[Marxism] At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 30 08:30:04 MDT 2015


Preparing students for taking orders in factories or offices:

"The network serves mostly black and Hispanic students and is known for 
exacting behavior rules. Even the youngest pupils are expected to sit 
with their backs straight, their hands clasped and their eyes on the 
teacher, a posture that the network believes helps children pay attention."

NY Times, Oct. 30 2015
At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got 
to Go’
By KATE TAYLOR

 From the time Folake Ogundiran’s daughter started kindergarten at a 
Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the girl 
struggled to adjust to its strict rules.

She racked up demerits for not following directions or not keeping her 
hands folded in her lap. Sometimes, after being chastised, she threw 
tantrums. She was repeatedly suspended for screaming, throwing pencils, 
running away from school staff members or refusing to go to another 
classroom for a timeout.

One day last December, the school’s principal, Candido Brown, called Ms. 
Ogundiran and said her daughter, then 6, was having a bad day. Mr. Brown 
warned that if she continued to do things that were defiant and unsafe — 
including, he said, pushing or kicking, moving chairs or tables, or 
refusing to go to another classroom — he would have to call 911, Ms. 
Ogundiran recalled. Already feeling that her daughter was treated 
unfairly, she went to the school and withdrew her on the spot.

Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York 
City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable 
accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or 
difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents 
obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former 
Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in 
the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

Are you a current or former charter school student in New York City? We 
would like to hear from your perspective about what it's like to attend 
a charter school. Please email cityroom at nytimes.com with your response, 
which will be kept confidential and will not be published. However, an 
editor or reporter may contact you for a possible future article.

At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard 
from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list 
drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of 
their parents said in interviews that while their children attended 
Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent 
demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or 
network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network 
employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students 
are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that 
they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar 
practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who 
spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their 
relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and 
network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or 
calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall 
in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 
Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual 
re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not 
want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s 
staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted 
and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s 
requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was 
right for all students.

In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a 
conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s 
withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.

In a written response to questions, Success Academy’s spokeswoman, Ann 
Powell, said that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake and that the 
network quickly got wind of it and reprimanded Mr. Brown, the principal.

Ms. Powell said that Success schools did not push children out, and that 
what might look like an effort to nudge students out the door was 
actually an attempt to help parents find the right environment for their 
children. Some on the list required special education settings that 
Success could not offer them, she said.

Mr. Brown said in an email that he thought the disruptive behavior of 
the students on the list was dragging the whole school down, and “I felt 
I couldn’t turn the school around if these students remained.”

Once he was reprimanded, though, he and his staff tried to work with 
those students, he said.

Even so, five left before the end of the school year, and four more 
departed over the summer.

Room for Debate: Keeping Only the Best BehavedDEC. 10, 2014
As to the child’s withdrawal being a “big win,” Ms. Powell said, “if we 
have a parent whose child really needs to be in a different school, 
which was a better learning environment for him/her to succeed in and 
the parent had trouble accepting their child’s needs, might that be 
characterized as a ‘big win?’ Yes.”

On Thursday, after this article was published online, Eva S. Moskowitz, 
a former New York City councilwoman who runs Success Academy, was asked 
by reporters about the “Got to Go” list. Ms. Moskowitz said that given 
her network’s size, “mistakes are sometimes made.” She declined to 
answer further questions, saying she would hold a news conference on 
Friday to discuss “the mistake that was made in that particular case.”

Frequent Suspensions

Success Academy is the city’s largest charter school network. It has 34 
schools, and plans to grow to 70 in five or six years.

The network serves mostly black and Hispanic students and is known for 
exacting behavior rules. Even the youngest pupils are expected to sit 
with their backs straight, their hands clasped and their eyes on the 
teacher, a posture that the network believes helps children pay 
attention. Ms. Moskowitz has said she believes children learn better 
with structure and consistency in the classroom. Good behavior and 
effort are rewarded with candy and prizes, while infractions and shoddy 
work are penalized with reprimands, loss of recess time, extra 
assignments and, in some cases, suspensions as early as kindergarten.

