Big Name Charters Flee Tennessee’s ASD

Tennessee’s Achievement School District, or ASD for short, is one of the most high profile education experiments in the country.  In 2011, fueled by winning a Race To The Top grant, then education commissioner and former TFA vice president and former husband of Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman hired TFA alum and founder of Houston’s YES Prep charter schools Chris Barbic to be the ASD’s first superintendent.

Every three years Tennessee releases a ‘priority schools’ list.  These are the schools whose test scores put them in the bottom 5% of the state.  The way the ASD was set up, schools on the priority list can be taken over by the state and managed by the ASD or the ASD can authorize a charter school to take over one of those schools.  According to their website, “The Achievement School District was created to catapult the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee straight to the top 25% in the state.”  Their time frame for accomplishing this was five years.  They started with six schools in 2011 and they currently have about 30 schools in the ASD.

In April 2016, Chalkbeat Tennessee published an unofficial priority list, four years into the ASD experiment.  Of the original six schools, Frayser (0.8%), Cornerstone (2.1%), Westside (2.2%), Corning (2.3%), Humes (2.5%), and Brick Church (6.6%), five were in the bottom 3% while one ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 7%.  But they still had one more year to make a comeback.  Unfortunately because of glitches in their state testing, the standardized tests for grades 3-8 in Tennessee were invalidated last year so we will never know if they would have accomplished their goal of getting these six schools into the top 25% in five years.  It seemed like we would have to wait for that sixth year.

But there’s a new problem with that.  The next priority list scheduled to come out in the summer of 2017 was supposed to be the one that finally proves or disproves if the ASD could keep their promise of getting schools from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five (OK we’ll give them six) years.  The problem is that the criteria for being on the priority list is going to change.  When the schools were originally taken over by the ASD it was because they were on the priority list based on test scores alone.  But according to Chalkbeat Tennessee, the 2017 priority list will be based not just on test scores but also on the nebulous ‘growth’ scores.  (The state document outlining this can be found here around page 60.)  So this means that the 2017 priority list will be based on different criteria than the priority list that landed these schools in the ASD in the first place.  It also means that we might see headlines in a year that the ASD schools did catapult out of the priority school list, without much mention that the metric had changed.  ASD schools exiting the priority list means that new schools enter the priority list opening up new opportunities for the ASD to take over schools.  When the time comes, I’ll do my best to reconstruct what the priority list would have been under the old system to see if the ASD was a success or a failure.

By making such a grand proclamation of what they were going to accomplish, the ASD invited a lot of scrutiny.  After a few years there was a Vanderbilt analysis that said that students in the ASD were not making very much progress.  In November 2014, Green Dot abandoned their plans to take over a high school.  This started a parade of high profile charter operators leaving or reducing their stake in the ASD.  In March 2015 a bizarre thing happened.  YES prep, the charter chain that Chris Barbic started, at the last minute abandoned their plans to open a school in the ASD.  In October 2016 Gestalt Charter Schools announced that they will stop running their two schools which included Humes, one of the original six ASD schools.  Their other school, Klondike Elementary School, will actually close next year because of this, the first ASD school to be shut down.  And most recently, just a few weeks ago, the gold standard of charter schools, KIPP Charter Schools, announced that they will pull out of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools.  Watching the ASD unravel does make me look quite prophetic when I predicted this in my open letter to Chris Barbic back in 2012.

One thing that was good about the ASD experiment was that these charter schools were taking over existing schools so that they would truly have the ‘same kids’ that they always claim to have when they compare themselves to the nearby ‘failing’ schools.  In this way the ASD made it more difficult for these charter schools to do as many of the tricks they do elsewhere to choose the students who will raise their test scores.  The fact that all these high profile charters are turning around and fleeing the ASD just shows what a fraud these charter chains are when they are stripped of the smoke and mirrors that they have used to build their influence and fame.

