Is NYC’s Success Academy Getting a Raw Deal?

Once again, disturbing practices at NYC’s Success Academy Charter Management Organization have surfaced.  This time it’s a teacher dressing down a first grader, it’s tough to watch, but here’s the video.  Earlier this year the CMO was under scrutiny for its so-called “Got to go“ list.

To some Success is getting undue scrutiny, and to others it’s a matter of chickens coming home to roost, for me its somewhere in between.

I was there when Success was birthed (well during its terrible twos), I visited Success 1 as the newly minted CEO of the NYC Charter Center (a meeting where the CEO, Eva Moskowitz told me within the first 2 minutes that the organization I ran was a “waste of 41 fucking million dollars” and that the money should go straight to schools, to which I laughed genuinely, and said something to the effect that it was my first day).

Who knows, maybe she was right.

The story is not only funny, but important, because Success is inevitably linked to its founder, former city councilwoman, Eva Moskowitz.  And her outsized personality has moved the charter agenda forward (for some schools), but also garnered immense push back.  Some is deserved and some undeserved.

And no, the Borg is not controlling me.  These are my words, no gun is to my head.

I also don’t want to excuse these very real issues.  I have a host of substantive critiques of Success and some real substantive compliments.  But for some reason, there has always been something extra about the vitriol that Eva has encountered.

When I moved to NY, I heard her referred to with some rhyming names (use your imagination it’s not hard) that had a gendered character to them by mostly, if not exclusively, men (Mosko….).  Many of whom worked with or beside Success Academies, so these were her friends.  Can only imagine what her enemies would say.

She did charge hard, but I wonder whether the same type of invectives she got would be hurled at a man in the same position, with the same venom.  Or whether a man would have to charge as hard to be effective.  Dunno.

I have met parents on both sides of the debate—those who love the experiences their kids get at Success, who watched children prosper in ways that seemed unlikely at other non-selective public schools, and those parents whose kids were not a “fit”.

The video in this case was a moment in time, of a very large network of schools, and I would not want to walk this teacher off the plank, or judge and condemn the network based on this.  And unfortunately, a lot of schools, if taped could find similar episodes, which does not make it right.  But we should not be lodged in some Casablanca moment (gambling at the casino—I am shocked, some teachers at some times treat our kids with little concern or respect-unbelievable).  All too commonly, adults in schools do debase students, particularly powerless ones.

So is Success, and Eva, getting a raw deal?  Yeah I actually think so.  Not because they are blameless or that the actions are excusable, but because there are a host of other schools, where kids are treated equally or worse when the door closes, and there is no counterbalancing academic program.  And in the olympics of maltreatment I guess that’s worse.

And that is sad.  That for mostly poor Black and Brown folks, that those are the choices we have, and that is what is tolerated.

And that is on us for not creating better choices to begin with.

 

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