Of course, what Charlotte Dial does in this video is really horrible teaching; even she admits that. If Success Academy knew that she had behaved this way even once, they should have intervened and let her know in no uncertain terms how unacceptable what she did was. And if she did it again, she should have been removed from the classroom.
The fact that Dial is white and the student is black makes this especially troubling. I'm all for teachers being authoritative, but too many students of color are living a school experience where they are dehumanized by teachers of a different race. To be clear: I don't think this is confined just to "no excuses" charter schools; we've seen far too many examples of bad behavior against students of color in public district schools to pretend that it's only the charters that are guilty of perpetuating a hidden curriculum.
That said, I'm not about to say, on the basis of a one-minute video, that Dial should be fired immediately. If any teacher tells you that they've never said anything to a student that they later regretted, they're either lying, deluded, or a living saint.
Teaching is hard, frustrating work -- especially if you actually give a damn about your students. You have to make all sorts of snap decisions, and it's impossible to get them all perfectly right. And teachers are human beings who have personal worries and woes. You try to leave them at the door of the school, but you're only human, so sometimes something regrettable happens. That doesn't excuse it -- but it also doesn't make sense to me to immediately force out a good teacher who may have just had a really bad day.
Of course, if the Times had put out multiple videos of Dial yelling at students like this, I'd be saying something else. And the fact that the teaching assistant was concerned enough about Dial's behavior that she recorded this also bothers me. So I don't think we know enough about all this other than to say this was a really bad moment and a great example of what not to do in the classroom. Let's see how it all plays out.
All that said...
This is not the first time we've heard about problems with classroom management and discipline at Success Academies. And yet Eva Moskowitz has been held up by many on the reformy side as an educational genius, and she's been very happy to play along.
Is Success Academy really the model we want for the education of urban children of color, many living in economic disadvantage? "Got to go" lists? High suspension rates? Teachers who rip up their students' work (according to one teacher in the Times story, it happens regularly at SA)? Test score fetishism? Churning faculty, many of whom are young, white, and not adequately trained? Chanting in the classrooms and marching in the halls?
Moskowitz's approach is premised on the idea that urban students of color need extraordinarily harsh discipline codes; she says so herself:
As Leo Casey points out, Moskowitz is bucking a national trend away from harsh discipline practices that are clearly racial biased. Is it any wonder, then, that one of her star teachers ripped up a first grade child's work in her face? Isn't this behavior exactly aligned with Moskowitz's philosophy? Why are we the slightest bit surprised that a teacher is harsh with her students in a school whose leader embraces a "no excuses" pedagogy?
I've said it time and again, and I'll keep on saying it: urban "choice" is not the same as suburban choice. Success Academies' practices would never be tolerated in Chatham's or Scarsdale's or Winnetka's pubic schools. If you told parents there the only way to get their child into a safe, clean, well-appointed school was to give up their democratic local control of the school board and accept a "no excuses" discipline plan, you'd have a riot (probably one with lots of tasty hors d'oeuvres). Why, then, is it OK to force this "choice" on to parents of color living in cities?
One more thing:
Today we learned that Marylin Zuniga -- the Orange, NJ third grade teacher who was fired for having her students write get-well letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal -- will have her day in court. I wrote about Zuniga previously, but the best piece you'll read about her plight is from (who else?) Jose Vilson.
Jose and I have different takes on the appropriateness of the assignment; what we don't disagree on is that Zuniga got a raw deal, and her punishment was way out of proportion to whatever transgression she committed (if, indeed, she transgressed at all). Zuniga was cynically used by a group of outsiders to score political points; the support she got from so many Orange parents is proof enough of that.
It just so happens that word of Zuniga's case comes on the same day as the Times report on Success Academies. I think the comparison between the two is instructive. Here's what I want to know:
Why does a white teacher who yelled at a six year old black girl and ripped up her work in a humiliating tantrum get to return to work after a week and a half as an exemplar within her school...
While a young teacher of color who gave an admittedly controversial assignment had to be fired immediately? Especially given that she didn't have tenure and her contract could have simply not been renewed at the end of the year?
When it comes to students of color, it seems that our priorities are very, very warped.
I'm shocked! Shocked to find a teacher yelling at a student in a "no excuses" school!
ADDING: Moskowitz goes into crisis mode:
On Friday, after the New York Times published a video showing a Success Academy teacher lashing out at a first grader, Success CEO Eva Moskowitz again sought to portray the behavior as an isolated incident. But she also mounted a forceful defense of the network’s teachers and its methods, while criticizing the Times’ reporting as biased.
“I’m tired of apologizing,” Moskowitz said at a press conference. Calling the video “an unfortunate moment,” she said, “Frustration is a human emotion. When you care about your students so much … and you want them to go to college and graduate, it can be frustrating.”I guess "no excuses" only applies to the kids, huh?
If what happened on the video was the only incident Moskowitz knew of, then OK -- I think this makes sense (although I have to wonder about what kind of "training" Dial got). But the NY Times metro editor who oversaw the story makes a good point:
Well, look -- it was shot on a phone (wasn't it?), so it's not like it's a surprise the assistant had a camera with her.
Still, it is awfully hard to think this happened only once; of course, having proof of that is another matter. As to never having a bad day: I agree it should never happen -- but it does happen. Getting teachers help first, however, seems to me to be a more appropriate response than mandatory firing. It is well within the realm of possibility that a teacher can get past a bad incident and still be productive. Of course, some things ought to get you fired immediately. This one comes right up to the line for me... your mileage may vary.
But that doesn't address the larger question: was Dial's behavior really that out of line with Success's practices? If not, then we're looking at a systemic problem, and not solely an individual one.
In a way, by treating Dial's actions as an outlier, Moskowitz is throwing her under a bus. She's refusing to take responsibility for what happened, just like the "got-to-go" list. She's refusing to look at her own possible culpability in the matter. Doesn't she feel any obligation to do so? Or is protecting the Success brand ultimately more important to her?
ADDING MORE: Also from the SA presser:
No, they just have to send their child to an underfunded, crumbling, large class-sized, segregated public school.
If SA works for Ms. Shannon, I'm happy for her. I've never criticized a parent for sending their child to a school like SA, and I never will. But her menu of "choices" would never be tolerated in a white, suburban public school district.
Isn't this a serious problem?
AND MORE: Professor Katz opines: