When You “Got To Go”, You Got To Go

The New York Times recently published a blockbuster report about a leaked sixteen student “got to go” list created at a Success Academy school in New York City.  The school, Success Academy, Fort Greene opened in September 2013.  In a press conference, Eva Moskowitz apologized for the “got to go list’ scandal, said it was an anomaly, and the principal who created it, Candido Brown, offered a teary eyed ‘mea culpa.’  What caught my attention was this paragraph from the New York Times follow up article published a day after the initial report where Moskowitz, the ultimate ‘No Excuses’ proponent, offered this bizarre excuse for the principal’s decision:

Ms. Moskowitz said the school, which then went through second grade, had severe disciplinary problems.  Mr. Brown previously said in an email that he believed he could not turn the school around if the 16 students remained.

When I think of a school in need of ‘turnaround therapy,’ I picture a school of veteran unionized teachers that has supposedly been ‘failing’ for decades.  This school was in its second year when it was in need of being turned around.  And the total number of students in the school was about 200, with about 70 kindergarteners, 80 first graders, and 50 second graders.  All of these students have been at the school for their entire schooling and all had Success Academy teachers.  I have trouble believing that this school needed a radical turnaround plan and if it really did, what does that say about the reform mantra that ‘great teachers’ overcome all if the great teachers at Success Academy were not able to maintain control of 200 5, 6, and 7 year olds?

The reaction to this story by reformers varied.  You had Michael Petrilli writing in The Daily News about how if a school needs the flexibility of harsh discipline, then that’s one of the benefits of charters.  The initial title that The Daily News gave to his piece was “Charters Are Not For Everyone.”  Though this is exactly what the piece was about, Petrilli complained about this title and it was changed to the infinitely less snappy “The real moral duty of charter schools:  The goal should be to create orderly and challenging environments where strivers from poor families can learn.”  On Dropout Nation, though, they are not supportive of the harsh discipline and exclusionary policies at Success Academies.  Most reformers refrained from commenting on the “Got To Go” list, however.  Campbell Brown was one exception, tweeting that she was “So proud” of Success Academy admitting it made a mistake and learning from it.  I could not resist responding to it.

I think that Success Academy would have been smarter to stay small and ‘under the radar.’  With their ambitious growth plan, there are too many teachers and former teachers who will be that much less likely to keep the secrets of their techniques of purifying their gene pool.  I expect there will be more whistle-blowers in the coming month.

Though it is just a small sample, all five reviews of this school on Inside Schools were negative (click on the comments button).  Here is a recent review on Inside Schools from a parent who nearly sent her child there for kindergarten, but changed her mind when the school would not excuse their absence from an orientation so the child could see her grandfather for the last time before he died:

We were accepted into this school for Kindergarten. I was a little wary of the hard sell they present to prospective parents. They boast about test scores, test scores, and test scores. Then they emphasize how your child will not have to interact with the other kids that Success has commandeered the building from as if they are lowly untouchables, and I couldn’t believe I was being reassured that my kid would never have contact with them. It was very elitist, but I wasn’t quite sure what they had to be so pretentious about. Maybe the TEST SCORES?

We were put on a waiting list, and then notified shortly after that we were fortunate to have been accepted. There were forms to bring back, and so forth. Then–they tell you about the uniform fittings. The uniform fitting is a big deal, and unlike other uniforms in the city, the uniform is rather costly-running you about $350 when all is said and done. That’s a chunk of change for a charity school looking outfit, with orange and brown being the predominant colors. We went to this mandatory “fitting” in the beginning of June. At the same time we were presented with a packet of summer reading materials, and we were supposed to log in the reading hours every week. I love that they emphasize reading, but this was a little much for an entering Kindergarten child. Of course we read to her, but now I was going to have to mark it all summer too, following specific guidelines for each book. Okay. But I was beginning to sense that this place was going to demand a lot more than just reading logs, and this was evident before we had even finished our fitting.

There was going to be an orientation for everyone directly after the first week of August (the school year begins mid-August-they seem to think that this makes them BETTER than other schools too). You were required to attend this (at Success you are REQUIRED to do a lot of things that you are not REQUIRED to do in other schools). In order to be enrolled that school year, parents had to bring their children, in their full uniforms. God forbid anybody should come to the first day orientation without a uniform because we were told they would be sent home.

