Friday, February 5, 2016

Norm in The Wave: No Excuses Success Charter Network Under Fire, The Case for Humane Teaching

With Eva supposedly coming to Rockaway I thought I'd get ahead of the curve with this column in the Feb. 5 Wave.

No Excuses Success Charter Network Under Fire, The Case for Humane Teaching
By Norm Scott

Educational historian and blogger Diane Ravitch posted a letter from a teacher who couldn’t bear working any longer at the Evil Eva Moskowitz-run Success charter chain, known for its high suspension rate and pushing children they don’t want back into the public schools. Here is an excerpt:

    I spent much of my time at school crying in the bathroom and the stairwell. I cried from the emotional harassment I faced from my leaders, I cried from simply watching my scholars go through such grueling days and intense ridicule, and I cried because I was exhausted, stressed, and anxious, constantly feeling like I wasn’t enough and that I couldn’t be enough. When I helped my own scholars work through their tears, I would often ask them what they were feeling, and they would say “scared.”... Former Success Academy Teacher. The entire letter is posted at: (

Ravitch commented: “When they start calling them children, I will know that they are completely de-programmed.” I get the woolies when I hear them using the term “scholars.” They are touching on the edges of being a cult.

Moskowitz has also been sued by parents whose children were pushed out in a federal civil rights complaint for systematic violation of disabled students' rights. And SUNY, the charter chain's authorizer, is investigating the Success Network's disciplinary and suspension practices, including the infamous "Got to Go" list first reported by the NY Times (

Should Eva Moskowitz be investigated for child abuse and teacher bullying? Is it time to call 911 on Evil Eva's operation, which is rumored to be coming soon to Rockaway?

Now, some parents want this rigid and punishing atmosphere for their children. In my professional judgment as a teacher, I believe even for children who do well in this environment, there are long-term effects that infect their learning for life. So far not one Success Academy grad has made it into any of the high-end specialty schools. As for creativity, how does that flourish in an environment where children are marched with arms at their sides with mouths sealed shut?

Success and many other charters have high teacher turnover and are constantly funneling in new and inexperienced people who haven’t had enough time to deal with the complexities of child behavior, especially with children who are having some difficulty. It takes years to make a teacher and these schools with new people need to create a straight jacket of discipline because they haven’t learned any other way.

I know there are some people out there who believe we need more no excuse schools like Success. As a 35-year elementary school teacher in one of the poorest areas of the city (Williansburg/Bushwick) I categorically reject this philosophy. I saw so much peripheral learning going on in the fairly open environment I encouraged.

Teachers don’t often have the chance to see how their students grow up in later years. Recently I had this treat when a whole batch of former students from my 6th grade class of 1979 connected to each other and me in Facebook. They are now in their late 40s. (I also had many of them in my 5th grade class.) Their memories from 36 years ago focus on the fun things we did. I tried to make my classroom as humane a space as possible given that with 30 students there was a need for some discipline. But I tried to keep that aspect as light as possible as long as I could keep order. I had been teaching for about a decade by the time I had this class and had learned a lot, not from professional development but from the kids themselves. They gave me the best child psychology courses. What worked and what didn’t? I adjusted to each child and tried to develop some individual relationship with each of them so discipline was pretty easy. I tried to treat them well and expected them to do the same to me and each other. I wasn’t always successful and it still bothers me in cases where I feel I could have done something different. But reading some of their positive comments over 3 decades later gives me pride as a teacher. We are planning a reunion on February 28.

Norm blogs at

1 comment:

  1. I look at these Success Charter stories from a different angle. Another UNITY led UFT failure. Mulgrew and friends should be calling out the mayor and chancellor on the double standard. If a public school teacher did these things to students we'd be brought up on corporal punishment charges. Why should public school teachers be subjected to charges for doing what's perfectly acceptable in a charter school? UFT should be demanding changes to chancellor's regs on corporal punishment and pointing out the hypocrisy and double standard every chance they get. But they don't----bc they care more about what Farina and De Blasio think than what we the dues paying members think. Roseanne McCosh


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