Former Success Academy Teacher Speaks Out

For over 10 years I have been observing and writing about the Success Academy charter network. Every time I think that there’s no way that I can learn anything more scandalous about these schools, I’m proven wrong. The latest news comes from a bombshell whistleblower post by a recently fired Success Academy middle school teacher.

I’ve lost count, but I’d say I’ve written over 35 posts about Success Academy over the years. Some of these posts have analyzed attrition data, some have highlighted stories from families who have suffered there, there was even some analysis of training videos that Success Academy removed after I wrote about them. There was my thorough review of the book about Success Academy ‘How The Other Half Learns.’ If you put them altogether the posts add up to the size of a book. Someone who follows me might wonder why have I pursued this school with Captain Ahab like persistence over the years. The reason I do it is that I believe that the school is abusive to children and to families and that pretty much all the employees there are complicit in this abuse. Such a scandal cannot be kept secret forever and I’ve always felt that eventually the full story of Success Academy will be out and people would eventually look back and say “Can you believe that this was able to happen and so many people allowed it to?” but when they see my archived posts they’ll see that I did not just sit back and let it happen, I did what I could with my laptop and my limited free time.

The brave blog post by teacher Livia Camperi was titled ‘The Cruel Dystopia of Success Academy’ and I highly recommend you stop reading my analysis and read the actual source for yourself and then come back here, assuming you’re not already sick to your stomach.

Of all the atrocities Camperi reports, the one that stuck me as the most worthy of a formal investigation was this one:

SA is a data-driven institution, just like the entire rest of the American education system. This is not a surprise. What was a surprise, though, was the lengths the school goes to attain its desired data. For nearly three months leading up to the NY State English and Math tests (January to March), the students are not learning anything. I feel the need to emphasize that again before I explain: for three months, students attending a school are not learning anything in their time there. What they are doing, instead, is practicing taking multiple-choice tests, day in and day out. This is, ironically, called “Think” season.
During Think, the students take practice tests for the state exams in every single English and Math class, every single day. For the last two years, halfway through February, when they realized the data was not good enough yet, the network canceled Science and History classes to do more English and Math practice tests. Those are their only four content classes. I say again: students are not learning anything during that time. All they are doing is practicing test-taking skills and hating every minute of it. This is not education. This is callous data-chasing.

If this description is accurate, this, in terms of education, is a crime. To have students do mainly test prep for three months at the expense of all else is a type of cheating. Remember that these middle school students have been part of Success Academy since they were in Kindergarten. So if these middle schoolers need that much test prep in order to get 3s on the state test, then the ‘success’ of Success Academy is the mirage that I always have claimed.

In the comments of the blog post, this teacher has gotten a lot of support from her former students. If students are willing to corroborate her claim about the test prep for three months, this could be a very big story.

Perhaps Camperi’s bravery will inspire other former Success Academy teachers and maybe even some current Success Academy teachers to speak out. If the things described in the post are accurate, all staff members who have witnessed this educational neglect are accomplices in this scheme. I don’t have great confidence that many of the teachers who were oblivious about what was going on are going to take the opportunity to reflect on their role in the scheme. But if students start speaking out, a lot can happen.

Some of my most important blog posts I’ve ever done have been the ones where I have enabled Success Academy families to speak out. There was the mother who was not permitted to attend her son’s graduation. There was also the father whose daughter was forced out of the school because they made her repeat a grade when she failed one summer school class by one point. But these are just the tips of the iceberg. If anyone wants to have their story told on this blog, whether it is parents, students, former teachers, or current teachers, I will be happy to help and just like those other families, I will give you final say in what gets published. Just reach out to me in the comments or message me on Twitter @garyrubinstein.

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3 Responses to Former Success Academy Teacher Speaks Out

  1. chzzzcake says:

    Hi Gary,

    I appreciate your posts as I have a daughter in K at the SA Union Square location and I feel like I’m constantly questioning if it’s right to send her there.

    I don’t think the heavy focus on test prep is any secret or surprise. I first heard about it in this podcast: This other teacher said they basically spend 5 hours a day on test prep starting in 3rd grade. My thoughts afterwards were I need to get my daughter out by the end of 2nd, but am on the fence about getting her out even sooner.

    My daughter is not one of the struggling ones. In fact, I have a very different problem. My daughter is the top of her class. Her work comes back almost always perfect. She is already at reading level E/F and there is still two more months of K left. We take Russian Math outside of SA because SA math is too easy for her and just recommended her for 2nd grade honors math. If I put her in public school, it would be even slower and she would be even more bored. I’ve asked SA to skip her a grade, but SAUS has a new and inexperienced principal who does not seem to care much for the welfare of the children. I wish she had been lucky enough to get into one of the citywide g&t programs but sadly SA is the best option for us academically even though they lied about tailoring education materials for advanced students. So in this regard, it’s not that we love SA, it’s that the other schools available to us are not any better for her.

    Thanks, Ada

  2. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Success Academy Whistleblower Makes Startling Claims | Diane Ravitch's blog

  3. Norm says:

    I’m not surprised and assume this has been going on for a decade. But another reason I’m not surprised is that my principal instituted a similar system on my school when she became principal in 1979 and the entire school became focused on the tests, with enormous sums spent on practice materials. I fought it for years as she banned trips for the 3 months before a test and loaded our classrooms with practice materials. She even had the heat turned off on test days. Our school rating in the district rose from below the middle of the pack to break into the top 3, even beating out the Greenpoint white schools to the extent that their principals asked me how she was doing it — they assumed blatant cheating — but in essence this is cheating. And with major pressures on teachers, that actually went on too. Remember – this is 20 years before Joel Klein. I used to tell her she was the mother of the entire test driven movement.

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