Reformers are all about increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.  So how have the architects of the ASD been held accountable for their failure?  Well Kevin Huffman resigned in November 2014 after 3 1/2 years as commissioner.  Chris Barbic resigned in July 2015 after four years as superintendent of the ASD, a year before he could be judged on whether or not he met his five year goal.  Barbic is now working for billionaire John Arnold’s Foundation to promote his education policies.  I’m not exactly sure what Huffman is up to but I suspect he’s not having trouble making ends meet either.

 

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Success Academy High School Students Do Not Take Regents Exams

In New York State the standardized tests for high school students are called ‘The Regents Exams.’  The first Regents exams were administered way back in 1866 and they have been one of the more successful examples of a standardized testing program in the country.

Like all standardized tests, the Regents exams serve many purposes.  One is to make sure that students in all schools are learning mostly the same things in their courses.  In more recent times the Regents have also served as a basis for ‘growth’ and ‘value-added’ scores on which to evaluate (and close) schools and to evaluate (and fire) teachers.

The Success Academy Charter Network is the education reformer poster child on the basis of their 3-8 Math and ELA test scores.  Though the vast majority of Success Academy students are in elementary school, there are a small number of students in their only high school.  Their oldest students are in eleventh grade and there are at most twenty students in that cohort.

In New York State students at nearly all the schools need to pass five Regents exams to receive what is known as a Regents diploma.  If they pass nine Regents exams, they get something called an Advanced Regents diploma.  There are 28 schools in New York, known as The Consortium Schools, that have gotten permission to have their students exempt from taking the Regents exams as a graduation requirement.  Those school have been permitted to use other assessments and things like portfolios and projects instead.  Success Academy, to my knowledge, is not a Consortium School.

Success Academy has gotten so much attention (and money) for their high 3-8 test scores that it is only natural to wonder how the few older students they have in their schools have fared after 8th grade.  One thing we know is that Success Academy eighth graders have not done well on the specialized high school entrance exam to gain admissions to one of the eight specialized high schools.  They have had three cohorts of students take the entrance exam and the first two cohorts had no students gain admission and the third cohort had six students out of two hundred eligible gain admission to one of the eight specialized high schools.

Last year I checked to see how their students had done on the Regents exams and was unable to find their scores on the public data site.  I made some calls to the state, but they said they did not have the scores or know how to get them.  This year I tried to find their 2016 Regents scores and also had no luck.  I speculated that either Success Academy is not reporting their Regents scores or that maybe their students are not taking the Regents.

After my last post about this, I have learned from two credible sources that Success Academy students do not take the Regents exams.  So one mystery is solved, but an even bigger one rises to take its place:  Why don’t Success Academy High School students take the Regents exams?

I have three theories:

Theory 1:  They think that the test prep they do for the 3-8 tests will not work for the Regents exams and that their students will bomb these tests so they got permission for their students to not have to take them so it doesn’t become public knowledge that their students peaked in 8th grade.

Theory 2:  Since ‘growth scores’ that evaluate schools and teachers are based on how high school students perform on the Regents relative to their scores on the 8th grade tests, Success Academy would risk getting low ‘growth scores’ since their students do so well on 8th grade tests so even average Regents scores could lead to low ‘growth scores’ which would be a blemish on their reputation.

Theory 3:  When Regents data from a school is reported and posted on the public data site, a lot of other information comes along with it, like the breakdown of how students in the different subgroups scored.  Since Success Academy is so secretive about their data, having all these numbers to analyze could reveal something they are trying to hide.

Whatever the actual reason is that Success Academy does not have their high school students take the Regents exams, it is certainly not for the benefit of the students.  Reformers are supposed to be all about ‘exposure to rigor’ and things like that.  In some states they even force students to take the AP exams and even when students do poorly, the districts brag about how the number of test takers has increased and they are doing students a service with their ‘exposure to rigor.’

For Success Academy, the champions of the standardized tests, to evade ‘accountability’ by not having their own students take the Regents exams is one of the more ironic things I have ever seen in my years following the modern education ‘reform’ movement.  Who would have ever guessed that the highest profile ed reformer of them all, Eva Moskowitz, would be such a fierce proponent of the opt-out movement?

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Success Academy Fails (again) To Report Regents Scores

About a year ago I found myself in a snafu of red tape as I attempted to track down the high school test results for the famed Success Academy Charter School Network.  Though Success Academy is known for its stellar 3-8 Math and ELA test scores in New York State, much less is known about how students perform after 8th grade.

One reason for this is that most of the Success Academy schools only have younger students.  Of the schools that do have the upper grades, the number of students in each grade is very small because of attrition and Success Academy’s refusal to ‘backfill’ student who leave with other eager students from their mythical waiting list.

The oldest Success Academy students began the school known as Success Academy Harlem I in 2006 as first graders.  At that time there were 73 students in the class of 2018.  By 2015 those 73 first graders had dwindled to just 20 tenth graders, down from 26 ninth graders the year before.  How many of those 20 students are currently 11th graders in Success Academy is unknown to the public, though that data does get released sometime next year.  It’s a safe bet to say that the number of eleventh graders right now is somewhere in the teens.

High School students in New York State take standardized final exams known as ‘The Regents.’  Students must take these Regents exams to graduate.  The ‘college ready’ statistic is based on these Regents exams, and schools are judged on how well their students do on these tests.

Last year I noticed that unlike the other charter schools, there was no data for the Regents scores at Success Academy on the New York State public data site.  I emailed the data department of the state and they said they did not have the data, that Success Academy did not report any data, and that if I want to know those scores my best bet would be to simply call Success Academy and ask them for the scores  — something I did not try, though it would have made for an amusing telephone conversation.

The other day I checked the data site again to see if the newly posted 2016 Regents scores were available for Success Academy.  Again I found no data available.  Again I emailed one of the people at the data center for the state.  Again they said that Success Academy did not report their results.  But this time they provided some new information in their email:

NYSED Helpdesk Team (New York State Education Department)

Dec 7, 1:59 PM EST

Gary,

Thank you for reaching out to our Data Support help desk again for this same request.  The school you have inquired about did not submit their Regent’s data on time.  They will have an opportunity, as all schools do, to correct their data when the Level 0 Historical application opens in 2017.  Corrected or missing data submitted through this application is not updated on our public data site as the information posted is from the data set submitted on time and made available to the public at that time.  Therefore you will not see their data on the public data site (data.nysed.gov)

In addition, when people who are related to the press want data requests they are to be submitted to our Communications Office.

This ticket will be closed.

In some other reality I could imagine that this data person would be grateful that I identified a giant missing data point and they would be thanking me for noticing it, and basically doing their job for them for free.  Instead they are telling me that even if they do get the data from Success Academy they will not update their databases with that information anyway.  So basically any school can avoid having their Regents scores published publicly by conveniently missing the first deadline.

So then I wondered if maybe the 2015 scores, the ones I couldn’t get last year, were maybe available somewhere and the communications office could supply them.  So I called the phone number they gave me (there was no email address so there is no paper trail about what I’m about to describe).  I explained that I was a teacher who was looking for Success Academy’s Regents scores from 2015.  They told me that they didn’t have access to any data so they were confused why I would be calling them.  I told them that I was referred to them by the data person and then the communications person suggested that I simply call Success Academy to ask them for the missing scores.  I said that it was unlikely for Success Academy to provide the scores to me and the communications person took my contact information and said she would get back to me.

I’m inclined to believe that the state is not part of a conspiracy to cover up embarrassing test scores for Success Academy.  But the state does not seem overly concerned with the fact that they are not getting the Regents scores from them.  Another possibility, and this would be a pretty big scandal, I think, if this is the case, perhaps students at Success Academy don’t even take Regents exams.  Maybe part of their flexibility in their charter does not require it.

The strange thing about Success Academy debates is that this is a school that exists right now and not just in the abstract.  There is a group of between 1 and 20 students who wake up each day and attend the eleventh grade at Success Academy Harlem I.  There are also a bunch of teachers who teach those kids and surely the number of ‘degrees of separation’ between me, or any teacher in the city really, and those teachers and students is likely less than three.  Yet something as simple as finding out how those students performed on a standardized test — the bread and butter of the Success Academy empire is something tjat seems as elusive as finding out the meaning of Stonehenge or how the Pyramids were constructed.

If I learn more details about the mysterious Success Academy Regents scores, I will update this post with them.

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TFA Makes A Statement On DeVos

Today Betsy DeVos was offered and accepted the Secretary of Education position in Trump’s cabinet.  Her entire strategy for improving this country’s schools can, it seems, be boiled down to one word:  “choice.”

Here is a speech she made in 2014 which includes this quote “The traditional education industry is really good at two things:  Bucking and criticizing change and protecting grown up jobs.”

 

Her theory of the power of choice fits in well with Trump’s idea to divert $20 billion in federal money from public schools for school choice including vouchers for private school.  Trump, in the announcement, said “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

One thing Teach For America is quite good at is promoting itself and the modern ed ‘reform’ movement.  During the Obama administration, especially, TFA has gotten a lot of taxpayer money to help grow and has been very public about supporting various reform strategies, like Common Core and school and teacher accountability based on value-added teacher ratings.  When the reform movement rebranded itself a bit by replacing Arne Duncan with John King, TFA also softened their tone on the ‘status quo’ and other reform mantras.

From a financial point of view, it is good for TFA for Trump to be president.  Not only will TFA get a lot of money for proving that union teachers are a bunch of free loaders, but the charter schools that spouses of TFA higher ups run (Both founder Wendy Kopp and CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard are married to people who are major players in the KIPP and YES charter chains) will be getting a disproportionate piece of that $20 billion if it happens.

But TFA also a social justice organization.  They are proud of their 150 DACA corps members and they fight, in their own way, against many forms of discrimination.  So when Trump was elected, Villanueva-Beard wrote about her concerns.

Then, today, after the DeVos announcement, TFA wrote a ‘statement’ on it.  The statement began:

Following the president-elect’s indisputably hostile and racially charged campaign that on many points was in conflict with Teach For America’s core values and mission, the organization today released a statement on the occasion of the appointment of Secretary Designate Betsy DeVos to the U.S. Department of Education:

Teach For America lives by our values and always stands in solidarity with the most vulnerable students. The children we work for, and we ourselves, are Native, Black, Jewish, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, White, Immigrant, Muslim, LGBTQ, living with disabilities, and more. The Teach For America community includes more than 50,000 people from all backgrounds and political ideologies. We value diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, and we refuse to accept racism, bigotry, or discrimination in any form.

We call on the secretary designee and president-elect to uphold these values in pursuit of an excellent and equitable public education for all. We have worked in a bipartisan way to advance educational opportunities specifically for low-income communities and communities of color. We will continue to fiercely advocate and defend policies that are core to our mission and that increase opportunity for our students, including:

What followed were these eleven ‘policies’.

Of the eleven, five of them (DACA, Higher Education Act, and Safe classrooms LGBTQ, students with disabilities, and Muslim students) seem to be in response to Trump’s tone throughout the campaign.  Had TFA just had these five, I don’t think there would be much to write about here.

Two of the policies (culturally responsive teaching and halting the school-to-prison pipeline) are kind of strange to put on this list.  Not that these aren’t good things, but I think they are pretty nebulous and I don’t think the Secretary of Education is that involved with either of those two anyway.

One of the policies is about the commitment to national service which, to me, seems to be a way of saying that TFA should continue getting their taxpayer allowance, even as their recruitment numbers have been shrinking over the past few years.

The remaining three are the most revealing to me as they promote the typical reformer mantras.

There’s policy number two about high standards.  This could be a plea to not oppose the Common Core which TFA has been very supportive of.  In the new ESEA, state’s don’t have to use the Common Core, specifically, but they do need to have “challenging academic standards” which, I believe, the Secretary of Education may have the power to approve or not.  My problem with forcing states to have “challenging academic standards” is that it implies that teachers, because they are lazy and/or negligent, have been purposely teaching at a much lower level than they should be.  I don’t believe this to be true and I see it as a form of teacher bashing to imply that.

