Sunday, September 8, 2019

Can Success Academies Succeed?

How you answer the question depends on how the question is asked.Presumably, we want to facilitate learning and educational excellence. But then, can we do so by integrating our schools, by promoting diversity, or is there another way? 

You will notice that I made the question, either/or. The conventional wisdom has it that racial integration, now known as diversity, will enhance the academic performance of minority children.Such children underperform because they are deprived of the privileges enjoyed by their overachieving non-neighbors.

In principle, the issue was adjudicated by the Supreme Court 65 years ago. Yet, if you examine New York City public schools you will discover that they are markedly segregated by race and ethnicity. And you also see that the students who attend them are not being educated.

In effect, forced school integregation caused a proliferation of private schools and an exodus to the suburbs. Now that New York Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza wants to diversity the city’s school system, by eliminating the advantages that some children enjoy for congregating in better schools, parents, even those of limited means, are plotting their exodus from the city. Or else, they want to expand the offerings of charter schools.

And naturally the diversity mongers among us are strongly opposed to charter schools, not only because they do better than public schools, but especially because their teachers are not unionized. So, first the programs for gifted and talented children, next, the charter schools.

If diversity is a mindless exercise producing academic underachievement, is there something that really works. The answer, as reported here, is the experiment called Success Academies, directed by one Eva Moskowitz. Consistently, children at these schools outperform their peers. They compete favorably with children from wealthy suburbs. No one knows how many of them will win Nobel Prizes, but none of them will drop into the permanent underclass. It feels like a considerable achievement, one that was accomplished in schools that are largely minority.

Now Robert Pondiscio has spent a year observing these schools. He has just written a book detailing how they work and why they work. The results speak for themselves. The reasons should not be surprising. Strict discipline, intolerance for bad behavior, active parental participation, school uniforms, decorum and propriety at all times,

The New York Post reviews his book:

Parents of prospective students who win the lottery to get into a Success Academy school are greeted with “more of a warning than a welcome.”

“It’s not Burger King. You can’t have it your way,” one principal, Shea Reeder, told moms and dads in the first meeting before kids enroll. “It’s all or nothing. Nothing is optional!”

Yet the eagerness of many low-income families of color to embrace Success Academy’s “no-excuses” methods helps explain its amazing achievements, author Robert Pondiscio says in his new book, “How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle over School Choice.”

The story would not be complete without some statistics, an objective measurement of success:

Success Academy’ “scholars” crushed the competition again this year on New York state math and English Language Arts exams.

Of 7,405 Success Academy kids in grades 3 to 8 who took the exams, 99% tested proficient or higher in math, 90% in English. By contrast, in schools run by the city Department of Education, 46% of students passed math, and 47% English.

They also outscored several affluent Westchester and Long Island school districts. For instance, Success Academy, with 94% black and Hispanic students from families with an average $49,800 household income, beat Scarsdale public schools, where 8% of kids are black and Hispanic, and the average family income $291,542. There, 88% passed math and 85% English.

It all begins with strict military-style discipline:

“We do not tolerate hitting, biting, kicking, fighting, anything,” Reeder goes on. “And we suspend kindergartners if they do that. If you have a problem with that, this might not be the school for you.”

Some children learn discipline at home. Some do not. At Success Academy schools, bad and disruptive behavior is not an option.

It begins when the schools enlist parents in their children’s education:

Parents sign a “contract” pledging to abide by all Success Academy policies and values. They must get their kids to school at 7:30 a.m. — busing is not provided — in the right uniform from head to toe.

On the first day of school at Bronx 1, one mom with a neck tattoo of Mickey Mouse was irked her child was turned away for wearing the wrong color socks, black instead of navy, Pondiscio observed. “I got an infraction,” she griped.

Parents are expected to read six books aloud to their children each week through second grade, and monitor and log their kids’ reading assignments through high school.

“You’re responsible for making sure they know their spelling words. You’re responsible for making sure they know their math facts,” lectured Bronx 1 Principal Elizabeth Vandlik, the National Blue Ribbon school where Pondiscio spent most of his visits.

Staffers speak with parents on a regular basis. When testing season gets underway, teachers may call home “every night, every night,” to discuss a child’s progress and “strategy,” one dad told Pondisicio. If the parents didn’t answer the house phone, the cellphone rang, followed by a text, an email and another call.

“I thought it was overwhelming,” the dad said. “But then I’m like, ‘This is really good. This shows they care.”

Some parents do this automatically. It is altogether possible that low income parents do not know what is required to produce academic excellence. Do you find anything wrong with a school that shows parents what they should do for their children at home?

But this also means that parents who refuse to follow the rules or who are not motivated to help their children do not enroll their children. This is a self-selection process… meaning that the lottery results are not the sole determination of who attends and who does not.

Some will say that this is unfair and that it must be eliminated. I prefer to consider it an example, one that many parents will want to emulate.

Teachers practice strict discipline in their classrooms. Children who misbehave are treated severely. This has led some people to attack the schools for imposing too much punishment. They ought also to note what happens when children are allowed to disrupt classrooms with bad behavior, as happens routinely in public schools.

But, it’s an experiment. It will be judged by the eventual outcomes.

But whether the Success Academy model is truly effective won’t be clear for years, Pondiscio said.

“It will take a decade or more before we can say if this brand of education helps people of color become upwardly mobile and leaders in their fields, closing the ultimate achievement gap in American life.”


Sam L. said...

Off the an excellent start, though!

Leo G said...

What an interesting concept, this thing called discipline.

Not only does it help the rest of the class, but appears to maybe instill some kind of regulation for the individuals life.

Wishing these children and the schools all the best in the future.

n.n said...

Diversity is a color judgment (e.g. racism, sexism) based on low information attributes including color, sex. It is also a progressive policy of affirmative discrimination including color quotas. Diversity is one step forward, two steps backward.

As for education, discipline, including reconciliation of individual rights, is critical. Lack of discipline at home, in the community, fostering diversity, lowered expectations, shared responsibility, etc. are a clear and progressive problem for human development.

Ben David said...

In the 4th paragraph I think you mean "forced integration".

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... correction made.