Part 6 of Startup’s seven part podcast about Success Academy (available here) is titled ‘Fights.’
The first of the fights that it tells about is the fight for space to grow that Eva Moskowitz has had with Mayor de Blasio. Some charter schools have their own buildings or they pay rent for spaces though in New York City they often move into existing schools, taking a floor or two at first. This arrangement is called co-location. They play a tape of De Blasio on the campaign trail in 2013 saying “Time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”
About a month after de Blasio became mayor at the end of 2014, a high level DOE administrator called Moskowitz to tell her that three new spaces that she had been counting on, two to open new schools and one to add new grades at an existing school, were no longer going to be available to them.
About this news, they run tape of Eva saying:
EVA: I thought I must have misheard her. I cried. I mean I was crying on the phone with her… I was like ‘Kathleen, how could you do this? This is an existing school, you’re just throwing the kids out on the street? Where are they gonna go?’
The podcast then recounts the 5 million dollar PR campaign and the rally in Albany where Governor Cuomo even makes a speech in which he says “We will save charter schools.”
The TV ads are powerful. Here is one of them:
The campaign is successful and the state legislature includes in the budget a new law where the city has to either find space in their own schools to colocate charter schools or else the city will have to pay the rent for those schools in other buildings.
The podcast only makes a brief mention of the other side of this argument — that the existing school that wanted to expand would be taking away space away from a special needs school.
But what the podcast never mentions, and something that they either purposely didn’t mention, or negligently didn’t think about, was that de Blasio was not in any way ‘closing’ that existing Success Academy middle school and, as Eva said, “throwing the kids out on the street.” No, all he was saying was that if they wanted to grow, they would have to foot the bill for the new space. So the melodramatic fear tactics that are used in the video with the disappearing kids was a lie. All that would have happened if Eva had lost the battle with De Blasio would be that some of the money that Success Academy uses to pay for marketing or for PR or for defending them from the latest discrimination lawsuit would have to instead go toward rent. The school raises tens of millions of dollars a year and the 5 million dollar ad campaign (funded, the podcast is careful to say, by an outside group) would have been easily able to pay for the rent for that school in a new space. That school was not in jeopardy at all, it was just another lie and a cheap use of false drama, though the podcast fails to mention this.
The rest of episode 6 is about the New York Times publishing a hidden video of a first grade teacher ripping up a well-behaved child’s math paper and yelling at her because the child wasn’t explaining her thought process clearly enough. It has become known as the ‘rip-and-redo’ video.
So the teacher wants the girl to show how to count with what sounds like “one and a split.” The child gets confused and she sends the very calm girl to “the calm down corner.” Then another kid comes up to do it and, though I don’t know exactly what this technique is, the kid does it very quickly so it seems like a very low level skill. The teacher is disciplined, though not fired, and Eva says that this is not something she supports.
The big questions is whether or not this kind of behavior by teacher is common at Success Academy. The podcast interviewed 26 current or former teachers there and of those, 21 of the 26 said that this is common. There were also several teachers who admitted to using these extreme, one might say abusive, methods. The fact that this ‘rip-and-redo’ is commonplace, according to the vast majority of teachers interviewed, is the biggest problem here.
When this video surfaced, there was a somewhat ironic role reversal among people in the education reform debate. Some charter supporters who are always saying that teachers need to get fired more easily were defending this teacher, and some charter critics who are often teacher’s union supporters and try to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt were calling for the teacher to be fired. Personally, I don’t think the teacher should have been fired if this truly was a rare occurrence for her (though, of course, it wasn’t otherwise the teacher’s aid who was taping this would not have been so ready to record this). The issue is that Success Academy fosters this sort of pressure so it is likely that this was not just a lapse by this teacher. Of course this teacher, Charlotte Dial, got her start in Teach For America. She has since left Success Academy and is now the educational director of something called New York Kids Club, a preschool and enrichment program throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. Whether she trains her staff on the art of ‘rip-and-redo’ is anyone’s guess.
There is one episode remaining now in Startup’s attempt to answer the question of whether the pros outweigh the cons for Success Academy.
To be concluded …