Charter schools are privately run but publicly funded and admit children 
by lottery. Similar to a traditional public school, a charter school 
must provide a seat to a child who has enrolled unless the student 
withdraws, is expelled, turns 21 or moves out of the state. Charter 
schools must follow strict guidelines before formally expelling any 
student, and Success has done so only once since its first school opened 
in 2006. But Success’s critics accuse it of pushing children out by 
making their parents’ lives so difficult that they withdraw.

Suspensions at Success, which typically last one or two days, are 
frequent compared with traditional public schools. In the 2012-13 school 
year, the most recent one for which state data is available, Success 
schools suspended between 4 percent and 23 percent of their students at 
least once, with most suspending more than 10 percent. According to the 
most recent statistics from the city’s Education Department, from 
2013-14, traditional public schools suspended 3 percent of students that 
academic year.

Ms. Moskowitz has said that suspensions can make parents recognize the 
seriousness of their children’s misbehavior and that removing students 
who are acting dangerously from the classroom protects teachers and 
allows them to do their jobs more effectively.

Principals at Success, many in their 20s and 30s, frequently consult 
with a team of lawyers before suspending a student or requiring a parent 
to pick up a child early every day. It was a member of that team who 
described a student’s withdrawal from the Success Academy in Union 
Square to colleagues as a “big win,” the current employee said.

James D. Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City 
Charter School Center, a group that advocates and supports charter 
schools, said it was unrealistic to expect any given school to be a good 
fit for every child. And Mr. Merriman noted that the city had many 
traditional public schools that required a test or other screening for 
admission, schools that by definition did not serve all students.

“I think if you asked most charter leaders they’d say that their goal is 
to be a fit for as broad an array of children as possible,” he said, 
“and they’re working very hard to that end.”

Under Pressure

Mr. Brown arrived at Success Academy Fort Greene, which shares a 
white-brick building with a public school in the shadow of the 
Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in November 2014. He was the school’s third 
principal since it opened a year earlier, and he said he found the 
school, with 224 students, out of control. Children behaved violently, 
he said, and teachers were overwhelmed and starting to feel hopeless.

“If the school had been better managed from the start, then we could 
have done better by these students and probably could have kept more of 
them,” he said in an email. “However, it is also the case that for some 
of them, Success wasn’t the best place. Some of them needed an 
alternative setting with highly specialized services. And some parents 
just didn’t agree with our philosophy.”

Some of the parents whose children were on the “Got to Go” list 
acknowledged that they did not agree with how the school managed 
behavior. But several also said that both before and after the list was 
created, they thought school and network employees were trying to push 
them out.

Folake Wimbish said her son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity 
disorder, was suspended 19 times last year, in first grade, and missed 
26 days. Success said her son was intellectually gifted but struggled 
with behavior, “often hitting, kicking, biting and spitting at other 
children and adults.”

In early December, while Ms. Wimbish was pushing the school to evaluate 
her son for special education services, she was called to a meeting in 
Lower Manhattan with the network’s assistant general counsel and its 
associate special education manager, Julie Freese. She said Ms. Freese 
told her that, because of his suspensions, her son was missing out on 
his education, and she needed to think about his well-being.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just put him in another school, because he’s 
suffering,’ ” Ms. Wimbish said.

Ms. Wimbish withdrew her son at the end of the year, because with the 
suspensions and calls to pick him up, she said, “I started feeling like 
I was going to have a breakdown.” He now attends Public School 119 in 
Brooklyn, where Ms. Wimbish said he was very happy and had not been 
suspended once.

Monique Jeffrey said her son, who was in kindergarten last year, was 
suspended so many times she “stopped counting.” In the middle of the 
year, Ms. Jeffrey said, the school’s education manager, Rebecca 
Fleischman, told her that her son had emotional and behavioral issues 
the school could not handle and that she should look for another school. 
Ms. Jeffrey withdrew him at the end of the year.

