The truth is her descriptions of how she has changed water into cartons of milk never held up to even the mildest of scrutinies. Earlier this year, she gave an interview on local public television where she bragged on how much "fun" learning is at Success Academies:
(1:48) But imagine if schools acted as if children had the freedom to choose whether or not to go to school. In fact, they had the freedom to walk out of the classroom at any moment -- now, they don't at our schools (interviewer chuckles), but imagine if they did. I would venture to argue that at most schools in America, they wouldn't come and if they came they would leave, because boredom, unfortunately, is one of the most common experiences of children.
And what we do is, we engage children with rich, wonderful literature, with discovery-oriented science five days a week, with chess and debate and coding and art and music and sports, so that kids love being at school.Uh-huh. Let's go back to this week's NY Times article, the one that caused all the fuss:
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.Sounds like Eva's magical book choices didn't work out so well that time, huh?
There have been uncorroborated reports about drilling-and-killing in Success Academy schools. Those reports seem to line up, however, with what we know about SA from the dog-and-pony shows they put on for the press:
This is what Eva Moskowitz thinks children will choose if you let them. This is what she thinks is the antithesis of boredom. This is what she describes as "joyful."
As well as the reporter who wrote this, Eliza Shapiro. I suppose it's possible the "fidgeting" and "distraught" student was an anomaly... but then that's sort of the point, isn't it? If your child likes this sort of learning, terrific; if not...
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.
Eva Moskowitz has taken plenty of gratuitous swipes at America's schools, its teachers, and its colleges of education. She has pretended to have the answer: More chess! More feedback from principals! Rigor!
It all turns out to be a steaming pile of dung. But if you had been actually listening to the tripe she was spewing, and you were intellectually honest, you would have already known that. For example -- and to his great credit -- here's Michael Petrilli, one of the country's top reformsters:
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is crowing about the allegations that Eva Moskowitz’ Success Academies charter schools regularly suspend or counsel out disruptive students. “Eva touts Success Academy’s ‘equity’ and record,” Weingarten tweeted, “while blasting public education. Now we learn her secret — pushing kids out.”
What makes this sort of demagoguery more disappointing than usual is the nature of the issue at hand. As Weingarten’s own members know all too well, classroom disruption is a major problem. In a Public Agenda survey, 85% of public school teachers said that the experience of most students suffers because of a few chronic offenders.
Addressing this challenge — enabling serious learners to learn, without denying serial disrupters opportunities to resume learning — takes smarts (finding better approaches to school discipline) and guts (making some hard choices). Unfortunately, today’s shrill debates are encouraging little of either.
Everyone agrees that suspensions and expulsions should be rare. Kids who are repeatedly suspended or expelled are more likely to lag academically, drop out of school and end up in the criminal justice system. The direction of causation is hard to untangle, but, still, overly harsh discipline is worth curbing.
But what the school-discipline reformers never talk about is the impact that disruptive behavior has on classmates. As common sense — and solid research — tells us, that impact is real and harsh. A study published in the journal Education Next found that “troubled students have a statistically significant negative effect on their peers’ reading and math test scores” and that “the addition of a troubled peer also significantly increases misbehavior of other students in the classroom.”
Again, to his credit, Petrilli has been remarkably consistent about this, even if he is reluctant to admit the corollary to his theory: the "high-performing" charters don't actually have a pedagogical secret sauce. Peer effects matter, and they explain at least part of "success" of these charters. Add in more resources, longer days/years, staffing structures that maximize efficiencies (but largely aren't replicable), and, in some cases attrition and selective enrollment policies... it would be remarkable if these schools didn't get better test-based outcomes.
The issue, however, is the price to be paid for what are largely marginal gains in test scores (especially when compared to the effects of socio-economic status on outcomes). Peter Greene, as usual, is quite perceptive in his answer:
Petrilli's point is not completely without merit, and as teachers often lack sufficient time and resources, many do perform a certain amount of educational triage by considering which students need us most. And every teacher knows the frustration of having a classroom tyrannized by one serial disrupter. But "prioritize" students? That sounds like a level of judgmental school administration that I'm not comfy with, and I suspect would provide an avenue for biases and concerns for compliance to run roughshod over actual care and concerns for the well-being of students.
Look-- Success Academy is not nobly rescuing the top strivers from difficult situations. They are picking winners and losers based on the school's preferences and the school's convenience, based on Moskowitz's two guiding values-- compliance and test scores. When a six year old cracks under that sort of misguided pressure, that's not revealing some sort of character deficiency or lack of striverness. It's revealing an institutional incompetence in dealing with six year olds.
