Nothing succeeds like Success

Success Academy charter students at a pep rally.  Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Eva Moskowitz just ruined her chances of getting 14 more Success Academy charters approved in New York City, writes Richard Whitmire in the Daily News. Her students aced the state’s math and English exams.

Whereas only 35% of New York City students scored proficient in math, 94% of her students rated as proficient. Whereas only 29% of city students met English standards, 64% of her students met the standards.

At her Bed-Stuy-1 school, where 95% of the students are African American or Latino, 98% passed the math test, with 8 in 10 scoring at the advanced level.

“Nobody likes competition,” writes Whitmire.

Statewide, 7 of the 15 top-scoring schools for math proficiency are Success charters.

What’s the secret of Success Academy’s success? asks Robert Pondiscio, also in the Daily News.

. . . 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level?

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping 63 points on the Celtics in the playoffs. It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by 18 strokes.

It’s harder to raise reading scores, Pondiscio writes. It’s “all but impossible to test prep your way to a high score on a third to eighth grade reading test, especially the more challenging Common Core tests.”

Yet two out of three Success Academy scholars were proficient in reading.

Expect to hear that Moskowitz has solved the achievement gap and that the humiliation of Mayor de Blasio, who targeted Moskowitz during his campaign and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze three of her schools out of Education Department space, is now complete.

From the other side of the room, we will hear charges that Success creams top students, gets rid of low-achievers through attrition and test preps kids within an inch of their lives, or even cheats.

We need “serious, unbiased experts and observers” to figure out “how these extraordinary results are being achieved,” Pondiscio writes. If they’re for real, we need to figure out how to replicate them.

About Joanne


  1. Pep rally???

    I’m skeptical.

  2. I’m not in favor of pep rallies in school for any purpose. My 4 elite athletes also dislike them; even when their teams were honored (separately, yet) for winning state championships.

    However, even if Success Academy’s policies encourage the unable &/or unwilling to drop out, I have no problem with that. Public schools aren’t willing to remove disruptors or group kids by academic need and they demonstrate little to no interest (beyond peer tutoring and having them do most of the work in groups) in challenging those kids who will pass The Test anyway. No wonder their parents want them in charters.

    • Mike in Texas says:

      Public schools are not allowed to remove the types of kids you mentioned.

      • Given sufficient intestinal fortitude and political will, they can enforce appropriate classroom behavior, they can group by instructional need (by subject) and they can remove disruptive kids (whether spec ed, class clown, spoiled brat or thug-in-training) to other placements (classrooms varying by student category). The needs of the non-disruptive kids need to come first. I’ll bet that if shown videos (faces suitably disguised) of dangerous, chaotic classes, most people – including lawyers, would fail to support many current classroom assignments Not all kids are suitable for “regular” classrooms, for various reasons.

        • Mike in Texas says:

          I don’t disagree with you, especially in regards to one student’s rights trumping the right to learn for all the other students in the class. But yesterday I sat in an hour long meeting with administrators explaining there was little they could do to discipline kids in our school because their hands are tied by the state of Texas. Send too many kids out of the classroom and get dinged by the state and possibly lose funds.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            That was an interesting, and maybe ironic, exchange. I can (perhaps unfairly) imagine a similar exchange:

            momof4: Public schools can’t get rid of bad teachers because of tenure.

            Mike in Texas: Given sufficient intestinal fortitude and political will, they can.

            We do seem to have a lot of well-meaning laws that tie school administrators’ hands.

          • I think that people are losing faith and confidence in the educational establishment (including the politicians who support it) because it seems to operate on the “let no child get ahead” and “let no child escape” philosophy. When added to the fantasy that all kids can learn the same things, in the same amount of time, in the same classroom, it’s not a very appealing worldview for parents who care about their kids’ education. Sigh.

            Absent cheating, which doesn’t seem to be the case here, Success Academies are giving the kids who persist a better education and a better chance for a better future. I don’t see that as a problem; I’d like to see more kids get that chance.

  3. If this is real and replicable it may well be the greatest discovery since the invention of fire. But I have my doubts.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Maybe they’ve found a way to develop a compelling school culture and a peer group that supports academic achievement. When I taught, the problem with ‘intentional non-learners’ wasn’t that they were unable to learn– it was that they came from a culture that despised learning.

    If the Success Academies can create a better culture, that could be the source of their gains.

    • A replicable and reliable technique to greatly raise learning among low IQ populations would have an economic value exceeding the discovery of a simple and cheap technique to achieve cold fusion.

      • In Project Follow-Through, Englemann’s Direct Instruction was very successful in low-SES populations (as well as others) and it’s been ignored. The fact that it highly scripted goes against everything the ed establishment believes. Scripting not only decreased student misunderstanding and increased clarity, it increases teacher effectiveness – because the scripts are well-tested. Sigh

        • Well great! If this works worldwide we should be able to increase the world’s gross economic product at least tenfold in the next 30 years.

          • If this technique will work with Sub-
            Saharan African populations the gross economic product of Sub-Saharan Africa woulld very easily go up more than a hundredfold by the end of the current century.

          • It was more successful for the low-SES population than the other approaches (6-8 different ones IIRC). IOW, it “increased learning”. I didn’t say it was a miracle cure.

  5. The last entry point for a Success school is the very first day of third grade. Students who leave after that day are not replaced. Success is an extreme outlier in this respect–most other charters, even those that are part of a big network, can’t afford to eschew the per-student funding.

    Success is likely doing some interesting things with curriculum and teacher training, and of course as a charter, they can be more flexible about hiring (subject expertise vs. credentials, e.g.). But their no-backfill policy flies in the face of the state charter school law, and it makes the network’s constant complaining about how they aren’t being allowed to open enough schools to meet demand look absurd. They can start meeting that need by replacing kids who leave.

    • If state charter school laws really do require that a charter school allow enrollments after third grade you might want to start noising that information around. The first Success charter opened in 2006 so they’ve been getting away with this law-breaking policy for coming on eight years.

      Given the recent effort by New York city mayor Bill de Blasio to prevent the opening of several new charter school, among which were Success schools, it seems an odd oversight.

      So, maybe not quite so absurd.

      What excites my curiosity is the question of how much attention Success schools have gotten from the rest of the education world? Are ed schools sending their best and brightest to extract, distill, identify and bottle the secret sauce that’s the source of Success’ success? Is New York Public Schools, now that their pet mayor’s failed to shove the genii back in the bottle trying to figure out how Success schools do what they do?

      On the basis of how “outlier” schools have been treated in the past I’m guessing “no”. They perk along, doing a substantially better job of educating kids then the seemingly identical school a half mile away. The district doesn’t care. The ed schools don’t care.

      The only people who do care are parents, and who cares what they think, and the media which can make life a bit uncomfortable for the school board for a while. Until the questions about why the balance of the district schools can’t be as good as the outlier school subside.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    Young people are not widgets. And education is not something that happens to them. It is something they have to affirmatively work for.

    The conventional wisdom in American education is that if a teacher has the right attitude (“All children can learn.”) and the right training, she can get any student to want to be educated and to do the work. That is ridiculous. It is impossible for me to find words to express just how ridiculous it is. Even a weaker version is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Success knows this. They know they have to get kids early and make sure they are buying into the program. Which means a lot of effort to create and maintain the “right” school culture. And nobody allowed to join the team after age 8.

    That means that Success will always be a niche product. The only question is whether the niche is something like 5%, 15%, or 25%.