and admit children by lottery. Similar to a traditional public school, a charter school must provide a seat to a child who has enrolled unless the student withdraws, is expelled, turns 21 or moves out of the state. Charter schools must follow strict guidelines before formally expelling any student, and Success has done so only once since its first school opened in 2006. But Success’s critics accuse it of pushing children out by making their parents’ lives so difficult that they withdraw.

Suspensions at Success, which typically last one or two days, are frequent compared with traditional public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, the most recent one for which state data is available, Success schools suspended between 4 percent and 23 percent of their students at least once, with most suspending more than 10 percent. According to the most recent statistics from the city’s Education Department, from 2013-14, traditional public schools suspended 3 percent of students that academic year.

Ms. Moskowitz has said that suspensions can make parents recognize the seriousness of their children’s misbehavior and that removing students who are acting dangerously from the classroom protects teachers and allows them to do their jobs more effectively.

Principals at Success, many in their 20s and 30s, frequently consult with a team of lawyers before suspending a student or requiring a parent to pick up a child early every day. It was a member of that team who described a student’s withdrawal from the Success Academy in Union Square to colleagues as a “big win,” the current employee said.

James D. Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, a group that advocates and supports charter schools, said it was unrealistic to expect any given school to be a good fit for every child. And Mr. Merriman noted that the city had many traditional public schools that required a test or other screening for admission, schools that by definition did not serve all students.

“I think if you asked most charter leaders they’d say that their goal is to be a fit for as broad an array of children as possible,” he said, “and they’re working very hard to that end.”

Under Pressure
Mr. Brown arrived at Success Academy Fort Greene, which shares a white-brick building with a public school in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in November 2014. He was the school’s third principal since it opened a year earlier, and he said he found the school, with 224 students, out of control. Children behaved violently, he said, and teachers were overwhelmed and starting to feel hopeless.

“If the school had been better managed from the start, then we could have done better by these students and probably could have kept more of them,” he said in an email. “However, it is also the case that for some of them, Success wasn’t the best place. Some of them needed an alternative setting with highly specialized services. And some parents just didn’t agree with our philosophy.”

Some of the parents whose children were on the “Got to Go” list acknowledged that they did not agree with how the school managed behavior. But several also said that both before and after the list was created, they thought school and network employees were trying to push them out.

Folake Wimbish said her son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was suspended 19 times last year, in first grade, and missed 26 days. Success said her son was intellectually gifted but struggled with behavior, “often hitting, kicking, biting and spitting at other children and adults.”

In early December, while Ms. Wimbish was pushing the school to evaluate her son for special education services, she was called to a meeting in Lower Manhattan with the network’s assistant general counsel and its associate special education manager, Julie Freese. She said Ms. Freese told her that, because of his suspensions, her son was missing out on his education, and she needed to think about his well-being.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just put him in another school, because he’s suffering,’ ” Ms. Wimbish said.

Ms. Wimbish withdrew her son at the end of the year, because with the suspensions and calls to pick him up, she said, “I started feeling like I was going to have a breakdown.” He now attends Public School 119 in Brooklyn, where Ms. Wimbish said he was very happy and had not been suspended once.

Monique Jeffrey said her son, who was in kindergarten last year, was suspended so many times she “stopped counting.” In the middle of the year, Ms. Jeffrey said, the school’s education manager, Rebecca Fleischman, told her that her son had emotional and behavioral issues the school could not handle and that she should look for another school. Ms. Jeffrey withdrew him at the end of the year.

Nicey Givens, the mother of another student on the list, said her son, also a kindergartner last year, was suspended many times, in some cases, the school told her, for fighting. Ms. Fleischman said in an email that a special education committee of the school district recommended that the boy be placed in a type of special education class the school did not offer in his grade. Ms. Givens recalled that Ms. Fleischman told her the school did not have the resources to serve her son and offered to help find him a placement in a regular public school. Her son now attends P.S. 287.

Ms. Powell, the Success spokeswoman, said the charter network was deeply committed to serving special education students and it was prevented from offering more special education classes because the city had not granted it enough classrooms. “Helping some students find better placements is not wrong,” she added.

Around the time the “Got to Go” list was created, Mr. Brown and the school’s dean spoke with the principal of another Success school in Brooklyn, and the dean shared with her colleagues some notes from that conversation. The notes were part of an email exchange shown to The Times by a former Success employee.

The notes describe several suggestions for dealing with families who are “not on board” and discussed 911 calls.

The notes also appear to allude to the possibility of getting one child on the “Got to Go” list classified as a 12:1:1 special education student. Those students are entitled to classrooms limited to 12 students, with one teacher and one aide, so Success Academy, which offers only five such classes in a network serving 11,000 students, might not be able to meet the needs of every 12:1:1 student.

