Accountability Discipline Education Reform Harlem Success Academy

Today Is Dedicated to Gary Rubinstein’s Review of Success Academy Podcasts

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Teacher Appreciation Week begins today. How better to launch it than by devoting the day to Gary Rubinstein’s review of podcasts about Success Academy?

Gary began his teaching career in TFA, but turned into a sharp critic of TFA and a dedicated career teacher.

Gary Rubinstein came across a trove of podcasts about Success Academy, and he suspected theyheld the key to the “success” of Success Academy in New York City. SA is the quintessential “no excuses” charter chain. It’s rules are strict, even draconian. The chain is driven by a philosophy that black and brown children must be disciplined and surveilled closely. No error must go uncorrected. Every infraction must be swiftly punished.

I debated whether to publish Gary’s posts as they appeared or all at once. I decided on the latter course of action. So today is devoted to podcasts about Success Academy. Though it is based in New York City, its impact is national. The chain presents itself as a model for American education. Nonsense.

Here is Gary’s first report.

Of all the charter school networks in the country, there is none that is more controversial or more secretive than Success Academy.  If ‘success’ is defined as high 3-8 state test scores, then Success Academy has earned its name.  But critics charge that this ‘success’ comes at the expense of other, more important measures of success.

This past November, a seven part podcast was published by a production company called startup.  Soon after it was released, there were some excerpts of some of the most negative parts of the podcast printed on some blogs, but generally it seems to have came and went.

I was very interested in this podcast for a lot of reasons.  I’ve been following Success Academy for years and have been piecing together evidence about all the different wrongdoings that this network engages in.  Over the years I’ve probably written twenty different blog posts with my findings.  I was also interested because last summer I was interviewed by one of the producers of this podcast while they were gathering material.  Besides an hour or two of interviews, I also had several follow-up emails with this producer where he asked me to clarify certain arguments.  I was curious to see how balanced the eventual product would be.

The podcast runs about seven hours and I listened to it a few months ago for the first time.  What I found was a bizarre mix of about six hours of puff piece and one hour of devastating expose.  Throughout the episodes the producers generally gave Success Academy the benefit of the doubt any time they could — until eventually even they couldn’t near the end.  But then at the end it went back to being a puff piece.

Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to write commentary about the different parts — episode 5 is the big one — though I need to work my way up to that one.

Episode 1 is called ‘The Problem’ and can be found here or on iTunes.  It begins with an interview with a parent of a Success Academy student who is recalling her own schooling in New York City in the 1980s where she was bullied and even arrested for getting into a fight at school.  For her son she wanted something different.

It is here that the narrator gives the first hint about her biased point of view.  At 4:28 the narrator says about this mother’s choices.  “Their neighborhood public school was not an option.  It was bad.”  With these three words — “It was bad” — and without elaboration since we all must know what she means, I definitely was concerned that this was not a great start to a seven hour podcast series.  In what way was it “bad”?  Were there bad teachers?  Does it have bad test scores?  Is the safety bad?  We don’t know.  This oversimplified and unfair one word condemnation of the school is unfortunately too typical.  After getting through episode 5 I think most will agree that a three word summary of Success Academy could also be “It was bad.”

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