What It Takes to Get *Very High Test Scores*
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.
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….
Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):