Ms. Fleischman, the education manager, warned her colleagues in a follow-up email that the goal should not have been put in an email and that, in any case, a 12:1:1 classification “does not guarantee a withdrawal.”

Asked this month about that remark, she said that she was saying only that the parent of a 12:1:1 student would not be required to take the student out, and was not alluding to any effort to ensure the child would leave.

Mixed Messages
Some of the parents whose children were on the list said that while some school employees were advising them to leave, others were sending reassuring messages.

On Feb. 2, a teacher, Hannah Hodari, wrote an email to Ms. Jeffrey about her son’s progress in math. “I can totally tell you have been working with him, he was very enthusiastic today and his work and focus was much improved,” the teacher wrote.

In June, after Ms. Jeffrey had decided to withdraw her son, Ms. Hodari urged her to reconsider, saying in an email that she would be “so excited” to see him return and “watch him be successful” in first grade.

“However,” the teacher added, “I also understand where your concerns and doubts come from.”

Ms. Powell, the spokeswoman, said: “We make tremendous efforts to keep all children. We do this because morally once a child enters our doors, they are ours, and we want them to succeed.”

She also named three mothers of children on the “Got to Go” list who were still at the school, saying they would be able to describe the efforts that Success had made to keep their students there.

One of those mothers, Aisha Cooper, said her son, now in second grade, had struggled with his behavior because he was easily distracted, had difficulty keeping his eyes on the teacher and would sometimes call out in class. She said he was suspended once in kindergarten for throwing a snow globe across the room, and she recalled his kindergarten teacher’s once suggesting that maybe Success was not a good fit for him.

Ms. Cooper said she never felt as if the school wanted him gone. She said she liked the school so much that she was planning to send her daughter there for kindergarten next year.

But when a reporter asked if she knew that her son had been included last year on the “Got to Go” list, Ms. Cooper said she did not.

“I’m a little upset about that,” she said after a minute. “They could have let me know he was on a list that he ‘had to go.’ And I would have asked them why, because he’s not a bad child. He just talks too much sometimes.

“He doesn’t hit kids, he doesn’t knock kids over, he doesn’t scream, he just talks too much. So I don’t understand why he’s on this list.”

Are you a current or former charter school student in New York City? We would like to hear from your perspective about what it’s like to attend a charter school. Please email cityroom@nytimes.com with your response, which will be kept confidential and will not be published. However, an editor or reporter may contact you for a possible future article.

A version of this article appears in print on October 30, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Charter School’s ‘Got to Go’ List Singled Out Difficult Students .

April 28, 2015

Would Alan Borsuk send his grandchildren to a “No Excuses” school?

Filed under: Borsuk,Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 2:14 pm

In an op-ed last Sunday Alan Borsuk criticized a vote I took at a school board meeting on April 23. It concerned a proposed charter school that he described as a “no excuses” school. Actually in the world of education, these are called “no-nonsense” schools.

What Borsuk does not tell you is that there’s a huge debate around the country, most recently described in extensive articles in the New York Times (See blogs Parent Testimony on Abuse of “No-Nonsense” Charter Schools and “No-Nonsense” Charter School Model Intentionally Causes Students to Feel “Misery” ) and in an Atlantic magazine article from 12/2014 by the former Journal Sentinel reporter Sarah Carr, titled How Strict Is Too Strict.

Borsuk uses an unfortunate journalistic technique of paraphrasing board members critical of the proposal while quoting those in support. I wish he had given me due diligence by quoting my final comment: “We have Montessori, Language Immersion and IB for white and middle-class students, while low-income African American students get a code of conduct.”

Questions for Mr. Borsuk:
• Would you send your grandchildren to one of these schools?
• Is absolute obedience the objective of good education?
• Do you support the high suspension rates at these no nonsense schools?
• Why did you not explain to your readers that these schools often have high attrition rates, where students leaving the program are not replaced, making it appear as if graduation rates are exceptional?
• Why do the absolute obedience schools have such low special education enrollment?
• Are you aware of the high teacher turnover at these schools?
• Which “discipline matrix” do you support?
• Are you aware of the civil rights complaints registered at these absolute obedience schools in New Orleans?
• Eva Moskowitz will operate 43 “no-nonsense” Success Academy charter schools in New York next year. Are you aware of the debate, described in a number of articles in the New York Times in the past month? (Your readers should be informed about this high profile discussion that is being closely watched by education experts throughout the nation.)
• Does the school board not have a responsibility to put in place programs that protect all children and provide a rich curriculum for all children?

