The Success Academy charter school system in New York has often been questioned for their practices of supposedly “weeding out” problematic students who they would like to see leave the program. Now, The New York Times has found files and completed interviews with current and former Success employees that might prove the suspicions true.
According to the Times, the system is known for both its “remarkable accomplishments” and its exacting of “behavior rules.” Indeed, “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,” the Times reported. “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.” The oldest students at the schools are in the third grade.
Now, one branch of the school in Brooklyn is allegedly guilty of creating a “Got to Go” list comprised of the names of 16 students that the administration wished to have weeded out of the program. The school is also said to avoid teaching students with special needs, according to the Times.
Parents whose children attend the Success Academy have long questioned the system’s practices, the Times reported. Multiple mothers report having had to pick up their children from school more times than they can even count. One student’s mother immediately withdrew her from the school when the principle, Candido Brown, said that he would have to call 911 if her daughter “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.”
Another mother was concerned that her son was on the list, even though he “doesn’t hit kids … he doesn’t scream, he just talks to much.” In essence, the parents believe that their lives are being uprooted with calls and meetings so that they will be forced to withdraw their children from the school. There are even reports that re-enrollment forms for the school weren’t properly distributed to those parents whose children the school wished to weed out.
The academy’s response? The spokesperson, Ann Powell, told the Times that what the parents see as weeding out is actually the school’s effort to “find the right environment” for the students. That environment simply exists outside the schools program.
Perhaps what is most concerning about the system’s tactics is the form of discipline used on these young children. All of the students are under 10 — there is no reason the staff can’t sit down with a so-called “problem child,” talk with them and find the root of the problem. But chastising them and sending them home for the day simply doesn’t cut it. Instead of addressing problems, the staff is skirting them and focusing on the kids they favor. But all of these children deserve to be taught that they matter and that they are important.
It seems that these practices can only hurt the students in the long run. This “shut up and do what you’re told” mentality breeds kids who don’t speak up for themselves, and will continue to remain silent even when the real world calls for noise. Part of the reason school is so important at such a young age is for socialization. But instead of being taught to make friends, share colored pencils and say please and thank you, these kids are told to sit up straight, fold their hands and keep their mouths shut.
We aren’t experts, as some of these staff members probably are. But we do know that being told to stay quiet and stand tall doesn’t work for everyone. We can’t expect these students to be such high-achieving prodigies under the age of 10. Five-year-olds play and scream, regardless of whether or not we tell them to.
This whole Success Academy system seems like a waste of government funds. “Success” doesn’t lie in the ability to sit up straight while being talked down to — it lies in one’s ambition. And instead of being taught to work hard for what they want, these kids are told their outbursts are simply characteristic of unsuccessful human beings.
And who doesn’t love to have a good outburst once in a while? We all have our moments. Maybe these principals should be sent home every time they don’t want to sit up straight for six hours, too.
Perhaps the academy’s desires lie in preparing kids to go through higher education. But each of us who have been through or learned about the American education system realize that reforms must be made. Therefore, training an elementary-aged child to go through the current education system is flawed in itself.
Instead of devoting their time to these students who need them most, the administration in this system is more focused on waiting for kids to fail. Or, seemingly, causing turmoil in their parents’ lives so that they are forced to quit. But the school really can’t come out and say that they never had plans to use this list. Why would anyone write it if they didn’t have plans to edge these students out? The namesake of the list says it all.
Of course discipline must be instilled, but this form of discipline not only alienates students who may need more help than others, but it also doesn’t do any good for the students who are already so well disciplined. Ultimately, we support providing students with responsibility, but that responsibility should be aimed at lifting them up and providing them with the chance to rise to the occasion. Educators should focus on giving students opportunity and room enough to grow. One becomes disciplined through self-motivation, and these kids aren’t even given an opportunity to develop this motivation past 5-years-old. The goal should be to unite these kids and achieve a certain level of discipline for all of them, rather than just the select few who come out of the womb with perfectly straightened spines.
We realize that this view sounds quite utilitarian. But according to the Times, charter schools in New York admit children by lottery. “Similar to a traditional public school,” the article reads, “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.”
This statement makes clear that the school is responsible for each and every student who choses to attend and walks through those front doors every day, regardless of his or her ability to comprehend their form of discipline. Even students with special needs must be attended to. This isn’t some swanky boarding school that parents are paying thousands of dollars for their children to attend — it’s a publicly funded system that is lawfully required to accept all children. And by the looks of it, this school is doing the exact opposite of what is required of them.