The seventh, and final, part of Startup’s podcast series about Success Academy (available here) is titled ‘High School.’
The podcast describes the chaos in their first high school which eventually led to a student revolt. Students were sick of the overly strict rules, the extreme punishments — like getting held back a grade for being late to school too often, the culturally insensitivity of rules like the one not allowing non-religious head scarves, and an epidemic of student depression stemming from all this. They have several interviews with Moskowitz that reveal how tone-deaf she is to these sorts of issues. Still, this section has a happy ending — the school compromised to the student’s demands. Still, most of the staff at the high school quit at the end of the school year.
A big segment of the podcast is about the first graduating class, the colleges they got into, and their graduation ceremony. In the second episode, it mentions that there were 73 students in the first group of Success Academy students when it opened. So when at around the 7:30 mark in this podcast they say “She had only 16 kids in this first senior class,16 to get into college” this would certainly have been a good time to inform the listeners who either haven’t listened to the earlier episode — or who just forgot what didn’t seem like an important detail in episode 2 — that this was 16 out of 73.
Describing the graduation:
The ceremony was held in an elegant concert hall at Lincoln Center. Eva is standing on stage wearing a bright floral dress and black patent leather stilettos. The 16 graduating seniors have blue caps and gowns, with orange tassels, the school colors. School leaders, including the outgoing high school principal Andy Malone, sit on the stage behind her, beaming. The crowd is going wild.
And in the last minute, one of the final things said in the seven part podcast
For these 16 graduating seniors, they’ve beaten the odds, and will be entering a world filled with opportunities that they likely wouldn’t have had without Success Academy.
So there was ample opportunity as, again and again, she talked about these 16 students, for the host to mention that this was 16 out of 73 yet she doesn’t and this is surely a deliberate decision. Sixteen is such a low number (and incidentally, it was 17 at the beginning of the school year — one didn’t graduate that year for some reason) that the attrition is something just begging to be noted. And we know that they are aware this is something important since when the host and a producer are interviewed by Brian Lehrer this past January (interview found here) he mentions that it is a very small graduating class. They change the subject at first, but when he eventually asks if this proves the doubters wrong, they finally say at around the 4:30 mark that the original class was 73 students.
One student out of those 16, Moctar Fall, whose mother moved from Senegal before he was born and whose family spent some time living in a shelter, is featured since he got into MIT. Implied in this segment is that without Success Academy there is no way that he would have gotten into such a school. They even have Moctar’s mother giving a testimonial about how much the school means to them. But they don’t include something that I know about because it came up when they were interviewing me for the podcast. The producer I was talking to was assuring me that the podcast was going to be very balanced and often when I would bring up things that Success Academy exaggerates he would agree with me. About Moctar he told me that one of Moctar’s relatives, his step father, I think, told him that he felt that Moctar would have gotten into MIT with or without Success Academy. That would have certainly been something interesting to put into the podcast but I guess it would add another thing for the critics to talk about while there was already plenty in the last few episodes.
What started out as a puff piece in the first two episodes did eventually become something that was fairly well balanced. A few things would have made it even more balanced — certainly the not mentioning that the 16 graduates were once 73 students is the biggest one — but it still is very worth listening to and the most revealing part, I think, are devastating. Surely over the next few years there will be more scandals from Success Academy that will come out and you can always be sure to read about them here.