Then there’s policy number eight about ‘accountability.’  Accountability has been used as a weapon to fire teachers and close schools throughout the country based on highly flawed metrics.  Obama and Duncan did a lot of damage with this one and maybe TFA feels that they used it in a fair way, even if I don’t.  But that same weapon in the hands of Trump and DeVos should be something that TFA should be concerned about.  I don’t think that this was something that TFA needed to ask the new Secretary to be vigilant.  Based on the contempt she has shown for public schools and teachers over the years, it’s pretty clear that DeVos will use her power to try to make it even easier to fire teachers and close schools.  This could have a negative effect on not just all the TFA alumni who are still working in public schools, but also for the ones who are at the few charter schools that try to keep their most needy students and whose test scores suffer for it.  In the bigger picture, I think that having DeVos too strong on accountability will negatively affect so many students in this country.

Finally there’s policy number nine about using “evidence and data” to ‘drive’ “teacher improvement and development over time.”  This is code for trying to use test scores and value-added metrics to rate teachers, no matter how inaccurate those metrics are.

More telling than the policies TFA chose to include on this list is the ones they chose to exclude.  Knowing that DeVos is planning to use her power to divert funds from the public schools (and charter schools too) for vouchers for private schools, perhaps TFA could have asked that she not cut funding to schools.  Knowing how much contempt DeVos has shown toward public school teachers, TFA could asked her not to bash teachers so much.  Knowing that DeVos has funded reform propaganda sites like Campbell Brown’s The Seventy Four, TFA could have suggested that she spend time in public schools and see what great work is being done.

There’s a lot they could have said to help stave off the at least four year battle everyone in non-charter schools is going to have to fight daily.  Instead they padded their valid concerns about discrimination with a bunch of reform code.

Of their nine policies that TFA is urging DeVos to consider (three of the eleven are basically saying, make schools safe for all students), six of them are things that she was already on board with.  It’s the TFA way of saying “We are already in agreement with you on most things so you can trust us and work with us to help you out in general.”  They seem to care more about their own survival and the continuation of Duncan’s reform strategies than they do about the potential damage that the Trump / DeVos duo can wreak on the children of this country.

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P-Tech Principal Responds

Last week I wrote a post about the latest exaggerated claim about the success of the P-Tech high school in New York City.  P-Tech is a ‘miracle’ school that Joel Klein is very proud of and even Obama once touted it in a State of The Union address.

The claim tweeted by the principal of P-Tech and retweeted by Klein was that the school has 83% of its students ‘college ready’ in math which would make it one of the top schools in the city by that metric.  I investigated and found that there are several ‘college ready’ in math metrics and by all of the others, P-Tech has some of the lowest ‘college ready’ in math numbers.

Students in New York are deemed ‘college ready’ in math if they can get over an 80 on one of the three math Regents exams.  Algebra I is generally taken in 9th grade, Geometry in 10th grade, and Algebra II in 11th grade.  The school had about 11% of its students scoring over an 80 on Algebra I, about 2% scoring over an 80 in Geometry, and 0% scoring over an 80 in Algebra II.  Where the 83% number came from, I haven’t figured out yet.

If P-Tech students really were proficient in 9th grade Algebra I, then they should perform nearly as well in Geometry since it is the next course.  But their 1.6% getting college ready in Geometry is a relevant statistic I think since if they peak in 9th grade (advanced 8th graders often take the Algebra I Regents, actually) that would not make someone ready for college after graduating.  So I showed in a scatter plot that P-Tech had the lowest Geometry scores, by a wide margin, than any other schools that had a comparable generic ‘college ready’ in math score.

ptech2

 

The principal of P-Tech responded:

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-18-20-pm

So Davis is saying that it is not fair to compare his schools Geometry college ready numbers to schools that had comparable generic math college ready numbers since those other schools did not have 86% Black students and did not have 8th grade incoming scores of 2.31 out of 4.

