Wednesday, December 6, 2017

School Scope: How Do You Spell “Success”? – Part 1

Submitted to The WAVE for publication Dec. 9, 2017

School Scope:  How Do You Spell “Success”? – Part 1
By Norm Scott

The current issue of The New Yorker is running a story by Rebecca Meade, Success Academy’s Radical Educational Experiment: Inside Eva Moskowitz’s quest to combine rigid discipline with a progressive curriculum. Good luck with that – the very idea of child-centered progressive education is incompatible with rigid discipline. The schools, forty six so far in NYC with a goal of one hundred, run by Moskowitz, have been controversial on a number of grounds. Educators have long been suspect of the test outcomes, which far surpass not only public schools but also all other charters and even match results in the high performing suburbs. That has caused more than a little skepticism, especially since Moskowitz claims the kids in her schools come from the same pool as the public schools. In essence, the Success lobby is claiming they are miracle workers and their demands for space in public schools keeps increasing even when so many of the 1800 public schools are also competing for space.

Educational professionals who worked with populations of students similar to those being claimed by Success have been skeptical. As someone who taught elementary school (grades 4-6) in schools with many struggling non-white children and who also holds a Masters in reading instruction, I am a skeptic, especially since I spent years trying to figure out how to break through with kids with reading issues. There are no miracles, though once in a while I saw a child make a major breakthrough.

One of the major problems for struggling readers is language – even kids born here who hear another language at home. A second issue is whether there are opportunities to read at home or have parents who focus on reading with their children. Even immigrant families whose children read in their native language can make major progress fairly quickly. Generally, the level of income and the amount of economic struggles have a direct impact on the entire process. If one were to go through any school and match reading ability with income in the home, even in the working poor, there would be a strong correlation.

I taught in a system where classes were made up of kids grouped by reading scores. Thus the so-called top class had the best readers and so on down the line. The bottom class students were the hardest to teach reading too. The UFT contract allows teachers to rotate from the top classes to the lower level readers and back every year, though in my schools, principals save the top classes for their favorites and sometimes we had to file a grievance. I did this for almost twenty years, so I had a good feel for the differences between the kids, who all pretty much lived in the projects across the street. The two times I had the very top class, I was astounded at their general on grade reading ability and also the fact that there were many less discipline issues. Now these were not wealthy people – many were on welfare or had low paying jobs. And there were a lot more two parent homes in the top class than in the bottom. Most of them had been in our school since pre-k (and we found that kids who went to pre-k did better than those who didn’t – shout out to de Blasio). Many of the students entered pre-k with some reading readiness.

Now I would bet that in Success schools we would find a heavy concentration of the same kinds of students that were in our old top classes. And those who do get into the lottery who are struggling with academics or discipline face high suspension rates and attempts to push them out, a standard operating procedure at most charters.

How can we tell? Of the 72 students who began at the first Success school in kindergarten, only 17 were left to graduate high school. What happened to the other 55 students?

There are no miracles. More next time.
(Link to New Yorker article:

Norm  does manage to perform miracles every day at

1 comment:

Unitymustgo! said...

What happened to the other 55? That is not just the question, but the answer as well. In deed what did happen to the other 55? Someone needs to find that answer. Foil to get the names of those students and then research each and everyone to discover their stories. Think about just how informative that would be. How many are still right here in NYC? How many are in public schools? When did they leave? Why'd they leave? What were their discipline records at Moskovitzs school? What was their discipline record after? Imagine what some of those parents might have to say? The list of questions goes on and on. My suspicion is there is big story here.