Success Academy is the largest and most controversial charter network in New York City. With over 15,000 students, Success Academy is known for their high state test scores.
Though Success Academy has been in existence for about 14 years already, it has only been the last few years that people have begun to question whether the strategies that Success Academy uses to achieve these test results are immoral if not illegal.
Public data shows that very few students who begin at Success Academy actually graduate from Success Academy. The class of 2018 started with 72 students and only 16 graduated. The class of 2019 started with 80 students and only 27 graduated. The class of 2020 started with 350 students and only 98 graduated. Success Academy argues that this is normal attrition over 12 years, but one of the most jarring statistics I have ever seen about Success Academy is the attrition rate from students who are in the school at the beginning of their senior year but who do not graduate with their class 10 months later.
For the recent class of 2020 there were 114 seniors in the school in November 2019. But by graduation time in June there were only 98 graduating seniors.
In June I blogged about an interview I saw with Eva Moskowitz where she explained that some students need five years to graduate high school for various reasons. Success Academy is known for leaving a lot of students back each year. They often use the threat of leaving a student back as a way to get a parent to ‘voluntarily’ transfer out their child even. And though some research has concluded that the cons of leaving students back outweighs the pros, I can see how having 14 years to complete 13 years of schooling could benefit some kids. So somewhere along the way a student repeats a grade and that helps them get on track, I can see that. But for a student to make it through 12 years of school, Kindergarten through 11th grade at Success Academy, and then in their senior year to be told part of the way through that year that they have to repeat 12th grade again, you would think this would be very unusual. Moskowitz says that some students experience trauma and uses an example that if the father of a student is murdered during that student’s senior year, she may not be able to focus on her studies so repeating 12th grade could be necessary. Of course this would be exceptionally cruel to not allow a 12th grader to graduate under these circumstances. I would think that after 12 years at the school, they would do anything they can, make any accommodations they can to help a child whose father had just been murdered, but maybe I’m too soft.
But 16 out of 114 is about 1/7 of the seniors and there is no way that 1/7 of the students had something as traumatic as the murder of one of their parents that year. But Moskowitz gave no other example of why 16 out of 114 seniors did not graduate seven months later.
There is a new Instagram and Twitter account called Survivors Of Success Academy. They get messages from parents and students about their negative experiences with Success Academy and they post them anonymously.
One of the posts on their Instagram last June was about how a senior was told she would have to repeat 12th grade. The school said that if she would transfer to another school, they can graduate on time, but it would be better for them to just repeat the 12th grade as Success Academy. The post did not say which option that student chose — transfer out and graduate on time or stay for a second senior year at Success Academy.
In response to this post, though, another student with a similar experience shared her story:
I experienced the same thing. The principal of the high school would tell me I couldn’t get into community college if I applied senior year. He would tell me just about anything to convince I needed to stay a 5th year. They also did so without communicating any of their plans to my mother until they have already decided they were going to put me in the 5th year program. I had to leave SA February, this year to a credit school just so I can graduate on time. A week after leaving I got accepted to two great colleges. (I also got a 1260 on my SAT first time ever taking it junior year.)
I responded to this comment and asked this student “What do you suppose was in it for them?” and they wrote back:
All of the students they targeted had not applied early decision to their colleges. So they had not gotten accepted to any colleges yet. Success prioritizes their stats & data for the public & funders of the school. I think that they truly believed I would not get into a highly selective college & so they did not want that data for their graduating class. There’s obviously more to this but I think that played a factor in this.
Now I don’t know the entire story and I don’t think it would be worth the time to reach out to Success Academy to comment on this. But this is a student who was at Success Academy for 12 and a half years. This student was a Kindergartener in 2008 and went through all the grades, surmounting all the difficulties and seeing 80% of her classmates leave the school for one reason or another over the years. So I find it pretty cold that Success Academy was not able to find a way for this student to graduate with that student’s cohort.
What I do know for sure is that 1/7 of the students who were seniors at Success Academy in November did not graduate seven months later. This student says that all the students targeted had not applied early admission to college when they were told they had to stay for a second senior year if they wanted to graduate from Success Academy. I also know that The New York Post wrote a story about the senior class with the headline “Entire Success Academy senior class accepted to college” which surely came from the Success Academy PR department. If, as this student contends, this is partly because of Success Academy’s self-interest to boast about 100% of seniors getting into competitive colleges, well that would be a very cruel reason to abandon one of the students they have taught (I almost used the word ‘nurtured’ but, well, this is Success Academy after all!) for so many years.