So to address this concern that my comparisons were unfair, I produced two new scatter plots.  One compares percent of Black students to percent of students scoring ‘college ready’ in Geometry.  P-Tech is the yellow dot.  As can be seen, P-Tech is hardly an ‘outlier.’  It is actually one of the lowest performing schools with between 80% and 90% Black students.

ptech3

Then I made a plot comparing incoming 8th grade scores to Geometry college ready percentages for all high schools.  Again the P-Tech yellow dot is way at the bottom, even for other schools whose incoming students had 8th grade scores around 2.3 like theirs.

ptech4

So I believe I’ve addressed all the concerns that the principal had about my original plot being somehow unfair comparisons.  I will share this post with him and report back if he believes that these plots are also unfair comparisons.

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Are P-TECH Students College Ready?

Perhaps the most overrated school in reformer folklore is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, in Brooklyn, New York.

Since opening five years ago, they have been featured in national news reports, visited by President Obama, and touted by President Obama in a State of The Union address.

Though a partnership with IBM, students at P-TECH, so the theory goes, go to school there for 6 years and earn a high school diploma and an associates degree in some kind of technology field.  Qualified students get job offers at IBM.

I’ve tracked this school for several years and out of all the miracle schools I’ve ‘debunked’ over the years, this was the simplest one to do.  Despite all their claims, I was able to easily find on the New York City public data site that P-TECH’s Regents scores are some of the lowest in the city.  I’ve written about this school several times over the years.

So imagine my surprise when I see Joel Klein retweeting yet another miracle claim, this one by the principal of P-TECH, Rashid Davis.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-52-44-pm

Included in Davis’ tweet is this chart showing that students at P-TECH have some of the highest ‘Percentage Attaining Math College Readiness Standard’ in the city.

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In New York state, from my understanding, ‘college ready in math’ means that a student has gotten an 80 on one of the math regents.  There are three math regents, Algebra 1 taken mainly by 9th graders, Geometry, taken by 10th graders, and Algebra II, by 11th graders.  There is a very generous curve on these tests where getting an 80 on Algebra 1 can be done by getting 59% of the possible points.  But even as inflated this statistic is, it still seems noteworthy that P-TECH seems to have students who are more ready for college than nearly all of the 500 high schools.

But this didn’t seem possible to me based on their regents scores.  So I took another look.

Using the public data site located here I found the database from which this statistic came.  In that same database I found that there were seven other statistics that measured college readiness in one way or another.

There was college readiness based on the Algebra 1 regents.  On that they had 11.6%.

College readiness based on the Geometry regents, 1.6%.

Based on the Algebra 2 regents, 0%.

Based on the English regents, 41.6%.

Based on the Global History regents, 50%.

Their Math SAT average, 446

Percent getting a 65 or more on either Algebra 2, Physics, or Chemistry, 15.3%

I challenged Davis to a little Twitter debate and he said that there was no inconsistency between the regents college ready numbers and the ‘math’ college ready ones.  They were based on different students, he said.  One was the graduating cohort and one was the younger students taking these tests.  I said that it did not add up.  If the demographics of the school is about the same for different classes and the teachers are the same, these numbers should correlate somewhat.

And, in general, they do.  I made one of my famous scatter plots, putting the ‘Math College Ready’ on the horizontal and the ‘Geometry College Ready’ on the vertical.  There was a general correlation with one notable outlier, a lonely red dot at the bottom right of the graph with its 82.7% college ready math yet 1.6% college ready Geometry.

ptech2

So for sure something is off about their 82.7% number.  The most plausible explanation is that even though they can’t get hardly anyone to pass the 10th grade and 11th grade math regents, perhaps they have their students keep taking the Algebra 1 regents over and over every year until they achieve an 80 on it (which, again, is really just a 59% before the curve, but that’s another story).  I can’t be sure.