Over the six years that I have been on the school board, I have come to the conclusion that I will always ask myself, would I send my grandchildren to a program I am voting to establish?

I’d encourage Mr. Borsuk to ask the same question.

April 19, 2015

Parent Testimony on Abuse of “No-Nonsense” Charter Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 8:29 am

Below are comments by parents about their children’s treatment at Success Academy Charter Schools, a major charter chain in New York run by Eva Moskowitz.
While there are parents who support the program and claim their children’s success, shouldn’t we all take responsibility for everyone’s children? Or is narrow “consumerism” all that matters in American education?

New York Times April 18, 2015

• José M. Grajales
His son, 5, is in kindergarten at Success Academy Harlem 3 and his daughter, 8, is a second grader at the same school.

We started noticing that our son was coming home soaked in urine in September 2014. Our son was born with a congenital kidney reflux so we thought those accidents were related to this condition. We spoke with his urologist, who gave us a letter stating that our son should be allowed to use the bathroom. We provided the letter to Success Academy, but the incidents continued until recently. We think our son might be urinating himself because of limited bathroom breaks at Success. We have contacted the school on several occasions about this issue. Our son has no problems using the bathroom outside of school.

Our daughter, who has a learning disability, is in second grade at Success Academy. She receives services, like speech therapy, occupational therapy and additional help. Initially our daughter enjoyed going to school. However, after the first few weeks our daughter’s struggles became obvious. Her name was highlighted in a “red” section of the weekly class newsletter for math. She consistently falls into the “red” week after week, and that started to affect her emotional well-being. We placed her in play therapy outside of school because her self-esteem was suffering.

We feel strongly that our daughter can learn if she was placed in a nurturing and supportive environment where she can be challenged. Our daughter needs to be challenged, not in a punitive and public shaming way but with realistic goals and encouragement.

I feel that not all children are a good fit for Success Academy. For those who try and try and can never get out of the “red,” Success Academy is not for them, and parents of special needs children should be wary. We are exploring other options for our children, and we are hoping for better options for the next school year.

José M. Grajales, 40, is a lawyer.

• Maren H.
She has a son, 6, in kindergarten at Success Academy Upper West; her older son, 7, attended first grade there.

I have a kindergartner in a Success Academy school and a child I pulled out in first grade. My older son, who was diagnosed with A.D.H.D., had problems with inattention. In an atmosphere like Success Academy, where children are held to an extremely high standard of constant focus and zero tolerance for any lack of impulse control, my son struggled daily at the school. Children are reprimanded for not sitting with perfect posture or not remaining silent during all instruction. For a child with his diagnosis, these things are impossible. He was beginning to feel under constant attack by teachers.

We watched his self-esteem plummet as he would be reprimanded in front of the class for little things like not looking at students when they spoke in class or for touching his friend’s pencil on the desk beside him. Eventually, this led to him running out of the classroom regularly. My son was suspended roughly seven times over two months for these so-called “unsafe behaviors.”

Success Academy continued to suspend my son despite our pleas that he was just diagnosed with A.D.H.D. We begged for a little time to try to find the right medication and dosage that would allow him to participate normally. All we got in response was, “We hold all children to the same high standard.”

After so many incidences, we pulled him out of Success Academy and put him in our locally zoned public school, where he is doing extremely well. My younger son is still at Success Academy and is doing well. The zoned public school did not have room in its kindergarten class for him after the school year began.

We still believe that the basic philosophies behind Success Academy are admirable. But Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy seem to have zero understanding about how to handle children who might learn differently, or need a little extra patience and understanding.

Maren H., 34, is a psychotherapist and social worker.

• Jessica D.
Her son, 6, attended kindergarten and part of first grade at Success Academy Upper West.

I am a former parent of the Upper West Side Success Academy. I quickly took notice of the abuse in my son’s second year at Success Academy. The children are not permitted to say “hello” to friends in the hallways; they must ”track” the teacher, meaning all eyes on the teacher; and they are not permitted to use the bathroom until teachers are finished with their lessons. Sometimes my son would come home and tell me he had to hold it all day because the teacher was “busy.’’

On one occasion, I was called at home and told my son would receive an infraction for his mismatched socks. I got calls saying that I could only arrange his doctors’ appointments during off-school hours. The school sent my son home with stickers telling me when to put my son to bed.

Another time my son was late by a minute to “breakfast chess” and he had to sit alone in the cafeteria, where he cried. When I met with school administrators, I was told those are the rules of the school — if you’re a minute late you cannot play. There was no feeling that the school cared about my son’s emotional well-being. I pulled him out the next day and placed him in our local public school.

