Dear Commons Community,
Responding to a mostly complimentary New York Times Magazine article on Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy Charter Schools, Diane Ravitch skewered the author, Daniel Bergner, and his fact checking. Here is an excerpt from her blog posting:
“I spent a lot of time on the phone with the author, Daniel Bergner. When he asked why I was critical of Moskowitz, I said that what she does to get high test scores is not a model for public education or even for other charters. The high scores of her students is due to intensive test prep and attrition. She gets her initial group of students by holding a lottery, which in itself is a selection process because the least functional families don’t apply. She enrolls small proportions of students with disabilities and English language learners as compared to the neighborhood public school. And as time goes by, many students leave.
The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 third graders but only 32 eighth graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to sixth grade. One tested 121 third graders but only 55 sixth graders; another 106 third graders but only 68 six graders; and the last 83 third graders but only 54 sixth graders. Why the shrinking student body? When students left the school, they were not replaced by other incoming students. When the eighth grade students who scored well on the state test took the admissions test for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, not one of them passed the test.
I also told Bergner that Success Academy charters have among the highest rates of teacher turnover every year, which would not happen if teachers enjoyed the work. Helen Zelon wrote in City Limits:
In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.
I also told Bergner about a website called Glass Door, where many former teachers at SA charters expressed their candid views about an “oppressive” work climate at the school. As more of these negative reviews were posted, a new crop of favorable reviews were added, echoing the chain’s happy talk but not shedding light on why teachers don’t last long there.
Bergner argued every issue with me. He reiterated Success Academy’s talking points. He said that public schools lose as many students every year as SA charters; I replied that public schools don’t close their enrollment to new students. Again, defending SA, he said that closing new enrollments made sense because Moskowitz was “trying to build a culture,” and the culture would be disrupted by accepting new students after a certain grade. I responded that public schools might want to “build a culture” too, but they are not allowed to refuse new students who want to enroll in fourth grade or fifth grade or sixth grade, or even in the middle of the year.
He did not think it mattered that none of her successful eighth grade students was able to pass the test for the specialized high schools, and he didn’t mention it in the article. Nor was he interested in teacher turnover or anything else that might reflect negatively on SA charters.”
Ravitch’s entire blog posting is well-worth the read as a counter to Bergner’s article.