Last evening, the PBS NewsHour (October 12) aired John Merrow’s final broadcast before retiring from the NewsHour, a fascinating interview with New York City’s Eva Moskowitz, the politically polarizing CEO of New York’s Success Academy Charters.
Interviewing the principals of two New York City elementary schools co-located into one school building—Primary School 138 and a Success Academy elementary school, Merrow asks about the practice of out-of-school suspension as a discipline policy. The Success Academy serves 203 Kindergarten and first graders and is reported to have used out-of-school suspension for the very young children in these two grades 44 times during the school year. The public school principal has not suspended any children in the early grades and explains that she believes such harsh discipline is inappropriate for Kindergarten and first grade. She reports that to suspend an elementary school child, she would be required to secure school district approval in advance.
Success Academy Charters operate, according to what Eva Moskowitz tells John Merrow, with a strict six page discipline code that lists 65 possible infractions—some as minor as school uniform violations or failure to pay attention, and some far more serious such as sexually explicit language, an infraction that always warrants an out-of-school suspension.
Merrow interviews parents and one child, a former Success Academy student who tells Merrow he was sent home for not paying attention. Moskowitz denies that her schools explicitly suspend students for the purpose of encouraging students whose scores are likely to be low to drop out (and thereby raise Success Academy charters’ overall test scores). Merrow reports that some students seem to be suspended repeatedly and that for every 100 students who enroll, ten eventually do drop out. One mother reports that while her child does sometimes act out at the public school he attends now that he has left Success Academy, the staff at his new school find ways for him to calm down and then return to class: “He’s in school and he’s getting an education.”
Merrow reports that while 93 percent of students at Success Academy charters pass the state math test, only 35 percent of students at New York City’s public schools achieve passing scores. Attrition at Success Academies, however, is twice that at New York City’s KIPP charters, another charter chain also known for strict discipline.
I encourage you to watch Merrow’s report and interview with Eva Moskowitz.
Last week Moskowitz and her supporters at the hedge-fund-backed Families for Excellent Schools staged an enormous pro-charter rally in Brooklyn. Moskowitz closed all Success Academy schools and asked all students, families, and teachers to attend. The rally followed the airing (for at least two weeks) by Families for Excellent Schools of a controversial television ad with a message Ms. Moskowitz herself articulated to CBS News: “We’ve got two separate school systems where if you’re white and affluent, you’re probably going to be OK. But if you’re a kid of color, you’re most likely trapped in a failing school at the age of 5 and then you’re going to go to a failed middle school and a failed high school.” The ads were condemned as racist and divisive by critics of Ms. Moskowitz.
Moskowitz has been pushing to get rent-free space in the public schools next year for seven or eight new Success Academy charters to be co-located. Mayor Bill deBlasio is quoted by CBS responding to Moskowitz’s inflamed rhetoric: “The vast majority of our kids, about 93-94 percent of our kids, are in traditional public schools… I am absolutely committed to reaching children in every neighborhood in a way that, bluntly, they haven’t been reached in the past.”
In a recent major address, DeBlasio committed to extending school improvement well beyond his vast expansion of pre-school over the past year. Well over 65,000 children in New York City are now enrolled in pre-K programs, including many low income children, even children living in shelters for homeless families. The district is also engaged in the ongoing transformation of New York City’s lowest-achieving schools into full-service, wraparound Community Schools. In his recent address deBlasio promised to ensure reading specialists across the city’s second grades and access to algebra for all students by ninth grade. He also promised that all of the small high schools created by Mayor Bloomberg will offer courses in advanced sciences and math. Many of these schools that have offered a more personalized education have not, until now, provided a curriculum with enough courses for students to earn a Regents diploma.
Here are previous posts about Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy charter schools in New York City.