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: