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What It Takes to Get *Very High Test Scores*

June 23, 2016

I belong to the job review site, Glassdoor. On occasion, the site sends emails about possible information of interest based on my previous page views. On Jun 21, 2016, I received an email about recent salaries and other info on New-York-based Success Academies (SA).

I write often about SA, in part because SA does get very high test scores– extraordinary test scores, in fact— and high test scores are the single most important measure of success in corporate education reform. To the corporate reform mind, little else matters.

But what about the cost for SA’s very high test scores? For there is indeed a cost, and such cost is well represented in SA employee reviews on Glassdoor.

In adhering to Glassdoor’s terms of use, I will not directly post employee review information. However, what I will do is paraphrase and leave it up to interested readers to sign up for Glassdoor and read the SA reviews for themselves.

Regarding the cost of Moskowitz’s very high SA test scores: I first notice that her teachers and other employees are not paid much when one considers the cost of living in New York. Based on input from 41 SA “lead teachers,” the average salary is $63,000. This salary might initially sound good to someone in my circumstance (a teacher from Louisiana); I have 21 full time years in and hold a Ph.D., and my annual salary is $59,000 (the state stopped my annual step raises in 2012 when I was at 15 full time years, but I have received a little more money since then). However, when one converts that SA $63,000 to its LA cost-of-living equivalent, $63,000 per year to live in Manhattan, NY, is the same as making approximately $29,000 and living in St. Tammany Parish, LA (where I live). Thus, that SA $63,000 in Manhattan is as hard to live on as it would be for me to live on $29,000 in St. Tammany.

I live on $59,000 in St. Tammany, LA. In order to experience the same quality of living in Manhattan as I do in St. Tammany, an SA teacher would need to make around $138,000 per year.

For the same quality of living in Brooklyn, NY, the SA teacher would need to make $105,000. (Source: CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator.)

Two additional points about salary: First, not all SA teachers are “lead teachers.” Those classed as SA “associate teacher” report average salaries of $48,500. Their purchase power gets them as far in Manhattan as approximately $20,000 would get me in St. Tammany. Their purchase power in Brooklyn equals roughly $26,500 in St. Tammany, LA.

The second important piece is that SA teachers work much longer hours than I do. My contracted teaching day is 7 hours at school. (Note: Most teachers also bring work home or arrive early or stay late, but they are not required to do so by contract.) My week is 5 days; my year is 190 days. In contrast, SA teachers are literally driven until they burn out. Their average day is 12 hours at school. Moreover, they are expected to be on call after school hours. SA provides each teacher with a Macbook and iPhone, which a number list as a positive feature of the job. However, the purpose behind this seeming benevolence is to assure that SA teachers are equipped with the technological shackles necessary to have them at the school and parent beck and call at all hours.

Even though Moskowitz is shortening the SA school day beginning in 2016-17, a number of employees do not think it will be enough to alleviate their stress. They think the same toxic, work-till-you-drop atmosphere will prevail. (“Toxic” is a commonly used word in the Glassdoor SA reviews.)

One teacher noted that he/she has been at his/her school for four years– longer than any other employee except the principal.

Teachers do not necessarily wait until the school year ends to quit– or to be fired.

Others have written in their reviews for prospective teachers to think seriously before teaching at SA, or to run away as fast as they can, or to only take an SA teaching job if they are desperate.

According to a number of employees, SA cultivates an atmosphere of fear, guilt, and shame among its teachers.

There will be no personal life. None. This is a recurrent theme even in neutral and positive reviews.

And there will be no sick days. And only a single personal day. And no leaving early for personal commitments.

Also, there will likely be no lunch break, and no planning time that is not already filled with meetings/ professional development. If one wants free time, one must carve it out in the form of a bathroom break.

Apparently those teacher bathroom breaks are a slice of time when SA teachers quietly cry.

Students are discouraged from taking bathroom breaks. One employee notes that younger students’ using the bathroom on themselves is related to students not being allowed to use the bathroom when needed.

As for “feedback”: At SA, the term means incessant micromanagement. No behavior is too small to be overlooked by constant review. SA has a way that its schools are to be run; it doesn’t matter if one has no teaching experience; one can be a lead teacher with zero teaching background if one trains well in the SA teaching protocol. In fact, it might be better for one to not have a professional teaching background because that means one is less likely to have to defy one’s professional judgment/ sense of creative, independent professional personality in order to conform to prescribed, rigid, SA teacher demands.

Some SA teachers lament the rigid behavioral expectations foisted upon younger students, such has having to sit still with folded hands for hours.

Test prep begins in January and is the center of SA activity for half of the school year. Fine arts and other creative classes come to a halt. Some teachers become babysitters of students not involved in testing because test drill is what matters.

As for leadership, there is really only one leader, and that is Eva Moskowitz. Some SA employees note that their experience with fellow teachers is one of camaraderie; others note that there are cliques, and clique acceptance makes or breaks one’s experience. Still others note that even the SA leaders are young and lack experience and that there is a true leadership void at SA schools. Others have noted that SA is growing too fast for its leadership structure.

More than one review indicated that SA teachers are overwhelmingly white.

Others note the SA dependence on burning out and constantly replacing its teachers. One notes that as long as there are young people willing to apply to SA to teach (whether out of naiveté or desperation), SA will be able to continue its churn-out-and burn-out mode of operation.

But there are problems with this churn-burn model. First of all, Moskowitz wants to expand and brand the SA model. A model built upon intentionally working employees into the ground is not expandable. It will collapse, which leads to a second problem: As the school years pass, the number of SA teaching casualties increases– and so does the likelihood of powerful, first-hand, negative press associated with the dysfunctional inner workings of SA.

Moskowitz tries hard to shield SA daily reality from the public eye.

She wants the SA very high test scores to be all that matters.

We’ll see how long SA can carry it off. But its days are numbered. One cannot put human beings under such professional pressure and not have it somehow blow up– as in, say, a possible cheating scandal….

explosion

____________________________________________________________

Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

9 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Saving school math and commented:
    Parent – Shut up and do your work.

  2. I too have read the Glassdoor reviews of Success Academies. Thank you for capturing the spirit of the employees’ comments!

  3. Jack permalink

    On the subject of teacher’s quality of life and salary, Jon Stewart knocked it out of the park with a parody of MTV’s “Cribs”, the show that gives flashy video tours of the mansions of rockstars and rap stars. Instead, Stewart’s version of “Cribs” focuses on teachers’ “luxurious” lifestyles. (Stewart’s mother is a teacher, btw.)

    Before introducing the segment, Stewart shows a montage of Fox News anchors and guests going all Scott Walker, condemning the high salaries and cushy lifestyles of teachers, and how good teachers have it, and how much that’s costing the taxpayers … blah-blah-blah.

    This was way back during the early 2011 protests in Wisconsin, and the Daily Show’s “CRISIS IN DAIRYLAND.”

    “Cribs: Teacher Edition”, hosted by Samantha Bee (whose career has recently taken off) is in the latter part of this video at about 01:58

    http://www.cc.com/video-clips/y2rj2g/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-crisis-in-dairyland—apocalypse-cow

    That montage of Fox News blathering about how well off teachers are is just breathtaking. “How can they lie like this with a straight face?” is all I can think while watching this. The “Cribs” segment is a spot-on parody of the real “Cribs” — the editing, slow motions, handheld shots, musical score… it’s brilliant.

  4. Jack permalink

    A few years ago, Eva had to endure a mid-year exodus of angry, fed up teachers — angry and fed up for all the reasons listed above. In a fit of impotent rage, she wrote a blistering letter in the Success Academy newsletter, addressed to the ones who remained. (You would think that a better strategy would have been to show gratitude to those who did NOT leave, but hey, what do I know?)

    http://www.wnyc.org/story/302768-high-teacher-turnover-at-a-success-network-school/

    You’d think this would have influenced Eva to change her Eva ways, but no dice. To her, teachers are ultimately like light bulbs — burn ’em out, then replace them … REPEAT and REPEAT AGAIN.

    ———————————
    “More than a third of the staff members at a Harlem charter school run by the Success Charter Network have left the school within the last several months, challenging an organization that prides itself on the training and support it offers its teachers.

    “The unusually high turnover at Harlem Success Academy 3 and the network-wide issue of teachers quitting mid-year led the founder and chief executive of the Success Charter Network, Eva S. Moskowitz, to express concern in an October newsletter.

    ” ‘This is not a “gig” ‘ she wrote, informing staff members that by breaking their commitment to the schools and families midyear, they were acting unethically.”

    • Donna permalink

      Clearly, she is insane.

      • Jack permalink

        Oh, it gets better, Donna.

        I just caught this in the New York Times:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/23/nyregion/late-deal-in-albany-could-allow-charter-schools-to-hire-more-uncertified-teachers.html?_r=0

        Previously, New York State law allowed
        a maximum of 15 uncertified teachers were
        allowed to staff a charter school. Even those who
        are allowed to teach without certification are only
        allowed to do so for just one year. If not certified
        after that one year, they cannot remain on staff.

        If I’m reading this right, new laws pushed by
        Eva and her ally “Families for Excellent Schools”
        are now being passed. These laws would mean
        that there’s no longer any such 15-teacher limit
        on the number of uncertified teachers working
        at one of Eva’s schools. 100% of the staff
        can be be inexperienced amateurs.

        The law also extends that 1-year-to-get-certified-or-leave
        rule to 3 years. Since Eva’s business plan is
        to churn and burn teachers in under three years,
        this suits her just fine.

        ————————————————-
        NY TIMES: (CAPS mine)

        “Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school advocacy group that is closely tied to Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy charter school network, sent an email to the leaders of several charter networks on Tuesday calling the provisions “A MASSIVE VICTORY.” In particular, it said in the email, the SUNY-related bit of legislation meant that SUNY would be able to waive current requirements that limit the number of uncertified teachers that charter schools can employ.

        “In fact, the Senate had pushed for a provision that would have done that directly, by giving teachers at charter schools three years to become certified, but the Assembly, which is controlled by the Democrats, rejected it. After that explicit provision on teacher certification was taken out, the broader language appeared.

        “The three-year allowance had been a top priority for Ms. Moskowitz, who faces difficulty hiring enough teachers as she rapidly expands the number of Success Academy schools. Currently, under the state’s charter school law, a charter school cannot have more than 15 uncertified teachers. Success hires mostly young teachers. Many of them are uncertified when they begin and attend a master’s program managed by Success while they are teaching.

        “Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Success Academy, expressed support for the idea of giving charters FLEXIBILITY on the certification rules.

        ” ‘To continue to deliver the strongest academic results for children, as well as exceptional chess, debate and art programs, schools must hire the most highly qualified teachers AVAILABLE and give them extensive training and support,’ he said in a statement.”
        ————————

        That last quote is truly Orwellian.

        So I guess, in Eva’s mind, uncertified amateurs with ZERO training or experience in the classroom do indeed qualify as being “the most highly qualified teachers AVAILABLE.”

        By that logic, that means there’s no real qualifications whatsoever.

        For example … if, let’s say, there were no trained or experienced police officers willing to police a certain city, then that would make those folks with ZERO experience in policing, but willing to put on a badge and carry a gun “the most highly qualified (pseudo-) police AVAILABLE” to be hired.

        Again, the key word being “AVAILABLE”, I presume.

        When there aren’t enough certified teachers — or teachers on their way to certification — available or willing (due Eva’s schools’ bad rep) to staff Eva’s schools, then the term “available” is just Eva-speak for those uncertified wanna-be teachers with ZERO training or experience in the classroom, the ones who desperately need a job… ANY job, and have no other options.

        Hiring them in massive numbers is all about providing needed “FLEXIBILITY.”

        Of course, Success Academy will compensate for these amateur teachers’ deficiencies by “giving them extensive training and support.”

        Certain parents are not going to be happy about this. While this might fly under the radar or be okay with low-income, non-Enghish-speaking parents in neighborhoods like Harlem, I imagine this might be problematic in the more upscale neighborhoods like Cobble Hill where Success Academy has more recently expanded in the last couple of years.

        “Oh no. My kid better not be taught by one of those uncertified teachers I just read about in The Times. That me fly in a Harlem Success Academy, but it’s NOT gonna happen here, not to MY kid!”

        I can envision them demanding to know the qualifications of their kids’ teachers.

  5. Jack permalink

    One more thing: I actually did do a cut-‘n-paste of employees’ reviews of Success Academy that were posted on Glassdoor. For anyone who’s interested in reading the actual quotes, CLICK HERE:

    http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2014/08/citizen-jacks-compendium-of-teacher.html

    Eva’s only response to this was to order her staff to flood Glassdoor with positive reviews. Alas, these attempted gush-fests sounded fairly unconvincing and boilerplate… with multiple reviews featuring the same verbatim quotes that those teachers were given to post by Eva. “C’mon gals, don’t you know you’re supposed to change the wording a little? What’s up with that?”

    Sad.

    It used to be that Eva was able to scare former employees into silence — and she still does, as with the New York Times coverage last winter and spring, several former employees critical of Success Academy would not give their names, fearing a lawsuit from Eva’s legal Terminators.

    However — and this is new — there were several who DID bravely risk Eva’s wrath, and allow their names to be used in the N.Y. Times articles. Most prominent was Jessica Reid-Sliwerski — a former administrator and show pony of sorts for SA who was trotted out for various press events, books, documentaries, etc. Reid-Sliwerski, a recent new mother and cancer survivor, has turned on Eva with a vengeance. She provided the most damning quotes, insisting that the recent scandals and incidents were not “anomalies” in an otherwise sound system, but in fact existed system-wide, and derived from Eva herself.

  6. Donna permalink

    I’ve written this before, perhaps on the Ravitch blog – Moskowitz can’t live forever. Then what? What happens when the patron St. Eva dies? Does the house of cards fall down upon itself? Is there someone equally or more evil ready to take her place? I love to hear her call Evil Moskowitless, because it fits so well. I’m sure she would never have allowed her family members to be tortured by a school such as that which she runs. Here is the rub tho – no one is making anyone send their children to her torture chamber. For all the bad publicity lately, and damage control she has done and also those stories she has managed to keep out of the public eye, parents continue to send their precious little ones into the lion’s den, and the government keeps opening the taxpayers’ wallets to keep the cash flowing, as do her billionaire donors.

    It gets to the point where one can’t tell where villanthropy ends and taxpayer dollars begin. As to closing the schools for her political rallies for more space, seats, schools – did my money pay for that through the federal government? Did the taxpayers of NY pay for that? Was it a billionaire?

    Who pays for her $30 million office lease on Wall Street? Who pays her outrageous salary? Me? You? The government? The taxpayers? Her donors?

    She never seems to have enough cash, space, seats, schools.

    Still, someday, that greedy turd is gonna die……and what becomes of her scholars then?

  7. The teacher says she/he’s been there for four years….”longer than any other” employee other than the principal. And this is our future? Churn and burn is right.

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