But I appreciate Petrilli's willingness to just say it-- charters are only for the chosen few, those that the school finds deserving. What I'd really like to know next is how a system in which a school is the final arbiter of what level of education a child deserves fits together with the reformy ideals of school choice?Amen -- but let me extend the thought a little further:
I've made clear in the past that I teach in an affluent, well-resourced school district. My own children attended public schools in a similar district. And I can tell you disruptive students are not an issue exclusive to urban schools serving large numbers of children in economic disadvantage.
Every teacher deals with children who don't listen to and follow directions, who are noisy, who distract their fellow students, who show disrespect (intentionally or otherwise), and who have a variety of personal characteristics that impede the smooth functioning of a classroom and a school. Sometimes these children have profound learning disabilities that impact not only their own learning but that of their classmates. Sometimes they clash with teachers or fellow students who may not work well with a particular sort of person. Sometimes their home lives are less than ideal, even if they are not disadvantaged.
Suburban schools, however, only counsel out these children as an absolute last resort. Only children with the most severe emotional or intellectual disabilities are placed out of district in the leafy 'burbs, and almost always after protracted attempts at accommodating them within the schools in their districts. And the kids who call out without raising their hands or who don't "track" their teachers are not considered threats to the learning of others; they are treated as children who teachers must patiently and persistently educate.
This is yet another example of why suburban "choice" looks nothing like charter school "choice." The expectation in affluent, highly resourced districts is that all children, regardless of their special education status or behavior in class, will be educated by the district. Yes, you will find tracking and gifted programs, but the children will all be in the same building with the same access to facilities and resources and extracurriculars. And if you ever tried to change that -- to put the "disruptors" into a separate building, away from their peers -- there would be hell to pay.
Petrilli believes that the disruption in urban schools has gotten so bad that we have no choice but to isolate the "strivers" from everyone else. Why they need to be in schools that are not state actors and therefore do not extend the same rights to students and parents, Petrilli doesn't say. All he knows is that it's not fair to keep those kids who can sit quietly with their hands in their laps in the same class with kids who call out.
What he never stops to ask, however, is:
1) Are urban kids, particularly students of color, really acting out that much more than kids in suburban schools?
2) If so, why?
First of all, we know for a fact that school punishments are distributed with a clear racial bias; on this there is no question. So before we start suggesting that urban schools are out of control, maybe we ought to question the prejudices too many of us bring to the discussion.
Second, as Jose Vilson has written about extensively, our schools still suffer from cultural incompetency and -- let's not mince words -- straight up racism. To be clear: this is not at all a problem confined to charter schools. But it is clear that we are nowhere close to where we should be when it comes to how we treat students of color.
Which brings us to a third point: why would we ever be surprised that there is friction in our urban schools given the way we ignore the needs of their students? This nation purposefully segregated its citizens. It then refused to adequately fund its urban schools, even as it ignored the needs of children outside of their schools. It then installed into those schools a hidden curriculum of obedience, even as affluent suburban children benefitted from schools that served as engines of social replication.
All this, and then we're shocked -- shocked, I say! -- to find that students in urban schools think they're getting a raw deal. Most channel their frustration in positive ways; are we surprised that some do not?
Again: there's plenty of reason to believe the "problem" of disruptive children in urban schools is overstated. But even if we think it's only marginally worse than in suburban schools, don't we have an obligation to take a step back and examine what might be creating these problems? And if some charter schools are having a problem with discipline...
... maybe we ought to ask: is separating the "strivers" from the "disrupters" and putting them into schools that suspend them for the tiniest infraction really the best we can do for these beautiful and deserving kids?
These are hard questions. Asking them unmasks hard truths. Those truths leads to difficult conversations. But if we really care for the education of children in urban schools, we'd better start having these conversations, and stop swallowing the facile nonsense of Eva Moskowitz and others who have been shown, time and again, to be little more than self-promoting hucksters.
ADDING: More from Daniel Katz:
ADDING MORE: If a guy from the reformy Fordham Institute can admit this, why can't everyone else?
“I see nothing wrong with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school. I see much that’s right about that,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. But he maintains that the schools should be more transparent about their competitive advantage. “What’s not right is to say, ‘We are just the same as any other public school,’ when you are not behaving the same way as a public school.” [emphasis mine]Is this really so hard to admit? By the way:
Lindsay Kelly, a spokeswoman for KIPP DC, said that KIPP schools backfill when seats become available in all grades as a matter of principle. But they do it “in the least-disruptive way possible,” she said — enrolling them only at the beginning of the school year, a common practice in charter schools.So you're not doing the same job as the public district schools, by your own admission. Good to know.