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Success Academy Parent: SA “Discriminatory, Hurts Public Schools”

July 3, 2020

On July 02, 2020, I received an email from a Success Academy parent asking “to submit an anonymous (to avoid retaliation) letter about our firsthand experience,” with the goal to “encourage parents and inspire change one day” at Eva Moskowitz’s New York-based Success Academy charter school network.

The parent added, “I did a lot of writing to officials seeking help in confronting Success Academy, but there is no change, and everybody is scared of the CEO (Moskowitz) and her corrupt political connections.”

I responded to this parent and asked to privately view documentation so that I could verify that the person was indeed the parent of a Success Academy student. The parent complied with my request by sending me his/her child’s SA acceptance letter, which satisfied my need for verification.

And so, in order to provide this parent with a voice and to shed light upon Success Academy in a public space, I offer my readers the following narrative of the experience a Success Academy parent who has two children enrolled in Moskowitz’s charter schools network. (I added some links.)

Success Academy’s Secret to “Success” is Discriminatory, Hurts Public Schools

 

NYC’s top Charter School Success Academy is known for students with high scores, but it appears more and more insiders are coming out to expose its “abusive practices,” according to its ex-Spokesperson Liz Baker. Including the Charter School’s horrendous reputation against students with disabilities, its growing troubles actually might be contributing to wider problems for New York City’s massive public school system.

Baker resigned from the school citing not only “systemic abuse of students, parents, and employees,” but also racism. Critics might not be surprised as its millionaire CEO Eva Moskowitz is a big favorite of President Donald J Trump, even once considered to be Trump’s Education Secretary.   “As the organization’s press associate, I no longer wish to defend Success Academy in response to any media inquiries,” she continued in her resignation letter. Her damning complaints against Success Academy are mostly general, but my family’s firsthand experience with two kids in the charter school can give some details.

With one child in Kindergarten and another in second grade at Success Academy, the 2019/2020 school year has been a nightmare. When my now second-grader son was at SA last year, the amount of early dismissals and/or suspensions nearly cost me my job. He was suspended for minor infractions like violating dress code and “excessive inattentiveness.” Ironically, I enrolled him in this school lottery hoping to avoid what I feared would be bullying by public school students, but my son ended up being bullied by Success Academy’s staff. Instead of teachers, it seemed like the administrators were more hands-on in dictating disciplinary actions by pushing the teachers to punish students (“scholars”). This indicated that the abusive structure in SA flows more top-down than is usually the case in other schools with issues.

Despite all the school’s problems and inconveniences to my job, I still kept my son in Success Academy as he got better grades, even though the school was encouraging us to withdraw. “Even if he steps up to 2nd grade, we might demote him back to 1st grade next fall,” the Assistant Principal once told me in 2019, with an angry face.

That was when all my fears about the “bad public schools,” hit me. But I was also conflicted about what role Success Academy was playing in keeping those bad public schools “bad.” After all, I found out that around 10% of my son’s 1st grade class in 2019 had already withdrawn out of Success Academy before Spring; and I am sure such withdrawals put more burden on public schools.

If Success Academy is even pushing out my son, who ended up with a decent (average) grade in his classroom, I wondered what kind of students are being promoted every year with no administrative harassment (push to withdraw).

It seems Success Academy is simply weeding out the average students and keeping the best of the best, year after year. By the time the student population approaches 3rd of 4th grade, it appears Success Academy has already filtered the pool to keep only the “cream of the crop.”

Nonetheless, I resisted their abuse last year and kept my son there (now finishing 2nd grade) and then I enrolled my daughter in their Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) kindergarten program. She has mild delays and was receiving special education services.

The first week of fall 2019, Success Academy told me my daughter should withdraw and go to a 12:1:1 class in public school.

By then I already knew how fear-mongering they are so I ignored them, especially since her teachers loved my daughter’s behavior.

As usual, the administrator called me at the end of the first month and demanded we start a re-evaluation process. I said no because several disability advocates told me that re-evaluation of ICT students almost always translates into removal from Success Academy, because local Committees on Special Education (CSEs) highly depend on the Charter School’s input on the children being evaluated. Since Success Academy administrators already displayed their biased intention to remove my daughter early in September, we decided not to let the school benefit out of this procedural “conflict of interest.” So we rejected the re-evaluation.

During this nightmare situation with my daughter’s case, I was encouraged that my son was getting suspended less frequently than the last school year. At one period, I warned the school principal that I will file a formal complaint and hire an attorney to challenge the basis of each unnecessary suspension, so they backed off temporarily. All this time, the local CSE was not much help, at times the CSE even discouraged us to resist the abuses, by saying that Success Academy is too powerful.

Later on, the school switched their focus from suspensions to threatening to hold back both of my kids. The administrators began sending letters– at the end of January– warning that both of my children would likely be held back. I could not believe that Success Academy, a school flaunting its formula for success, would give up on its students before the 2nd semester. They continued using many tactics to push us to withdraw, despite both of my kids scoring near-average grades on multiple assessments.

When the Coronavirus Pandemic spread, we got more of a firsthand account of how the Success Academy system works. Before remote learning kicked off, the CEO, Eva Moskowitz, sent all students several self-glorifying mass emails, claiming that she was more clever than Mayor Bill De Blasio, because she closed down Success Academy campuses before NYC public schools did. In reality, the Mayor was already telling news media about plans to close public schools. But Success Academy beat him to it by a couple of days, because Eva Moskowitz does not have to deal with a bureaucratic procedure like Mayors of big cities do.

The CEO also boasted about Success Academy’s exceptionalism during remote learning. However, there were massive delays on starting distance learning and delivering equipment to students, even as several public schools in Westchester delivered devices relatively quick.

When remote-learning finally began, Success Academy was heavy on quantity but failed on quality. Some of its underpaid teaching staff did not even have proper devices at home the first few weeks during the Pandemic. In other cases, a couple of my kids’ teachers had poor internet connection that needed an upgrade so they would frequently disconnect from the meeting apps as we (parents/students) are left wondering alone.

Eventually, when the teachers catch up, they have to “teach” in a rush because Success Academy had the daily schedule packed with too many subjects and activities.

In reality, there was no teaching involved, and even the teachers admitted to us (parents) that it is mostly “reviewing.” The school administrators seemed like they wanted to just check off a long list of daily activities scheduled, perhaps for media consumption or for a naive outside observer. Even for my kindergarten daughter, the only time between March-June, that the ICT teachers had a one-on-one session with her was during examinations.

It seemed Success Academy’s priorities always revolve around screening and scores; not teaching.

Watching the teachers online daily has also provided us with more specific details about how other parents react to the school’s abusive policy as the staff was forced to admit that several students had already withdrawn in February or March, particularly students with a disability.

One of the most disturbing parts of the remote-learning was during those rare moments of interaction (less than 20 minutes total per a day) between the whole class and teachers.

“Class participation” was effectively teachers calling on and talking with the top students only.

After several weeks, it became clear that the teachers select the 7 or 8 students who are smart enough to answer the toughest academic questions during “class participation.” In case after case, the teachers went to the same 7 or 8 kids out of dozens of students, effectively robbing the majority of the class from equal education, or learning through mistakes.

For critics of Success Academy, this tactic might not be surprising since the school was already accused of maximizing the potential of the few students who are already at the top their class. But the level of disregard the staff showed to the “average” and “below average” students was alarming, bordering on discriminatory.

It was almost like the majority of students don’t even exist in their eyes.

It is mind-boggling that the school employs such tactics against young children in Kindergarten and second grade. If this is how the “average” students are treated in their school buildings, Success Academy is essentially starting the natural selection process from Kindergarten. Before these kids even start learning, they are being asked to perform. This makes Success Academy no different than the most selective prestige-seeking universities in the United States. While such approach might benefit the few students who are born smarter, starting the selection process this early in childhood should worry policy-makers, advocates and parents.

When it comes to racial representation, Success Academy is diverse at face value, even though students of Africans appear to be disproportionately more represented than students of native African Americans. Since New York has one of the largest African American populations, it is up to policy-makers to investigate this inner-racial discrepancy. It is also vital to analyze its impact on enabling Success Academy to perpetuate its unethical practices, because African American parents are more likely to be outspoken and/or know their rights compared to new African immigrant parents.

Generally, Success Academy is still racially diverse, but policy-makers must not settle on that aspect because the school is virtually promoting only the smartest students to next grades and dumping the average & below average students into NYC public schools.

This is not teaching.  There is not much learning or teaching, but only grading.

If more parents with disabilities refuse to be bullied by Success Academy, the school might close down more of its ICT program. And since some of these underperforming students are students with disabilities and with IEPs, at a minimum, the City has an obligation and the authority to intervene against systematic discrimination of special education students at Success Academy.

eva moskowitz

 Eva Moskowitz

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6 Comments
  1. annat permalink

    It made me so sad and angry to read this. I appreciate this parent coming forward to tell her story and I feel compassion for her and her children. But it’s just more documentation of what we already know about SA and many other charter schools. The question is what action to take. Many parents like the author want “policy change,” etc. This is pointless because charter schools are not what they were intended to be in the first place- potential models of successful innovative practices for public schools to adopt. The original objective was for everyone to benefit, not the chosen few. Most parents today are not aware of this because they have been led to believe that it is about “choice.” Vulture capitalists saw an opportunity, created the false narrative about failing public schools and told parents they could have a better “choice.” They highjacked the plot and lie to parents by telling them they are “public” schools. Parents need to be educated about this and then make a fully-informed “choice” which would hopefully be to choose public schools over charters. They need to understand that charters are not good for children, teachers or the community. The only winners are the ones at the top raking in their child’s “backpack full of cash.” The goal now should be to eradicate charter schools because we do not need them. We need to focus our resources on fully-funded, excellent public schools for all children. Charter schools are siphoning off money from public school tax dollars and this needs to stop completely. I would urge the author to shift her focus from trying to change charter school policies to uniting with other parents and working towards eradicating charters. My hope is we will soon see parents boycotting charter schools and they will die off.

  2. Linda permalink

    A major benefactor to Success Academies, John Paulson, is in the news this week. Daily Mail and Fox reported about a letter he allegedly sent to the Spence school that made a claim the school had anti-white bias. A few years ago, an adjunct faculty member at Catholic Georgetown University wrote an article defending Paulson’s “philanthropy” (Philanthropy Daily).
    D.C. is home to more Catholic Universities than any other type – public, private and religious.
    The Catholic University of America (Koch funding) is in D.C. Recently, racially offensive tweets attributed to an adjunct faculty member in the Tim Busch school were the subject of an article in the CUA student newspaper.
    The Knights of Columbus (headed by a former aide to Jesse Helms) welcomed Wall Street’s friend, Trump, for a photo op at its D.C. shrine to Pope John Paul II. The event was the day following the Episcopalian church’s failed attempt to prevent the Trump/Barr takeover of its property. Fr. Peter Daly described the event in National Catholic Reporter, “I’m Done with the Knights of Columbus”.

    Unfortunately, democracy is under threat as long as powerful men in D.C. plot for Catholic theocracy (underpinned by libertarian economics). SCOTUS has been delivering for them, including the recent exemption that Catholic schools have from civil rights employment law.

  3. dienne77 permalink

    “When my now second-grader son was at SA last year, the amount of early dismissals and/or suspensions nearly cost me my job. He was suspended for minor infractions like violating dress code and “excessive inattentiveness.” Ironically, I enrolled him in this school lottery hoping to avoid what I feared would be bullying by public school students, but my son ended up being bullied by Success Academy’s staff.”

    I’m sorry, I guess this is victim blaming, but I’m really confused here. She herself describes her son’s situation as “being bullied”, yet not only does she not remove him from said bullying situation, but she re-enrolls him the following year AND enrolls her daughter to boot? Why? I’m told the whole “advantage” of charter schools is that you’re not “trapped” by your ZIP Code and that you can “vote with your feet”. I’m appalled by the harm to this child due to repeated early dismissals and suspensions which had to make him feel like a failure and make him learn to hate school, yet this parent’s determination to have it out with the school overrode getting him out of that abusive situation and into a school where he could thrive. And for what? What did she get out of it? Did she “win” her case against Moskowitz and her abusive empire? Of course not.

    Yes, I’m sickened by what Moskowitz does under the guise of “educating” poor and minority children. But we all know that. Maybe people are duped by her slick marketing, but as soon as you see the reality, it is your job as a parent to protect your child. As long as you’re letting Moskowitz collect her public money for your child, she wins. Keeping your children in such an abusive environment is like voluntarily going to a Trump rally and then complaining when you get COVID.

  4. Jack Covey permalink

    One of the central critiques (from this Success Academy parent who is opening up to Mercedes) is that Eva boosts the number or percentage of high scoring students — and overall scores — by, in part, weeding out or kicking out low-scoring students. She does this regardless of how well those low-scoring students behave and adhere to Eva’s extreme, militaristic regimen. Sure, it’s great if they behave and follow every single, gosh-darn rule, but even if they do … if they also score low on tests, and/or are innately less intelligent, which leads to low scores …. OUT THEY GO!!!

    Well, John Merrow confronted Ms. Moskowitz with this accusation … one backed up by countless people to whom Merrow spoke — former Success Academy students, teachers, administrators and also the public school administrators that must take on the burden of educating the students Eva dumps — Eva was not happy.

    Eva wasn’t havin’ it, and this prompted her classic “crazy talk” reply.

    She uses the word “academics” in referring to the high scores having resulted from kicking out certain kids boost SA’s academics. In using that word, what she’s referring to is the school’s overall test scores from the remaining students whom she doesn’t kick out.

    at 7:48

    at 7:48

    MERROW: “Do you ever use out-of-school suspension as a way to (air quotes with his hands and fingers) persuade parents that … to … ”

    (Merrow’s voice trails off, but the implication of what he would have said next is “get the parents of low-scoring, special ed, and/or non-cooperative students to choose to withdraw their kids from Success Academy.”

    This was done so that Eva could later claim that *we didn’t kick ’em out. Those parents “chose’” to leave.8 )

    EVA: “No … we don’t suspend in order to boost our academics. Like (saying) that … That’s just … crazy talk!”

    Freeze-Frame at 9:16 …. you’re looking into the face of pure evil. The way she leans forward and shoots vicious glares at Merrow … Jesus. And this is how she behaves in front of cameras. Just imagine how intimidating and terrifying this woman must be behind closed doors.

    I’m not transcribing any more, but the exchange continues with Eva attempting to refute that accusation, pointing to how “the numbers” and “the data” don’t show that accusation to be true.

    Merrow’s narration then contradicts that, saying that no, the “the numbers” and “the data” show the accusation is exactly true.

  5. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    More evidence that Eva Moskowitz and her poorly named Success Academy [should be called Inquisition Academy] publicly funded charter schools are racist, torture factories that abuse/bully children, and even some parents.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: A Parent at Success Academy Tells All | Diane Ravitch's blog

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