Earlier this year I was a bystander to a conversation amongst black educators and parents about Success Academy, Eva Moskowitz, charter schools. One comment caught my attention. Malene Lawrence, a black parent and educator who has seen public, private, and charter school classrooms, offered some insight into the “hype” about Success. Her words are below, uncut.
As a proud NYC educator who has taught in both traditional public elementary schools, public charters and private schools, I wanted to know (both as a parent & as an educator) what the “hype” was all about and have visited several Success Academy campuses (Elementary Middle Schools – in the “slowly re-gentrified hoods of BedStuy, Harlem” as well as in the “yuppie hoods of Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and can very much understand why they have wait lists by the thousands of families of ALL races and socio-economic levels, not just the “typical” Black and Latino families that are often attracted by the charter schools. There are MANY factors that one must consider when trying to understand the “Eva Moskowitz Success Academy phenomena.”
1. In NYC, as with most urban cities, parents can only enroll their children in the “zone/neighborhood school” where they live – which sadly limits or eliminates their options for the only school(s) available which may have been failing for decades and have even become SURR schools.
2. Traditional public schools have no real bargaining power to attract (and retain) the brightest & the best teachers from top colleges & universities like the high performing charter schools do. Whether you agree or disagree (pro or anti-union) traditional public schools also have a more difficult time dismissing teachers who may either be failing the students, not a good school culture fit, or may not be appropriate or experienced enough for the students with which the school serves. Which has been proven by the many bad teachers who have been sheltered in the “NYCDOE’s Rubber Room” still getting pay & benefits when they should have been fired. While I am not necessarily a proponent of cut & dry “at-will employment,” I do believe good teachers deserve support & job security when warranted.
3. If you have ever taught for a traditional public school system like the NYCDOE or BOE, then you know that professional development is “interesting” to say the least. High performing charter schools (especially those in a network of schools) spend a lot of time & money on professional development and are often more reflective of their practices (best or growing practices) because they want to stay high performing and make sure their staff gets the development needed to perform. In my 10+ years of experience in the NYCDOE I can sadly say that the professional development experiences seemed very “piece meal, random, and not necessarily in the best or developmental interests of what my students or I needed at the time.” Again, that’s only my experience over time; professional development also wasn’t reflective looking at trends within the District or Region – that kind of dates my experience, and didn’t really allow for cross-collaboration with other teachers in your discipline or on your grade.
4. While many may knock the “no excuses, no nonsense” disciplinary measures that Success Academy (and some other charter schools) may subscribe to, as an educator I often felt that my hands were tied when it came to having students in my class who were willfully disrespectful & consistently disrupted instruction. Please don’t confuse that with students who have learning differences or special needs. Learning should be sacred so why should any child have the right to consistently prevent themselves or others from learning. It may also be on a case by case, school by school instance, however it has always been difficult, if not impossible to get parents to understand their role in the education of their child and ensuring the appropriate behaviors needed for the learning environment. When parents enroll in a charter school, they are choosing this school for their child (hopefully after making sure it’s the best fit for their child – sadly, often times not), but they are also electing to abide by the academic & behavioral expectations of the school … Or else. While some may say that gives the school the privilege of weeding out students – it also gives the parent the power to advocate for & provide support for their child to ensure that they (the child/parent) do what’s needed to stay in this school, if it’s the right school for their child.
I could go on about why some parents may choose to send their children to Success Academy (and/or other charter schools) and why so many teachers may seek out these types of school for employment – but the responsibility goes on the parent to make sure they research a school & not just look at the “bells and whistles” to see if it’s the right school for their child. Parents & children deserve options, especially if they’re not afforded the opportunity to just up and move to let’s say the Upper West Side of Manhattan or to Park Slope just so their child can live in the “right zone” for the best school.
I implore every parent & educator to visit a Success Academy school during an Open House (visit one in a predominately Black Neighborhood and also one in a predominately White neighborhood), and have an open but critical mind and do a comparison of what you see that works for or benefits students (or for your child) and what works against them whether academically, emotionally, culturally.
Keep in mind though not only the demographic being served (culturally, racially & academically) when thinking about Success Academy’s systems & ways of doing things – but also think about what is it that’s making & keeping this network of schools so successful and high performing. After visiting, ask yourself or others in education, why traditional public schools have not themselves looked at the Success Academy model and replicated some of the best practices that make them successful. I mean after all, if I come over to your home for dinner, and your Mac & Cheese is better than mine and everyone is asking for 2nd’s or 3rd’s, I will definitely be asking you for the recipe or at least thinking about how I can improve my recipe to ensure that my children continue to want their mom’s Mac & Cheese and not someone else’s.
For the record, I don’t work for Success Academies (now or ever) so I don’t want anyone to think I’m their educational cheerleader. After reading many articles for and against them, I wanted to “see for myself” and better understand why so many people were either die-hard proponents or fired up and outraged – as this charter movement has done to many people in big urban cities.
I do now understand why if I still lived in NYC would have wanted my younger son to attend the Success Academy nearest our former home, as the neighborhood public school we were zoned for wasn’t the best fit for him (nor my older son) – mind you, we lived in one the better neighborhoods in Brooklyn and our zone school was actually listed in the NY Times Best Seller “NYC Top Elementary Schools.”
Malene refined her comments into a blog post that was published at Education Post.