Success Academy does not have a loving environment. The teachers and the students are stressed; it’s a pressure cooker. My son comes home these days and tells me, “Thank you, mom. I love my new school. We have no more checks.” Success Academy is big with constant checks for behavior problems, even though my son has no learning or behavior issues. I truly feel sorry for the kids that don’t have a parent involved.

Jessica D., 39, works in the skin care industry.

April 7, 2015

“No-Nonsense” Charter School Model Intentionally Causes Students to Feel “Misery”

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 6:28 pm

Strictly teaching to the test, 50% yearly teacher turnover, absence of arts and physical education, and high suspension rates define Success Academy charter schools.

Excerpts from the article:
“In an internal email that some former teachers said typified the attitude at some schools, one school leader said that students who were lagging should be made to feel “misery.”

Former staff members described students in third grade and above wetting themselves during practice tests, either because teachers did not allow them to go to the restroom, which Ms. Moskowitz disputed, or because the students themselves felt so much pressure that they did not want to lose time on the test.

The high-pressure atmosphere at Success leads to substantial teacher turnover, though the precise rate is unclear. According to the latest school report cards, in 2013-14 three Success schools had turnover rates above 50 percent, meaning more than half the teachers from the previous year did not stay.”

At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics
By KATE TAYLOR APRIL 6, 2015 NYTimes

At most schools, if a child is flailing academically, it is treated as a private matter.

But at Success Academy Harlem 4, one boy’s struggles were there for all to see: On two colored charts in the hallway, where the students’ performance on weekly spelling and math quizzes was tracked, his name was at the bottom, in a red zone denoting that he was below grade level.

The boy, a fourth grader, had been in the red zone for months. His teacher, Kristin Jones, 23, had held meetings with his mother, where the teacher spread out all the weekly class newsletters from the year, in which the charts were reproduced. If he studied, he could pass the spelling quizzes, Ms. Jones said — he just was not trying. But the boy got increasingly frustrated, and some weeks Ms. Jones had to stop herself from looking over his shoulder during the quizzes so she would not become upset by his continued mistakes.

Then, one Friday in December, she peeked at his paper, and a smile spread over her face. After he handed in his quiz, she announced to the class that he had gotten a 90. “I might start crying right now,” she said, only half-joking. “I’ve got to call your mom.”

In its devotion to accountability, Success Academy, New York City’s polarizing charter school network, may have no peer.

Though it serves primarily poor, mostly black and Hispanic students, Success is a testing dynamo, outscoring schools in many wealthy suburbs, let alone their urban counterparts. In New York City last year, 29 percent of public school students passed the state reading tests, and 35 percent passed the math tests. At Success schools, the corresponding percentages were 64 and 94 percent.

Those kinds of numbers have helped Success, led by Eva S. Moskowitz, expand to become the city’s largest network of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. By next year Ms. Moskowitz, known for her attention-grabbing rallies and skirmishes with the teachers’ union and Mayor Bill de Blasio, will have 43 schools; a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could bring her closer to her goal of 100. That would give Success more schools than Buffalo, the state’s second-largest district.

In a rare look inside the network, including visits to several schools and interviews with dozens of current and former employees, The New York Times chronicled a system driven by the relentless pursuit of better results, one that can be exhilarating for teachers and students who keep up with its demands and agonizing for those who do not.

Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea.

Incentives are offered, such as candy for good behavior, and Nerf guns and basketballs for high scores on practice tests. For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is “effort academy,” which is part detention, part study hall.

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores. Teachers who do well can expect quick promotions, with some becoming principals while still in their 20s. Teachers who struggle can expect coaching or, if that does not help, possible demotion.

Rachel Tuchman, 25, said that during her three years as a teacher at Success, she had friends who worked in the fields of finance and consulting, and she went to work earlier and stayed later than they did.

“You’re being treated like you’re on the trading floor at Goldman while you’re teaching in Harlem,” said Ms. Tuchman, who is now in her first year at Yale Law School.

She also said that she thought the workload was necessary to achieve the results that Success has, adding, “It takes a very specific type of person who can handle the pressure.”

One consequence of the competitive environment is a high rate of teacher turnover. Some teachers who left said that the job was too stressful. Others said they left because they disagreed with the network’s approach, particularly when they believed it was taken to extremes. In an internal email that some former teachers said typified the attitude at some schools, one school leader said that students who were lagging should be made to feel “misery.” Suspension rates at Success schools, compared with public schools, are higher.

Former staff members described students in third grade and above wetting themselves during practice tests, either because teachers did not allow them to go to the restroom, which Ms. Moskowitz disputed, or because the students themselves felt so much pressure that they did not want to lose time on the test.

