There’s a famous saying, I think it originated with Watergate, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.”
My last two blog posts have been based on videos I found on Success Academy’s public video site on Vimeo. This is the collection of videos that they promised in The Wall Street Journal back in May after a few very public scandals.
Now Success Academy is very private about what happens in their schools so you’d figure that all their videos contain things that they are proud of. Surely they spent considerable money producing these videos and there were many people involved in what sorts of things would be permitted to be in these videos.
There were 485 videos on the page when I first came across it a few days ago. Randomly clicking on a few of them I found four videos among the nearly 500 that I analyzed, three in the first post and one in the second post. I noticed in a comment today on the most recent post that the video I wrote about was taken down from the site. Then I looked at the first post and found that two of those three videos were also removed from their site. I went back to their site to find that all that remains of the 485 videos that were up just 24 hours ago is now down to just 56 videos.
Now you can go back and read my posts and you will see that I encourage readers to watch the videos and make their own judgements before reading my opinions on them. Surely by posting these videos they should expect that someone might watch them and critique them, you’d figure. But I think it is pretty sure that it isn’t a coincidence that a few days after I posted the links to these videos not only are three out of four of them removed, but over 90% of their videos are removed.
Now these videos were posted originally, presumably, to help the public schools learn what they can do to be as high performing as Success Academies. These videos were a public service. If this is true, it seems very harsh, cruel even, to take them down just because some blogger links to four of them and criticizes them.
If they’re going to do this, why leave up 56 videos? The truth is that I did not sift through the 485 videos looking for incriminating stuff. Basically, I can pick pretty much any video they have and the issues I had with the other videos I wrote about are all clearly there.
For example (and let’s see if this video gets taken down now), here’s one that remains. In it the teacher is demonstrating a classroom management technique called ‘behavior narration.’ It’s a form of positive reinforcement where you praise kids for following instructions. In theory it encourages kids who get praise to want to get more praise and it also encourages kids who are not following instructions to follow them so they can get that praise. I’m all for positive reinforcement but, as you will see in this video, when taken to its logical extreme it becomes an annoyance.
In this short video, kids are trying to read silently. While they do, the teacher praises the kids for things like reading with straight backs. Many of the narrations are about things that the teacher cannot possibly know are true like “Adrian is thinking about the setting of the book, how it is impacting the rest of his story” and “Max is thinking about the problem his character is encountering as he’s reading.”
One thing about this video is that the teacher seems to have some warmth while in the videos that were deleted, the teachers were somewhat hostile. The other videos had teachers doing some very bad things, for example, making kids raise their hands to reveal to the entire class that they got a poor score on an assignment. Another deleted video had an assistant teacher putting a sticker on a child’s face as the assistant teacher circulated around the room.
The videos seem to show that Success Academy is a place where students live in fear of their over-controlling teachers. It does not look like a place where kids get the opportunity to be kids. I do think there there is a subset of kids who can do well in this environment, but most, I think, can’t.
I think that the taking down of 430 out of 485 videos is an extreme — even paranoid — response to the analysis of one blogger about four of their videos. I hope they put the videos back up soon but I’m assuming they won’t.
Update: On Thursday September 6th the videos, for a brief while, temporarily reappeared, all of them, but a few hours later every video became password protected. So we went from 485 to 56 to 485 and then to 0 all in 24 hours.