Success Academy is a network of charter schools in New York City that is quite controversial. It is undeniable that their test scores are incredibly high. Yet, we know very little about what happens inside these schools. They don’t seem to be all that different from other ‘no excuses’ charters yet their test scores are so much higher than that of other charters too.
After some bad press last year in The New York Times — there was a ‘got-to-go’ list at one school and a video of a teacher ripping up a first grader’s math work — Success said they were going to share some of their best practices. They’ve followed through on that promise posting about 500 videos on a public site. I’ve watched about 10 of these videos and I’ve written about a few already.
I’m assuming that they expect people to watch these videos and that since they publicly posted them, they are not ashamed of anything that are in the videos. But when I watch these videos I find most of them very disturbing.
In this six minute video we see a teacher doing ‘circle time’ reading the classic children’s book ‘Caps For Sale.’ The kids in the class are around 5 or 6 years old, I think it is a kindergarten class. If you have time, I think you should first watch the video yourself and form your own conclusions.
Update 9/5/16: Success Academy has deleted the video. Where there were once nearly 500 videos on their public Vimeo page, there are now about 50.
She reminds them how to sit to make this “the most enjoyable story yet” which includes having a really straight back and hands clasped together while tracking the speaker.
There is a lot of “behavior narration” going on, where the teacher constantly points out to the class students who are following directions well. (“Yolanni’s tracking up here.” “Davin brought it right back”) I find it very annoying and I feel like if I were a child it would detract from the story.
The teacher is in complete control. She allows the kids to make some gestures from time to time, but then quickly gets them to return their hands to their laps. I’m kind of scared of this teacher, whoever she is.
A bizarre thing seems to happen at the 4:55 mark. The assistant teacher comes over to one of the girls in the class, a girl who has not been engaged so much in the reading and, I’ve watched this a bunch of times so tell me if I’m seeing things, seems to put a sticker or something onto the child’s face. The child does not resist in any way, it is just something that happens, I guess, at this school. I don’t know what the sticker signifies. I didn’t see that child get any of the many ‘corrections’ that some students have received during the story so I’m not sure what that was all about.
I’m a high school teacher and can’t claim to be an expert in reading to children. (I did co-write a children’s book, ‘The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes’ if that gets me any credibility on this topic) Still, watching this video causes me some anxiety. The overly controlled environment the teacher with her constant corrections and narration. I’m just so thankful that my own children don’t go to this school. If this is the price to pay for incredibly high test scores, I feel like it is too steep.
I’m interested to hear from people who are experts at teaching small children if my instincts in watching this are off at all, let me know in the comments.