Jasmine Araujo, 25, who joined Success through the Teach for America program, quit after half a year as a special-education teacher at Success Academy Harlem 3. She now teaches at a charter school in New Orleans. “I would cry almost every night thinking about the way I was treating these kids, and thinking that that’s not the kind of teacher I wanted to be,” Ms. Araujo said.

By the Numbers
Ms. Moskowitz and a number of her teachers saw the network’s exacting approach in a different way: as putting their students on the same college track as children in wealthier neighborhoods who had better schools and money for extra help. Success students are generally barred from the city’s best elementary schools because they do not live in those schools’ zones.

“For affluent parents who are concerned about the test scores, they have an exit strategy — their exit strategy is to hire a private tutor,” Ms. Moskowitz said.

No one criticizes those parents, but “when we support our students, we get criticized,” she said.

“And I would argue that it’s not fair that only the kids who can hire private tutors should do well.”

At Success, everyone is measured by whether their students are doing well.

After every networkwide quiz, students’ scores are entered into the Success computer system, which then ranks each teacher. The purpose of this, teachers and principals said, is to identify high performers and to see what practices they are using, and conversely, to determine which teachers might need better practices.

“We’ve never had a conversation where, like, ‘You are 32nd in the network,’ ” said Lisa Sun, the 26-year-old principal at Success Academy Harlem North Central, a middle school. Rather, she said, she discusses with the teacher which skills the students are lacking, as reflected by the data. “ ‘And it’s not because of them, it’s because of you. We have to talk about what you need to fix to make it better.’ ”

A teacher whose students are performing poorly on assessments, or who cannot maintain discipline, might be moved midyear to another grade, an assistant teacher’s position or tutoring outside the classroom. At the beginning of the year, each class is named after the college that its lead teacher graduated from and the students’ expected year of college graduation. Dana Adnopoz’s homeroom at Success Academy Harlem North Central is Dartmouth 2026. Ms. Jones and her co-teacher have Hunter-Siena 2027.

But because teachers frequently leave or move, one teacher who taught at Success Academy Harlem 3 from 2010 to 2012 and left because she viewed it as overly strict recalled that in the spring of her second year, only a few of the classes in the school were still being led by the teacher whose college they were named after.

This teacher, like some other former Success teachers, did not want to be named criticizing the network. These former teachers said they feared hurting their future job prospects by disparaging a former employer or by being identified as critics of charter schools.

Dawn to Dusk
Each school day, Kristin Jones takes a 5:30 a.m. ferry from Staten Island, where she lives with her mother and two younger siblings, to Manhattan. In the winter, the sun is not yet up when she walks into school at 6:40 a.m.

Growing up, Ms. Jones always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She would tape loose-leaf paper to the mirror on her dresser to turn it into a makeshift blackboard and have her cousin and younger brother pretend to be her students.

Beginning teachers at Success are paid comparably with those in city public schools though instead of a pension, they receive contributions to a retirement account. Unlike public-school teachers, who often have to use their own money for basics like photocopies, Ms. Jones and her colleagues do not worry about supplies. The closets teem with notebooks, folders, pencils and pens. Each middle school student receives an iPad. Success Academy schools are also rich in the kind of extracurricular activities that have increasingly been cut from public schools, such as art, music, chess, theater, dance, basketball and swimming.

Success Academy supplements the public money it receives with money raised from private donors. In its 2013 fiscal year, the most recent for which fund-raising figures are publicly available, it received nearly $72 million in public funds and $22 million in donations.

Because so many administrative functions at Success schools are handled by the organization, principals have a lot of time to observe teachers. When William Loskoch, Ms. Jones’s principal, visited her classroom one day in December, he frequently stopped her co-teacher, Sarah Vistocco, 24, who had started at the network in May, to redirect a discussion or ask her to reinforce the rules.

When a student was struggling to come up with an adjective to describe the protagonists of two myths the class had read and Ms. Vistocco moved on, Mr. Loskoch, 34, stopped her and went back to the girl to try to draw her out.

When the students were sitting on the floor and he noticed that they were not sitting properly, he interrupted the lesson and said, “Ms. Vistocco, can you reset your carpet expectations?”

Success has stringent rules about behavior, down to how students are supposed to sit in the classroom: their backs straight, and their feet on the floor if they are in a chair or legs crossed if they are sitting on the floor. The rationale is that good posture and not fidgeting make it easier to pay attention. Some teachers who had orderly classrooms and a record of good student performance said, after their first year, their school leaders allowed them to bend the rules somewhat, such as not requiring students to clasp their hands as long as their hands were still.

