Why Are Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools Suspending Students Left and Right?

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Yves here. Yet another example of how charter schools game the system by pruning their student body so as to produce prettier-looking test scores.

By Alan Singer, a social studies educator at Hofstra University. Originally published at Huffington Post

Hedge fund billionaires and major politicians like President Obama, Republican Presidential contender Jeb Bush, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo love charter schools. For Obama, Bush, and Cuomo they are the miracle cure for what ails American education. Los Angeles is considering a proposal Broad Foundation to turn half of its public schools into charters by 2023. But what is the “miracle” behind claims for higher student test scores at some well-known charter schools? It may simply be “lock them out to drive them out.” Let’s look at the Success Academy Charter School Network, whose schools would more aptly be named “Suspension Academies.”

According to a report by the website Chalkbeat, in New York City charter schools suspended students at about three times the rate of traditional public schools. Chalkbeat found that “charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students.” Their study also concluded “The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.”

In a PBS NewsHour interview with John Merrow, Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools bragged about high test scores and parental applications for the networks entrance lottery. But she was much more defensive when questioned about the charter school network’s code of conduct and suspension policies. Merrow also interviewed Marie Chauvet-Monchik, Principal of PS-138 Brooklyn on the show. Chauvet-Monchik was adamantly opposed to suspending from school children in younger grades. According to Chauvet-Monchik, “When you send a child home, the child is missing instruction. So, I’m actually robbing the child of an education if I suspend the child.”

Merrow then turned to the Success Academy Charter Schools where discipline for their “scholars” is much more punitive. According to Merrow, “Last year, principal Monica Komery issued 44 out-of-school suspensions to her 203 kindergartners and first graders.” Her school is one of 34 Success Academies operating in New York City. The schools are publicly funded, but under private control. Komery admitted “We do have a zero-tolerance policy around certain behaviors,” but claimed “I don’t just suspend children as the first course of action” and argued “It’s well-thought-out. It’s a process, and there are systems in place.”

Moskowitz, when interviewed by Merrow, defended the suspension policy because “If you get it right in the early years, you actually have to suspend far less when the kids are older, because they understand what is expected of them.

According to Merrow, Success Academy’s “code of conduct runs six pages and identifies 65 infractions, from bullying and gambling to littering and failing to be in a ready-to-succeed position.” These policies seem more like preparation for “Walking while Black” in Stop-and-Frisk New York City than a school discipline code. A former Success Academy Upper West student, interviewed by Merrow, told how he was “ticketed” if his shirt was out of his pants or if he wore the wrong color shoes. If these Success Academy “infractions” are repeated they can trigger an “out-of-school suspension.” Because of these policies the suspension rates at Success Academy Charter schools are almost three times higher than in regular New York City K-12 public schools. The figure is even more outrageous because seventy percent of Success Academy “scholars” are elementary school students.

Moskowitz defended the networks zero-tolerance policies as a way of maximizing “freedom” and the suspension of children as young as five for “using sexually explicit language,” which she called “very upsetting.” Merrow however would not let her off the hook. It seems the code also called for suspension for “calling out the right answer twice without being called on.”

According to Success Academy critics, the suspension of young children has little to do with improving student conduct. It is really a policy designed to jack-up average standardized test scores by pushing out any potentially troubled or poorly performing youngsters. Moskowitz dismissed these charges as “just crazy talk.”

However at one Success Academy school eleven kindergarten and first grade students were suspended a total of forty-four times, including one student who was suspended twelve times until the family transferred the child to a public school. At another one of Moskowitz’s schools thirty-two students were suspended a total of 101 times. Parents told PBS reporters that ” young children were sent home multiple times for infractions like not paying attention or for getting out of their seats to look at the bulletin board.” Despite Moskowitz’s facile dismissal of Success Academy’s critics and charges that it suspends students to boost test scores, Success Academy schools have an attrition rate at least twice as high as at other major charter school networks in the city.

There are other causes for concern with the Moskowitz approach to “success.” Success Academy staff is disproportionately White and transient. In 2012 59% of teachers in the New York City public schools were White. But according to one study, at ten Success schools the teaching staff was over 70% White. Additionally, about a third of the staff leaves every year before they ever learn how to really teach. One anonymous Success Academy employee posted online “Success Academy Charter Schools has exceptionally low morale and exceptionally high employee turnover due to the utter disregard and even disdain with which the senior management treat the majority of the employees. Members of upper management have been known to throw work at employees, make culturally insensitive comments (a huge gaffe considering the diverse populations we serve), and to suggest that employees must have deep-seated personal issues if they seek encouragement or feedback from their managers.”

To compensate for the teacher turnover rate, Success’s minimally qualified teachers are often “certified” through “Success Academy” education programs and in classrooms they are expected to follow scripted lesson plans. Under these circumstances it is not clear to me how even the most enthusiastic young teachers can develop sensitivity to the needs of diverse student populations, especially students who may be from backgrounds and with experiences that are far different from their own. This may well explain the need for “lock them out to drive them out.”

I confess in kindergarten and first grade I yelled out correct answers without raising my hand more than once. I can only wonder how I would have fared as a child in a Moskowitz “Suspension Academy” school.

