The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The Foolish and Abusive Sides of the Success Academy Schools

on July 18, 2016

Here I am a day late (and, perhaps, a dollar short) with my review of the article on the Success Academy charter schools.  Because there was so much described in the NY times story that I found pointless or just plain abusive of children or teachers, I didn’t have the time or stamina to mention it all.  So, below are the “low lights” of what I found in the article.

We all know that the job of a public school is to teach students the basic skills of reading, writing, and math, to introduce them to science, social studies, and the arts, and to prepare them for success as adults. But because young people spend 6 to 8 hours a day, 180 days a year, and 13 years of their lives at school many other things are taught and learned, and not all of them are good.

In reading about the Success Academy charter schools I saw several things I disapprove of being practiced daily and, most certainly, throughout the grades. (Note that new students are not admitted to these schools after 4th grade because they would not have been indoctrinated in those practices.) What stood out were the rules for how students should sit at desks or on carpets and the rule against using bathrooms during test prep times. (I suspect that students wet their pants not because they “have to go” but because the test prep sessions are so stressful.)

Perhaps the most damaging  practices are the ones teachers use in publicly humiliating some students for their “lack of effort”, sending them to an “effort academy” or even suspending them, while rewarding others who get high scores on homework or weekly quizzes. I refuse to believe that such practices are necessary for maintaining order in the classroom or getting the best work from students. Worse, I see them as destructive to students’ views of themselves. And it all seems so unnecessary. In my own experience I have taught classrooms, and seen even more classrooms, where all students behaved well and learned well without any such practices.

In addition to the denigrating treatment of students, I saw bad treatment of teachers in unreasonably long hours at school, personal reprimands for not being demanding enough of students, and public criticism of their teaching by principals visiting their classrooms.

However, what bothered me more than the practices I read about were the things I did not see mentioned at all. Over my own career as a teacher and a school principal I came to believe that there are many things that students need to practice and learn beyond the basics and the extras mentioned above. Here are the most important ones.

Students should

work cooperatively with their classmates of varying abilities and interests

create and voice their own ideas and have opportunities to try some of them out

sometimes have choices of what to read, write about, or develop as a project

participate in activities that will benefit other people, animals, the school, or the environment

know their teachers as ones who care about them and help them when they need  it

develop a belief in themselves as capable learners and good people

In the end, I see the Success Academy schools as the personal property of Eva Moskowitz and the product of her ego. Despite what she says about preparing students who live in poverty to get the rewards of higher education that children of wealthy families have, her only goal appears to be to produce as many high test scores as possible so that she can bask in the glory of that achievement.


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