Success Academy must be about more than test scores; the school’s parents say it is
February 13, 2016
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About a week ago I heard about a video showing a white teacher at Success Academy berating a black child. Success and its leader, Eva Moskowitz, are the constant target for selective outrage by people who think her high test scores with low income students is proving too much of a threat for the traditional public schools.

Another day, another attack on that school.

Then I saw the video. I won’t tell you what I think about it, I’ll tell you what I feel. Politely put: bitter, epic, biblical enmity.

Please watch it (courtesy of Kate Taylor and the New York Times) for yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

In the video a black girl sits cross-legged with her hands in her lap. Her teacher, Charlotte Dial, stares at her intensely. The girl is struggling unsuccessfully to get the right answer to a problem. Abruptly, Dial loses patience and tears the girl’s worksheets into shreds, then yells “go to the ‘calm down’ chair and sit.”

Without fuss the girl complies. She ends up sitting away from her peers. Separated. Humiliated. Hurt.

“There is nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” Dial barks.

She then demands the other students help her discover the answers that the girl should have known, basically soliciting their participation in the girl’s shaming.

As a parent I can tell you if this video surfaced with one of my kids being the one sitting in the “calm down chair” there would be many varieties of hell to pay.

This video has sparked a volcano of oxidizing bad blood in Moskowitz’ Twitter feed.  Much of  it comes from people who share my reaction.

At the same time, some of the backlash is suspect.

Success has ceased in being just a school and has become a political landmine in New York’s education wars. They are arguably the most accomplished school district in the United States when it comes to educating marginalized kids. That draws adoration from school reformers eager to prove children from all backgrounds can achieve academically if schools are engineered to make it so.

It also draws bitter contempt from people deeply invested in traditional schools where kids are not thriving.

Given the messy debate I look to parents for guidance. In the video below a group of parents talk about their schools, and the issue with Charlotte Dial.

These parents say it was a “mistake” for Dial to rip up the child’s worksheet, but they say that one moment in time doesn’t tell the full story of what happens at Success.

One of them is a veteran with the Department of Education, and the son of a retired New York City school teacher. He says he has seen teacher frustration like Dial’s play out daily in many schools, but it isn’t characteristic of his school.

“Our teachers are extremely loving and supportive and caring, and I’ve been in dozens, if not hundreds, of schools…and no other school I’ve been in, public or private, is there as much warmth and nurturing and engagement with the students as there is here,” he says.

That assessment couldn’t be more different from the growing narrative of Success as an overly strict testing mill that debases black children. The phrase “child abuse” is making an appearance in social media even among people living on school reform money. Privately there are murmurs about a “culture” problem, and whispers that Moskowitz is too smug when addressing high profile attacks on her schools.

It’s difficult to reconcile those critiques with the fact that Success schools are incredibly popular with parents of different stripes (so much so that they received over 14,000 applications for less than 3,000 seats).

It’s hard to ignore the fact that thousands of parents disagree with the what they see as attacks on their schools. They appreciate the order, culture, and results Success provides their children.

Are they wrong? Are they ignorant and in need of saving?

Be careful how you answer those questions. The insinuation that they are willingly signing their children up for child abuse has implications, especially when made by outsiders who don’t have their lived experience or local context.

You can’t be for parent power only when parents agree with you and make the choices you think are best for them.

People like Shea Reeder demand respect. She is not only a Success principal in the Bronx, but also a Success parent, entrusting her own child to the schools that employ her.

Like the other parents she doesn’t condone Dial’s behavior, but she says “I feel confident each and every day when I send my two children to school that they are going to an environment where they are respected by all adults, they are safe, the are loved by every single person they come into contact with.”

Another parent, Latasha Shannon, agrees. She says “as a parent, I do not condone what was shown on the video, but that’s not the Success Academy I send my daughters to everyday.”

“I’m not some poor uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what’s available in New York city schools. I chose Success. I made that choice because it’s the best choice for my daughters.”

When it comes to the disciplined culture of Success, Shannon is resolute.

“People who don’t like it, they don’t have to send their children there.”

17 Comments

  1. KD

    So drive out students with disability, kids who have difficulty learning in traditional ways. Wow. And a black woman encouraging discrimination. Powerful message in her words. Horrifyingly ignorant.

    Reply
    • Ashley

      We teach our children not to bullly and treat all with respect regardless of color or socioeconomic status.. Success is the epitome of a bully.and how any respectable parent could possibly condone the activities and teaching styles of the “school” ( and I use that term very loosely) is beyond me.

      Reply
      • Citizen Stewart

        You should search yourself for an answer to what are the 11,000 parents seeing differently than you.

        Reply
    • Citizen Stewart

      Overblown rhetoric. Stop ignoring the fact that the schools are mostly low-income kids, and it is doing better than other schools.