“We believe that structure and consistency leads to better outcomes,” Ms. Moskowitz said. The network’s rules, she said, were consistent with expectations of students throughout most of the history of American education.

One doesn’t just get to go to Dartmouth or Yale – it requires hard work, discipline, a strong work ethic, and, yes, even good test scores.

“Maybe some people prefer chaos,” she added. “We don’t.”

Indeed, watching the students at Success Academy Harlem 4 walk to lunch, the scene was anything but chaotic. In their blue and orange uniforms — the girls wear jumpers, and the boys shirts and ties — they walked silently in two lines, starting and stopping at the teacher’s command. If so many children walking in formation was reminiscent of the von Trapp children at the beginning of “The Sound of Music,” the orderliness also meant that no time was wasted.

Likewise, inside Ms. Jones’s classroom, the atmosphere was calm, and she was demanding.

When the students were writing summaries of myths, she scolded the class: “I don’t want to continue seeing names of characters that start with lowercase letters. It’s an indicator of low effort.”

But when she was pleased with a student — as when the boy scored well on his spelling quiz — she radiated pride.

Asked whether she thought the students who were in the red zone would be demoralized, Ms. Jones said, “I’m sure they’re not happy about it.”

“But they’re very resilient,” she added. “And then, as soon as they get a great grade, they’re praised for it,” and, she said, they can see the difference that their increased effort made.

“They don’t want to stay there,” she said. “They want to improve.”

Carrots and Sticks
In 2005, Ms. Moskowitz, then a city councilwoman, ran for Manhattan borough president and lost — in part because of opposition from the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, which was enraged by a series of hearings she held in the City Council that were critical of work rules embedded in the union’s contract.

After the election, she was recruited by a pair of hedge fund managers who were interested in setting up a charter school, and she opened the network’s first, the Harlem Success Academy, in 2006. In subsequent years she opened more schools, first in Harlem and then in other neighborhoods in the city, and now has a total of 9,000 students in schools in every borough but Staten Island.

The Bloomberg administration gave her free space in public schools, often angering parents and teachers in the schools that had to share buildings with Success. Last year, after Mr. de Blasio briefly blocked three Success schools from public space and threatened to charge the network rent, Mr. Cuomo pushed through a law guaranteeing all new or expanding charter schools in the city free space or money to find their own.

Ms. Moskowitz has used her high test scores to argue that she should be allowed to open more schools, and an effort by Mr. Cuomo to raise the limit on the number of charter schools in the state could make it easier for her to do so.

At any given time, multiple carrots and sticks are used in the quest to make sure every student does well on the standardized tests. This system goes into overdrive in late January, as the annual exams, which begin this year on April 14, approach.

Success did not allow a reporter to observe test preparations, but teachers and students described a regimen that can sometimes be grueling.

To prepare for the reading tests, students spend up to 90 minutes each day working on “Close Reading Mastery” exercises, consisting of passages followed by multiple-choice questions. The last two Saturdays before the exams, students are required to go to school for practice tests.

Students who do well on practice tests can win prizes, such as remote-controlled cars, arts and crafts kits, and board games. Former teachers said that they were instructed to keep the prizes displayed in the front of their classroom to keep students motivated.

Students who are judged to not be trying hard enough are assigned to “effort academy.” While they redo their work, their classmates are getting a reward — like playing dodge ball against the teachers, throwing pies in the face of the principal or running through the hallways while the students in the lower grades cheer.

On the Friday before test preparations began, a calendar counting down the days to the test hung on the wall in Yale 2025, a sixth-grade classroom at Success Academy Harlem North West. The page for Monday was already displayed; in large type, it said: “53 days left.”

Carolyn Farnham, 24, the teacher, asked her students how they felt about the start of test preparations.

“It has the potential to be both really, really dull and really, really stressful,” she said to her students, adding, “That’s certainly not what I want.”

Some students responded that they did not mind because they had done well on the tests in the past. But several said they disliked it.

“I know that it’s here to help us,” one girl, Maliha, said. “But sometimes when people don’t get the best score, they seem to feel, like, really down on themselves. And when effort academy and detention and stuff like that is introduced,” she said, “one gets — me personally — really angry and upset.”

A boy raised his hand.

“I always get a high three or a low three or sometimes a four,” said the boy, Erick. (A three is considered passing, and a four is the highest score.) “What I don’t like is I have to go to school on Saturdays, so I feel like I don’t get rest, and I get a lot of stress in my neck because I got to go like this all the time,” he said, hunching forward like he was looking at a test paper.