The problem was we were planning to be out of town for that date. My dad was dying of cancer, and it was his last summer to be with family. We had scheduled to spend the first three weeks of August at our lake house in Michigan for this final precious visit with him. But when I told the coordinators this, they said “You can’t miss this. We told every prospective parent to take their vacations in July.” Now-we were wait-listed for one thing, and the other thing was that we weren’t about to plan our vacation around a school we weren’t sure of getting into. Coupled with that, my daughter’s pre-school went through July, so this would essentially leave her with barely a week of summer vacation, before Kindergarten. But finally, my father wad dying, and they were going to make me attend some perfunctory assembly over spending his last days with him? So–I let the next set of adminstrators know of our circumstances, but they were still completely intractable. No excused absences, even for a child’s dying grandfather? Someone told me if I wrote up a request to submit, they would have the main person in charge go over it, and decide if they deemed it appropriate enough to excuse her absence, but by this point, you couldn’t have paid me to have forced my five year old go to this militaristic place.

Everything about Success Academy (Fort Greene) was a complete and total turn off. I feel like the fact that they treated me like a hapless, ignorant, out of step parent before we were fully enrolled was actually a boon, because I would never want to participate in a school this rigid, with so little going for it. I mean really–the only thing that seemed okay was the lip service they were paying to it, and even that sounded suspect, and required one to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. I feel we dodged a real bullet that they were so unfriendly and prohibitive, and it was apparent before the first day that we never would have been happy there.

Here is a review from a parent who pulled her child from the school after five months:

I took my son out of this school after 5 months. They were obsessed with discipline and spent much of the day correcting behavior and creating an atmosphere where kids always felt like they were doing something wrong. Meanwhile, they were being NORMAL kids. Kindergarteners should not be expected to sit up straight with their hands locked in front of them for long stretches and be constantly keeping their eyes on the person speaking. They need more chances to move their bodies and have a chance to process their thoughts. They are constantly being told where to stand, sit, and what to do and say. My son is very bright and very well behaved and he was made to feel like he had a problem because he didn’t like to sit still for so long. When I tried to bring it up with the teachers and the Principal, they made it clear that they had their specific ways of doing things and if I didn’t like it, I would have to leave. They kept kids after school for not keeping their hands locked properly and for not getting 100% on a spelling quiz. Kids and parents alike always felt like they were in trouble at this school.

They also focus way too strongly on test prep – specifically math and spelling when young kids should be learning through varied activities, projects, and exploration. There were no parent teacher conferences – the only feedback from teachers was a daily behavior chart (either color coded or with the number of times your child had to be corrected) and a trimester report with a few numbers (result of math and spelling assessments, absences, number of homework assignments missed). Absolutely nothing that shows the teachers know anything about your child.

The Principal showed no understanding of the learning differences of children and that one size does not fit all. He just kept saying over and over, “this is how we do things here, and we make sure all kids succeed”. As if there was one way to succeed in school or life!

This place is not good for children and is not following a curriculum or philosophy that is based on appropriate child development. Parents beware.

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7 Responses to When You “Got To Go”, You Got To Go

  1. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein on Eva’s “Got to Go” School | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    I closer look inside the autocratic Suspension Charter Academies of the Corporate—FOR PROFIT—Education Destruction movement. Parents beware.

  3. If you have a LinkedIn and/or Google+ account, you can ad them to your share list. I shared this on my Facebook page and on one of my own Blogs.

  4. sooxie516 says:

    When I read this, it dawned on me that what these children experience at “Success” Academy (should be Browbeat Academy) is much like what a public school teacher experiences at a “normal” school: Constant fear of being disciplined and then kicked out, obsession with test scores, constantly being REQUIRED to do something (attend meetings, do excel spreadsheets, complete surveys, call parents, write very specific lesson plans, ad nauseum). Charter school students can always return to their real public school, but there is nowhere for teachers to go, except out. I’m a public school teacher at a large urban high school.

  5. Cambell4real says:

    Campbell Brown is a twit. With an a. What a moron.

  6. Pingback: Links 11/16/15 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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