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The Success Academy Brouhaha

As head of the Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City,  Eva Moscowitz is a public-relations whiz ("What Explains Success At Success Academy?" Education Next, Summer 2015).  She has a continuous string of op-eds and letters to the editor extolling her schools published in newspapers that are read nationally and internationally. But reports are slowly emerging that the charter chain is not a panacea ("Stories From Current and Former Success Academy Parents," The New York Times," Apr. 18).

What surprises me is why it has taken so long for these reports to surface.  It's axiomatic that schools that work beautifully for some students are disasters for others.  Only parents know what is best for their own children.  For example, a military school may be a perfect fit for some students, while a Summerhill-like school may be ideal for others. Yet too often parents are easily persuaded by what they read.  

In my neighborhood near UCLA, parents often ask my opinion about the local public schools.  I tell them that they need to visit the schools in question and speak to other parents whose children are enrolled before deciding.  Parents who opt for private or religious schools don't hesitate to follow my advice.  Yet when it comes to traditional public schools, they fail to do so. Then they complain about the education their children are receiving. If they had done their homework, they could have avoided such disappointment.

Success Academy is no exception. It has its plusses and minuses.  Its achievements are indeed impressive (even though it plays by a different set of rules). For example, 64 percent of its students were proficient in English last year and 94 percent were proficient in math.  This compared with 29 percent in English and 35 percent in math in traditional public schools in New York City.  Yet some parents object to the extra work sessions on Saturday, the posting of state results in the hallways and the overall strict atmosphere.  

I'm glad to see that a more balanced picture is finally on display.  I say that not to denigrate the outcomes but to remind parents to maintain a healthy skepticism when reading about the chain. This will save them much frustration and anger down the line. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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