Another girl, Ruqayyah, agreed that test preparations caused anxiety. But “on the other hand, there’s prizes,” she said, “which are really cool and motivate us to do our best.”

“I hope also you want to do your best for you,” Ms. Farnham said, “not just for prizes.”

The network’s critics — including the teachers’ union, which sees Success as taking money and space from public schools — say the network’s high scores are a mirage created, in part, by inordinate test preparation.

The network’s oldest students are still in high school, so it is difficult to gauge the long-term benefits of their education. Halley Potter, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive policy organization, and the co-author of two books about charter schools, said that network’s test scores were impressive, but that the conclusions that could be drawn from them were limited.

“Success Academy’s strong test scores tell us that they have a strong model for producing good test scores,” Ms. Potter said, adding that there could be lessons in Success’s practices for schools that are trying to improve their scores.

She noted that Success schools tend to have fewer nonnative English speakers and special-education students than public schools; those groups tend to score lower on tests. Ms. Potter also said that the network has made trade-offs, including not offering foreign languages until eighth grade, in order to devote more time to math, English and science, the only subjects in which all elementary and middle school students take state tests.

Teachers and principals at Success said that they prepare their students so intensely for the tests because of the opportunities that high scores can present, such as invitations to top public middle or high schools, or scholarships for private schools.

Two documentaries, “Waiting for Superman” and “The Lottery,” have captured the desperation of parents trying to get their children into Success through the annual lotteries it holds; this year, the network said, it received more than 22,000 applications for 2,688 seats.

Shakeya Matthew’s sons attended Public School 165, on West 109th Street, before getting into Success Academy Harlem 4 this year. Ms. Matthew, 33, said that her younger son had struggled last year in kindergarten and that his teacher seemed overwhelmed. Now, as a Success first grader, he is reading at a second-grade level. She said that she is in more frequent contact with her sons’ teachers now than when her sons were in the public school. Success teachers will call or send her a text during the day or in the evening with news about how one of her sons did on a test or with other updates.

“It seems like they definitely put forth more effort and go an extra mile,” Ms. Matthew said.

Walking Away
The high-pressure atmosphere at Success leads to substantial teacher turnover, though the precise rate is unclear. According to the latest school report cards, in 2013-14 three Success schools had turnover rates above 50 percent, meaning more than half the teachers from the previous year did not stay.

But Success officials said that these figures were inflated by the number of teachers who move from one Success school to another, or to nonteaching positions within the network. According to its own numbers, attrition from the network from June 2013 to June 2014 was 17 percent. By comparison, attrition from the city’s public school system in 2013-14 was 6.1 percent, according to the Education Department.

Still, current and former employees said departures were common.

Ariadna Phillips-Santos, 34, taught kindergarten and first and second grades at Success Academy Harlem 5 from 2010 until 2012. Having worked in public schools, she was impressed by the academic rigor and the plentiful supplies. But she was raising a young son on her own, and juggling his care with her long work hours was almost impossible, she said. Ms. Phillips-Santos, who is now a dean at a public elementary and middle school in the Bronx, said she recalled asking her Success principal one day if she could leave at 4:55 p.m. — after the students had been dismissed — because her son’s day care had called saying that he had a fever and was vomiting, and being told, “It’s not 5 o’clock yet.”

Ms. Moskowitz said that Success was accommodating to working parents. She said that Success allowed some teachers and even some principals to work part time and that the network offers a month of paid maternity and paternity leave.

Most of the former teachers interviewed, however, said that they left not because of the workload, but because they disagreed with Success’s approach, which they found punitive.

One teacher complained that she was expected to announce all of her students’ scores on practice tests, by asking those who had scored a four to stand up, followed by those with a three and then those with a two. The teacher and her colleagues persuaded their supervisors not to make students with a score of one stand up, but those students were still left conspicuously sitting down, she said.

At one point, her leadership resident — what the network calls assistant principals — criticized her for not responding strongly enough when a student made a mistake. The leadership resident told her that she should have taken the student’s paper and ripped it up in front of her. Students were not supposed to go to the restroom during practice tests, she said, and she heard a leader from another school praise the dedication of a child who had wet his pants rather than take a break.

“I dreaded going into work,” the teacher, who now teaches in a public school, said.

Other former staff members also described students having wet themselves, in some cases during practice tests. Two former staff members who worked at Success Academy Harlem West, a middle school, in the 2013-14 school year, said that they recalled having to go to the supply closet to get extra underwear and sweatpants, which were always on hand, for students who had wet themselves.