When he saw that we weren’t making much progress on the Twitter debate, Davis wisely took a break from it.  Joel Klein, Mr. Data Driven until the data doesn’t support his agenda, tweeted one last barb, which he later deleted about how Davis will keep fighting for the kids while I will keep trying to destroy all that is good.   I tweeted back that something that is truly good will withstand the scrutiny of critics, and that was it for this round.

P-TECH is expanding across the state and the world, actually.  There are 16 more opening in New York, I understand, and 40 across the country.  Australia is looking at them and I just saw something about two P-TECHs opening in Morocco …

Other posts I’ve written about P-TECH:

P-Blecch

Is P-TECH a Miracle School or a Failing School?

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Success Academy Scrubs Their Public Video Page: Updated

There’s a famous saying, I think it originated with Watergate, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.”

My last two blog posts have been based on videos I found on Success Academy’s public video site on Vimeo.  This is the collection of videos that they promised in The Wall Street Journal back in May after a few very public scandals.

Now Success Academy is very private about what happens in their schools so you’d figure that all their videos contain things that they are proud of.  Surely they spent considerable money producing these videos and there were many people involved in what sorts of things would be permitted to be in these videos.

There were 485 videos on the page when I first came across it a few days ago.  Randomly clicking on a few of them I found four videos among the nearly 500 that I analyzed, three in the first post and one in the second post.  I noticed in a comment today on the most recent post that the video I wrote about was taken down from the site.  Then I looked at the first post and found that two of those three videos were also removed from their site.  I went back to their site to find that all that remains of the 485 videos that were up just 24 hours ago is now down to just 56 videos.

Now you can go back and read my posts and you will see that I encourage readers to watch the videos and make their own judgements before reading my opinions on them.  Surely by posting these videos they should expect that someone might watch them and critique them, you’d figure.  But I think it is pretty sure that it isn’t a coincidence that a few days after I posted the links to these videos not only are three out of four of them removed, but over 90% of their videos are removed.

Now these videos were posted originally, presumably, to help the public schools learn what they can do to be as high performing as Success Academies.  These videos were a public service.  If this is true, it seems very harsh, cruel even, to take them down just because some blogger links to four of them and criticizes them.

If they’re going to do this, why leave up 56 videos?  The truth is that I did not sift through the 485 videos looking for incriminating stuff.  Basically, I can pick pretty much any video they have and the issues I had with the other videos I wrote about are all clearly there.

For example (and let’s see if this video gets taken down now), here’s one that remains.  In it the teacher is demonstrating a classroom management technique called ‘behavior narration.’  It’s a form of positive reinforcement where you praise kids for following instructions.  In theory it encourages kids who get praise to want to get more praise and it also encourages kids who are not following instructions to follow them so they can get that praise.  I’m all for positive reinforcement but, as you will see in this video, when taken to its logical extreme it becomes an annoyance.

In this short video, kids are trying to read silently.  While they do, the teacher praises the kids for things like reading with straight backs.  Many of the narrations are about things that the teacher cannot possibly know are true like “Adrian is thinking about the setting of the book, how it is impacting the rest of his story” and “Max is thinking about the problem his character is encountering as he’s reading.”

 

One thing about this video is that the teacher seems to have some warmth while in the videos that were deleted, the teachers were somewhat hostile.  The other videos had teachers doing some very bad things, for example, making kids raise their hands to reveal to the entire class that they got a poor score on an assignment.  Another deleted video had an assistant teacher putting a sticker on a child’s face as the assistant teacher circulated around the room.

The videos seem to show that Success Academy is a place where students live in fear of their over-controlling teachers.  It does not look like a place where kids get the opportunity to be kids.  I do think there there is a subset of kids who can do well in this environment, but most, I think, can’t.

I think that the taking down of 430 out of 485 videos is an extreme — even paranoid — response to the analysis of one blogger about four of their videos.  I hope they put the videos back up soon but I’m assuming they won’t.

Update:  On Thursday September 6th the videos, for a brief while, temporarily reappeared, all of them, but a few hours later every video became password protected.  So we went from 485 to 56 to 485 and then to 0 all in 24 hours.

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