Moskowitz’s Letter to Merrow: What She Reveals and Omits
On October 12, 2015, PBS NewsHour aired a segment entitled, “Is Kindergarten Too Young to Suspend a Student?” The piece features Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies of New York. Here is the opener:
At the largest charter school network in New York City, strict academic and behavior standards set the stage for learning. That doesn’t exclude children as young as 5 or 6 years old, who can be given out-of-school suspensions if they don’t follow the rules. Special correspondent for education John Merrow explores what that policy means for both the child and the school.
What follows from the link above is a transcript of the nine-minute news segment, accompanied by an audio file. I suggest listening to the audio file, for two reasons: 1) The transcript has some errors, and 2) the audio file captures Eva Moskowitz’s pauses and voice inflection, which helps add depth to her spoken words.
The PBS segment also includes a note added on October 20, 2015:
Editor’s note: Since this story aired, Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy, has raised concerns that during her interview she was only asked questions about suspension policy in general and was not given an opportunity to respond to Jamir Geidi and his mother. NewsHour regrets that decision. You can read Ms. Moskowitz’ letter here and NewsHour’s response here.
Moskowitz felt misrepresented in Merrow’s news story, and PBS NewsHour admitted it should have allowed Moskowitz to respond to the commentary of a former student, ten-year-old Jamir Geidi, and his mother, Fatima Geidi.
In her letter to Merrow, Moskowitz showed that in order to protect the reputation of Success Academies, she is willing to publicly release the specifics of a student’s disciplinary file without parental permission.
In the interview with Merrow, Fatima Geidi declines to publicize the specifics of her son’s disciplinary file from Success Academy Upper West. However, she did disclose that her son had “meltdowns,” “anxiety,” crying, and “outbursts.” Moskowitz chose to publicize details from (as noted in her letter), “two of these incidents.”
I noted three issues concerning the details Moskowitz chose to publicize.
First of all, I noticed that Moskowitz dropped her best-dressed, “scholar” terminology. In her unruffled moment, the child in question became a “student” among other “students”:
Rather than celebrating our academic success, Mr. Merrow claimed that it was due to counseling out students. …
Ms. Doe (Moskowitz’s code for Fatima Geidi) claimed that Success suspended her son simply for “losing his temper.” Her son said he received infractions for not having his “shirt tucked in” and for “wearing red shoes.” Mr. Merrow implied that the student had been suspended because “these infractions, if repeated, could trigger an out-of-school suspension.” This has nothing to do with reality. In fact, the conduct in which the student engaged included the following…
Obviously… such behaviors can cause injuries to both the student engaging in them as well as other students and teachers.
The second take-away from Moskowitz’s letter is that the second of two alleged incidents that she publicizes involves the student having a meltdown on a field trip.
Here is my question for Moskowitz: If the student had a history of (as his mother describes) “outbursts” and meltdowns” and he had already displayed such behavior at school, then why would Success Academies allow this student to participate in an off-campus excursion? Such seems to be a poor choice given that the SA teachers/administrators appear to have no specific plan in place for (note the pun) successfully diffusing the student’s outbursts. Thus, the faculty/administrative decision take the student into an unfamiliar setting without a proven behavior plan was foolish.
Third (and related to the second observation), in all of her efforts to publicize the student’s behavior file in an effort to exonerate her schools, Moskowitz includes absolutely no evidence that Success Academies attempted to discover what might trigger the student’s outbursts/meltdowns in order to formulate a plan of action to help the child learn to manage his own behavior, thereby promoting his own social health (and, by extension, the social health of his classmates and teachers).
In short, Moskowitz’s point in her letter to Merrow was to defend her schools, not to actually help the child. Following her offering details from two incidents, Moskowitz places blame back on student and his mother even as she offers nothing by way of trying to help student and mother to understand and manage the student’s behavior:
Incidents like this occurred on a regular basis. Frankly, it was only by applying a very lenient standard that this student was only suspended eight times over nearly three years in our schools. …
As you can see, the situation here was challenging not only because of the child but because of his mother as well. We often find that in the end, while we can succeed with almost any student, if the parent is not willing to work with us, that makes things much harder.
Again, Moskowitz offers no evidence of having tried to understand what might have prompted the student’s outbursts/meltdowns.
It could well be that “the very structured environment” and “very high academic and behavioral expectations” of which Success Academy Prospect Heights principal Monica Komery speaks might be too much for some students.
The farthest that Moskowitz will go is to “put up with” students like Jamir Geidi, even for years. Beyond repeated suspensions, Success Academies has nothing to offer the Jamir Geidis who enter SA’s “very structured” halls.
The “success” only comes if those pesky suspended-and-suspended-again students are molded into a Moskowitz-forged image.
If not, they must go.