Ms. Moskowitz said that, to mimic the environment of the actual test, when students are not supposed to go to the restroom except for an emergency, Success has all students go to the restroom immediately before practice tests. But students are still allowed to go during tests, she said. She acknowledged that there were sometimes accidents, but attributed them to the challenges of sharing space in public school buildings, which meant the restrooms were sometimes several floors away.

“We have plenty of kids who don’t always prepare adequately,” Ms. Moskowitz said, adding that “very occasionally there are accidents, and we get that it’s uncomfortable for the student.”

“It’s very emotional,” she said. “Teachers get emotional about it.”
Suspension Rates
Several former teachers and staff members said that they had also been uncomfortable with Success’s suspension rates.

At Success Academy Harlem 1, as the original school is now called, 23 percent of the 896 students were suspended for at least one day in 2012-13, the last year for which the state has data. At Public School 149, a school in the same building, 3 percent of students were suspended during that same period. Statewide, the average suspension rate is 4 percent. (A spokeswoman for Success said that the suspension rate at Success Academy Harlem 1 has since declined to 14 percent, and that several of the newer schools had rates below 10 percent.)

Students who frequently got in trouble sometimes left the network, former staff members said, because their parents got frustrated with the repeated suspensions or with being called in constantly to sit with their children at school.

Ms. Moskowitz said that the question of what was an appropriate number of suspensions was a complicated one, but that the suspension rate in public schools should not be regarded as “the gold standard.” She said that even very young children could do things that required an intervention, such as bringing razor blades to school or cursing at teachers.

“Often the suspensions are really to get the parents and the school to be on the same team, that there’s a serious issue,” she said. “If we don’t intervene, when they’re 13, that’s going to be a bigger problem,” she said.

The network’s critics say that its performance is skewed by the departure of its most difficult students. In a visit last month to a public school where 4 percent of students passed last year’s math tests, and that shares a building with a Success school where 96 percent of the students passed, the city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said, “We would like to be at that percentage, but we keep all our kids from the day they walk into the building.”

Success students who leave after fourth grade are not replaced because, Ms. Moskowitz said, new students entering at that point would be too far behind their classmates. But even if all those students stayed and continued to do poorly, Success schools would still significantly outperform their neighboring schools on tests.

Dahlia Graham, a teacher who came to Success Academy Harlem 1 in 2009, said that in the public school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she previously taught, there was no clear discipline system. If a student hit another student, he might be removed from class briefly, but then would return, still angry, and disrupt the class again. She said it was a relief when she got to Success, where she said hitting resulted in suspension.

“It made my life so much easier,” Ms. Graham said.

As for the teachers who said they did not like the environment, Ms. Moskowitz said: “Most of the people who leave are a little angry, like they don’t like their work and they don’t seem happy teaching, and we really can’t have people who don’t love it.”

A Demanding Culture
On April 1, 2012, a leadership resident at Success Academy Harlem 2, Lauren Jonas, sent an email to her fourth-grade teachers.

The email, provided by a former staff member, said that the results on a recent, three-day practice test were “not what we had hoped for.”

“You must demand every single minute,” Ms. Jonas wrote. “You must have higher behavioral and academic expectations than ever before.” Every letter was capitalized.

Nine to 12 students had failed to use the test-taking strategies they had been taught, known as the “plan of attack,” Ms. Jonas wrote.

“We can NOT let up on them,” she continued. “Any scholar who is not using the plan of attack will go to effort academy, have their parent called, and will miss electives. This is serious business, and there has to be misery felt for the kids who are not doing what is expected of them.”

At Ms. Jonas’s school, 64 percent of the teachers the year she wrote that email were not teaching there the next year, according to state figures. Researchers have linked high teacher turnover to lower performance by students on tests, but that is not the case at Success. At Success Academy Harlem 2 last year, 91 percent of students passed the state math tests, up from 76 percent the previous year. At Public School 30, which shares the building with Success Academy Harlem 2, 16 percent of students passed.

Ms. Jonas is now principal of one of the network’s newest schools, Success Academy Harlem North West, a middle school.

When the 2012 email was read to her recently, Ms. Jonas cringed and said that she did not remember writing it. She said that she did not want students to be miserable and described her words as “poorly chosen.”

“I should be certainly more careful in how I’m communicating and how others might misinterpret the meaning behind it,” she said.

But Ms. Moskowitz defended the wording of Ms. Jonas’s email, saying that a reporter was reading too much into it.

“We use that terminology sometimes, meaning, you know, ‘Kids, you got to get it right the first time, and we’re not playing,’ ” she said.

“That is part of our culture — not having kids getting away with just not trying,” she continued. “Everybody’s working too hard. Parents are sacrificing to get up early. Teachers are working really hard. Simply not trying is not part of our culture.”

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