Nicey Givens, the mother of another student on the list, said her son, 
also a kindergartner last year, was suspended many times, in some cases, 
the school told her, for fighting. Ms. Fleischman said in an email that 
a special education committee of the school district recommended that 
the boy be placed in a type of special education class the school did 
not offer in his grade. Ms. Givens recalled that Ms. Fleischman told her 
the school did not have the resources to serve her son and offered to 
help find him a placement in a regular public school. Her son now 
attends P.S. 287.

Ms. Powell, the Success spokeswoman, said the charter network was deeply 
committed to serving special education students and it was prevented 
from offering more special education classes because the city had not 
granted it enough classrooms. “Helping some students find better 
placements is not wrong,” she added.

Around the time the “Got to Go” list was created, Mr. Brown and the 
school’s dean spoke with the principal of another Success school in 
Brooklyn, and the dean shared with her colleagues some notes from that 
conversation. The notes were part of an email exchange shown to The 
Times by a former Success employee.

The notes describe several suggestions for dealing with families who are 
“not on board” and discussed 911 calls.

The notes also appear to allude to the possibility of getting one child 
on the “Got to Go” list classified as a 12:1:1 special education 
student. Those students are entitled to classrooms limited to 12 
students, with one teacher and one aide, so Success Academy, which 
offers only five such classes in a network serving 11,000 students, 
might not be able to meet the needs of every 12:1:1 student.

Ms. Fleischman, the education manager, warned her colleagues in a 
follow-up email that the goal should not have been put in an email and 
that, in any case, a 12:1:1 classification “does not guarantee a 
withdrawal.”

Asked this month about that remark, she said that she was saying only 
that the parent of a 12:1:1 student would not be required to take the 
student out, and was not alluding to any effort to ensure the child 
would leave.

Mixed Messages

Some of the parents whose children were on the list said that while some 
school employees were advising them to leave, others were sending 
reassuring messages.

On Feb. 2, a teacher, Hannah Hodari, wrote an email to Ms. Jeffrey about 
her son’s progress in math. “I can totally tell you have been working 
with him, he was very enthusiastic today and his work and focus was much 
improved,” the teacher wrote.

In June, after Ms. Jeffrey had decided to withdraw her son, Ms. Hodari 
urged her to reconsider, saying in an email that she would be “so 
excited” to see him return and “watch him be successful” in first grade.

“However,” the teacher added, “I also understand where your concerns and 
doubts come from.”

Ms. Powell, the spokeswoman, said: “We make tremendous efforts to keep 
all children. We do this because morally once a child enters our doors, 
they are ours, and we want them to succeed.”

She also named three mothers of children on the “Got to Go” list who 
were still at the school, saying they would be able to describe the 
efforts that Success had made to keep their students there.

One of those mothers, Aisha Cooper, said her son, now in second grade, 
had struggled with his behavior because he was easily distracted, had 
difficulty keeping his eyes on the teacher and would sometimes call out 
in class. She said he was suspended once in kindergarten for throwing a 
snow globe across the room, and she recalled his kindergarten teacher’s 
once suggesting that maybe Success was not a good fit for him.

Ms. Cooper said she never felt as if the school wanted him gone. She 
said she liked the school so much that she was planning to send her 
daughter there for kindergarten next year.

But when a reporter asked if she knew that her son had been included 
last year on the “Got to Go” list, Ms. Cooper said she did not.

“I’m a little upset about that,” she said after a minute. “They could 
have let me know he was on a list that he ‘had to go.’ And I would have 
asked them why, because he’s not a bad child. He just talks too much 
sometimes.

“He doesn’t hit kids, he doesn’t knock kids over, he doesn’t scream, he 
just talks too much. So I don’t understand why he’s on this list.”



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