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Gary Rubinstein moves on to the third episode in the story of Success Academy.
In the first episode of Startup’s seven part podcast about Success academy, they presented the case that most schools in New York City are ‘bad’ and how Success Academy’s unique approach to education levels the playing field.
Episode two, The Founder (can be found here) details Eva Moskowitz’s rise to power. She started as a very self-assured child who had a bad experience with her music teacher. Her father wrote the music teacher a note that said “(expletive deleted) you” and this becomes a theme throughout Eva’s career in education, according to the podcast — metaphorically writing ‘F You’ letters to various parties who have crossed her.
Moskowitz was elected to the City Council in 1999 and she visited hundreds of schools and found that some had broken toilets. She aggressively worked to get them fixed and found that it was frustrating dealing with the large bureaucracy of the New York City school system.
When she went to a school where she felt the lunch room was understaffed, she learned that under the teacher’s union contract, teachers are exempt from certain duties, like doing lunch duty.
The narrator, Lisa Chow, then says matter of factly: “The teachers’ union contract … a document that protects the interests of teachers in traditional public schools. She asked her staff to get a copy of the teachers contract, expecting something that was maybe 20 pages. But instead, it was 300 pages in length.”
This is common complaint I hear from reformers — that the teacher’s union contract is too long. Somehow the idea that 300 pages is too long but 20 would be about right is the reformer conventional wisdom. Well, when I signed up for ZipCar rental cars online, the contract that I skimmed through before hitting ‘accept’ was about 10 pages long, so why shouldn’t a teacher’s union contract be hundreds of pages? Where is the evidence that there is some kind of inverse relationship between the length of the teacher’s union contract and the quality of the teaching that happens in a school? I’ve been a teacher in NYC for 17 years and I don’t even know what is in the contract aside from a few lines here and there. But if something ever comes up where something in there will come in handy for me, I’ll certainly appreciate that the contract is thorough. Next time Lisa Chow rents an apartment or takes out a bank loan, I’m going to ask her if she would willingly cut the contract that lists her different rights down by 85%?
Lisa Chow continues: “The contract was packed with rules that seemed to control every minute of the school day. And Eva saw a lot of things she believed were not in the best interest of kids. For example, that rule that kept teachers out of lunchrooms — that was in it. And there were rules that promoted teachers based on seniority, regardless of whether they were actually good instructors.” So yes, teachers get raises based on years of experience. Get rid of that one and you are likely not going to attract many people to become teachers where raises from your very low starting pay will be at the whim of a computer judging you ‘effective’ or not based on standardized test scores.
Success Academy is noted not only for high test scores but for high rates of teacher turnover.