      Reply
  2. David Triche

    Listen here, this is a classic no excuses MO. Any time there is a schools the has unreal results you can bet they are selecting students initially and trying to weed out the ones that hurt test scores as time goes on. Of course the parents of stellar, compliant students will be supportive of the school. And they deserve a good and I have no problem with that. What i do have a problem with using there success to suggest regular public schools aren’t doing a good job. Here Eva is creaming students and leaving the most challenging and troubled students for regular schools. Of course she will look successful. Initially, KIPP schools got dramatic results for the same reasons. But now, as they expand and accept a broader base of students their scores have leveled off. There is no excuse for what Ms. Dial did. The most important thing you can do is let kids know you care. Success is clearly more concerned with test scores and Eva’s ego than children. As a teacher the biggest reward I ever get is when a former student tells me they appreciated and learned from me after they have become adults. The first year I taught, 1991 I had a fifth grade class that I thought I failed. I knew many were troubled. One had a drug problem and was living on the street and another is doing 20 to life for attempted murder. However, just last week a girl now a woman in that class friended me on Facebook. She was real bright and is doing well has a job an kids. She started telling me about some of the other students and some of them friended me. One is a successful rapper called Hardhead part of Kidinks Batgang Crew. At any rate, when all is said and done, letting kids know your care and respect them is more important than test scores. Now that i teach in a prison I often ask my students about their school experiences. Many didn’t make it past the 8th grade. Many of them talk about teachers like Dial who thought they had no potential and treated them as such. Some have even told me that when they were confronted with such teachers they internalized how the teacher felt about them and decided they would just be as bad as they could. I spend a great deal of time telling my inmate students that they are smarter than they think. I get through to a few. One is almost finished with his AA degree with a 4.0 and now i am encouraging him to try to crowd source the money to finish his BA. Fuck the test scores. Fuck Ms. Dial and Eva. We need to make kids feel smart and completed. Rich people don’t send their kids to no excuses schools like hers.

    Reply
    • Citizen Stewart

      There is no excuse for what this teacher did. And, the school is one of the best in the nation for low income kids of color. Period.

      Reply
      • David Triche

        Best by what measure? Demoralizing children?

        Reply
  3. David Triche

    Stew, check out this book. i just visited with Ms. Jones-Walker. I think she gets it right. Identity Work in the Classroom: Successful Learning in Urban Schools
    by Cheryl Jones-Walker
    Eva, TFAers and the other reformers are more missionaries in Africa than educators genuinely interested in the community

    Reply
    • Citizen Stewart

      Total nonsense. I’m not here for the folks trying to trap our kids into failing schools so that middle class people can benefit from a unionist educational monopoly while poor kids can’t read or write.

      Reply
      • David Triche

        Cliches and generalizations. Now you are really talking nonsense.

        Reply
    • Citizen Stewart

      Nah. I’m good.

      Reply
      • David Triche

        Stew you have your head in the sand.

        Reply
  4. Public school teacher

    This is an interesting piece of deflection. It’s not really a new idea to suggest that those upset by charter school disciplinary procedures are elitists unable to accept the decisions, hopes, and dreams of the parents whose children attend those schools. Of course, the video is still there. The inexcusable anger is still there.

    A more interesting and useful question might be why wealthy white folks are so willing to champion (and fund) schools like Success Academy for low-income children of color, but not their own children.

    It might also be worth finding out what traditional public schools with credentialed teachers who have training in cultural competency and classroom management could do with the wealth of resources (and tiny class size!) we see in the video. Not to mention what they could do with an assistant teacher with whom to collaborate (since Ms. Dial obviously failed to collaborate and reflect with hers).

    I also wonder how humiliating a child for failing to complete a math exercise as instructed serves the Common Core math standard’s goals of strong problem-solving skills, including the ability to collaborate with peers, model a variety of strategies, and – critically – have the freedom to make mistakes.

    I am an award-winning primary grade teacher with well over a decade’s experience working in high-needs classrooms. Sometimes, my lessons fail. Students don’t learn what I set out for them to learn. Or they learn how to complete the exercise, but in a superficial way that provides them with correct answers they can’t explain or model. This is not their failure; it’s mine. I need to reflect upon my teaching and find a better way to help students master the content.

    What I see in Ms. Dial’s video is anger and arrogance. The child’s confusion causes her teacher to lash out at the child. But Ms. Dial is responsible for that child’s learning, too. Rather than accept the possibility that her instruction was wanting, she excludes the student. This is an enormous failures of practice.

    Reply
  5. charlie221

    The teacher in the original video is a trainer of other teachers! This was not an isolated incident. Is she TFA? TFA’s are taught to drill, drill, drill to raise test scores, but not much else. There’s so much more to true learning than just scoring high on a test! How much can TFA’s really learn about teaching, child development, classroom management, and best practice methods in 5 weeks? Abuse, shaming, humiliation, and fear are a hallmark of “no excuses” schools like SA. If parents only knew! It looks good from the outside, but at what cost to a child’s psyche? Sorry, but this article is purely an apologist piece.

    Reply
    • Citizen Stewart

      Nah. TFA teachers learn a variety of things and teach in a variety of ways. Most recently they have been spending a lot of time on critical pedagogy. But, there will always be union-driven pushback on anything that disrupts the gravy train.

      Reply
  6. Tarjinder Gill

    Has anyone who has criticised Ms Dial actually listened to the parents? Have they actually heard the testimony of those who have sent their children into her class day after day, week after week, month after month? Have they bothered to listen to the fact that children were crying because they wouldn’t have her again? Or the support she gives to parents? Or the way that the parents were able to talk about it in a balanced way. Did they support her ripping up the paper? No, Did they see that as an act of frustration that occurred? Yes. Did they understand why that might happen? Yes because children can be testing. And they are prepared to do the one thing that no one criticising Ms Dial above has done, which is to question why the teacher who filmed this in secret acted the way she did and how that was to the benefit of the child. Because guess what – this is their children it affects and they want to know what the adults are doing in that classroom is to benefit their children not for some publicity. Even if this teacher had done this a few times in a row – as a member of staff who is respected so highly, would one not wonder if she is ill, stressed, has had a life event which is troubling her? The nitpicking nonsense I have read above is not worth the screen space it is taking up. Let’s hear one of you actually respond to the points made by the parents in that video, who, unlike that teacher who videoed the incident, can see the impact positive or negative on their children both short and long term.

    Reply

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  1. Finally, unions and reformers might agree on criteria for school closures – Citizen Ed - […] a disturbing incident captured on viral video showing a Success Academy teacher yelling at a student converted him into a proponent…

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