Revealing Podcast About Success Academy — Part VII

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.

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4 Responses to Revealing Podcast About Success Academy — Part VII

  1. Jack says:

    It’s impossible to get a definitive answer to this question, but what effect or influence did the fact that there was a podcast documentary watching and reporting all that goes on have on what transpired?

    More specifically, but for Eva knowing that her handling of this and other situations would be documented, publicized, and scrutinized, would she have “compromised” with the protesting students? Had there been no documentary crew capturing the whole shit-show of her high school, she might have pulled a Geoffrey Canada, and then expelled the entire class (or almost all of the class), as a warning to all future rebels or ungrateful troublemakers.

    That’s likely, or at least, possible, as internal SA documents reported on, and released by Politico show how vindictive and vicious Eva can be with those who cross her. She loves to make an example to strike fear into folks, so there won’t be a repeat of any seditious behavior. (“If the complaining parent threatens to go the media, …” one document read, crush them… or words to that effect.).

    This played out when an SA parent spoke to PBS’s John Merrow, and Eva released the child’s private disciplinary record, which, according to the mother, was full of inaccuracies, lies, and slander.

    In one Politico article about the rebelliong at SA’s high school, a reporter recounted how some SA official followed a parent and eavesdropped on a conversation a complaining parent was having with a reporter. When asked by the parent to get lost and leave them alone, that SA official refused. It was like they were being hounded by the East German Stasi secret police.

    Also, the reason they didn’t bring back the 73 students number — those who started — was that it would reflect badly on Eva and SA. Duh! The folks behind this knew this, and thus, would refute the notion that SA is something that could be replicated on a mass scale (or “scaled” to use that ed. reform verb).

    For example, student attrition in the all-charter New Orleans is sky high (though not at 82% that Eva produces). Currently, there’s no central district tracking data on those kids kicked out, with each individual charter chain or charter school is no longer required to report that data to a district-wide system. Thus, you’ve got thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of drop-outs on the loose in New Orleans. At best, they’re unemployed and living off welfare. At worst, they’ve turned to crime. The data there shows the latter. In New Orleans, the crime rate for people 18-30 years of age — those who’ve been educated since Katrina has sky-rocketed.

    I wonder why? Hmmm…

    Thus, that’s the question the podcast documentarians should ask. If you expand Eva’s model nationwide — going to an all-charter, or almost-all-charter system of schools — where there’s 50%., 60%, 70%, or in Eva’s case, 82% attrition, you’d have tens of millions of high school dropouts roaming the streets.

    Sure, if the kid is in Eva’s 18%, they’ll be better off, as will those in other places where they are in the 50% who survive to graduation, or only 40% who do, or only 30% who do. The ones who don’t … what happens to them?

    The podcast documentarians could have gone there, but then that wouldn’t lead to the pre-determined happy ending that they had scripted out for the final episode.

  2. says:

    Gary,     Thanks for sending this on.  I am a little confused.  At the end you say started as puff piece, then fairly well balanced, and devastating revelations.    When a charter network takes on 73 students and only 16 graduates after 12 years this is a failure.  What happened to the other 57 students?  How are they doing?  And then the interviewers try not to give the statistics that does more, way more, than prove what the doubters have been saying.  And not telling the whole truth about the MIT student makes the producers seem like Trump.      And what will happen to the students in college?  KIPP had a serious problem with college dropouts.  How did they fix it?  I read that KIPP moved tutors around to colleges with the KIPP HS grads.  The college graduate rate went up.  Good for the students and good for KIPP.  But public schools can’t afford to do that.  And Eva probably won’t try unless someone follows her grads and finds out and publicizes their college grad rates.  The data and the publicity is the only thing that motivates Eva.     I was once told that KIPP had lower HS grad numbers than SA because they make a 13-year commitment to their students.  Unlike Eva who seems to enjoy throwing special needs students out the door, to the police station and under the bus.

        Can you confirm what I said about KIPP?         What are you going to be doing this summer?  I would still like to have lunch with you after the school year ends. John Fager917-847-2762

  3. Annie says:

    I listened to the entire series and came away thinking Eva Moskowitz sounded like a sociopath. So while the producers could have hit some points a little harder, the overall impression I got was that Success was a messed up school system and the people who supported it (eg, the principal who came around to be ok with suspending young kids) had deluded themselves. I think the producers were afraid they would lose credibility if they were harsher. I definitely had a bias against Success Academy going into it, so maybe not everyone came away with such a terrible impression, but there was a lot I didn’t know about the school. And I knew basically nothing about Eva who sounded totally crazy during her interviews, especially in the last episode.

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