I welcome dissenting comments and would also like to find out how I can see the code of conduct.

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  1. Wayne Gersen

    Kudos to John Merrow for his tough questioning of Ms. Moskowitz’ operations. The media keeps supporting the unproven notion that the expansion of school choice is a civil rights issue while overlooking the fact that charter schools that operate on “no excuses” discipline systems serve only obedient and compliant children… but maybe that’s what the hedge fund managers who underwrite these schools are seeking from the citizenry in the future.

    1. crittermom

      Well put Wayne.
      But I’m fearful it’s more than just hedge fund managers that want “obedient and compliant children”.
      Of course money is a factor, as they’re in it for profit. That’s where some of the problem lies in privatizing education, doesn’t it?

      I’m both saddened & scared to see the individuality & creativity of future generations stifled.
      With no free thinkers but instead only followers of one mind & “the rules”, who will the leaders be? Only those who have conformed to all “the rules” & never learned how to think ‘outside of the box’?
      Are we creating a society of obedient followers who will never question authority?

      From what I’ve read here & elsewhere, charter schools & privatizing our education system are not the answer in a “free” society. In SO MANY ways.

    2. AWB

      What a crock! What part of “this establishment reserves the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason” do you not understand?

      If you want inclusion, start a charter school for retards, but don’t think you have a right to tell anyone else what they have to do.

      It’s attitudes like yours that have gotten us to where we are as a failed social democracy, when this country was founded on neither principle. We are a constitutional republic. The sooner your ilk wake up and realize this, the sooner we can restore it. Of course, I realize I’m preaching to the deaf and dumb on this site.

      1. low_integer

        If you want inclusion, start a charter school for retards

        Of course, I realize I’m preaching to the deaf and dumb on this site.


      2. pretzelattack

        cuz the principles of a constitutional republic require us to funnel public money to grifters. i didn’t know that.

      3. Knute Rife

        A concrete, prosthetic head with the brain pan filled with Atlas Shrugged. Whose parents needed to set up a “special” school?

      4. run75441


        To find more of your ilk, you may want to try the MSN article comments section to lock-step with in segregating those who are different. Thanks for stopping by as it is always fun to listen to a bigot.

  2. Adam1

    As a parent of two young elementary school aged boys with ADHD I can see this policy as being a nightmare designed to drive “these” kinds of kids from your program. ADHD is typically diagnosed in 1st or 2nd grade (but symptoms definitely start showing in kindergarten for many kids). By the time of clinical diagnosis and the likely months of work before the correct pharmacological protocol is reached and or supporting behavior therapy is working your child can be found to be months or whole years behind academically. Under this policy you’d have long left the program in tears relieving them of any IEP resource and profit sucking requirements!

    1. Erwin Gorddon

      Dear Adam1,

      May I suggest that rather than wholly accepting the myth of ADHD (since there is no clear clinical diagnosis for said condition) and going down the pharmacological route, that you consider there maybe other factors that are causing your boys to have problems with concentration like nutrition (i.e. high levels of sugar or zinc deficiency). I refer you to the links below.

      Kind Regards,



      As for possible treatments you could consider a nutritional therapist who specialises in this area or
      companies that provide brain entrainment technologies (see link)


  3. Eric Patton

    No worries. I found the code of conduct:

    Do what we tell you.

    But don’t worry. Goose stepping is not taught until the fifth grade.

  4. cnchal

    According to Merrow, Success Academy’s “code of conduct runs six pages and identifies 65 infractions, from bullying and gambling to littering and failing to be in a ready-to-succeed position.”

    Is a “ready-to-succeed position” actually defined?

    Anywhere one cares to look at our societies “leaders”, there is this element of self serving corruption that is a requirement to be considered successful.

    Since taxpayer money is used to fund these charter schools, this six page code of conduct for kiddies should be published, so we can see the idiocy and corruption embedded in it.

    . . . A former Success Academy Upper West student, interviewed by Merrow, told how he was “ticketed” if his shirt was out of his pants or if he wore the wrong color shoes.

    Success Academy teaches kids how stupid, adults can be. Perhaps it’s a useful lesson.

    1. tegnost

      If you don’t eat your meat, how can you have any pudding?
      I guess we should wonder to whom the “success” will apply to? Probably the administrators, it’s clear they aren’t interested in the teachers or students. And as every big biz org from volkswagon to citi, they’ll lie cheat of steal to make the numbers, ironically not suspendable behavior, but rather how to succeed!

    2. Lambert Strether

      Oddly, or not, “ready-to-succeed position” reminds me strongly of “assume the position.”

      Which is, to be fair, excellent training for making a career under neo-liberal assumptions.

    1. Inverness

      Correct. When all measures are taken into consideration, public schools outperform charters. Keep in mind public schools cannot refuse children entry because they need ESL or special education services. Overall, charters are a nightmare.

  5. washunate

    Loved the read.

    It amazes me how many liberals have fallen for the sham that is creaming students and being exempted from the unfunded mandates heaped upon other schools. The assault on public education is probably the biggest force driving the Democratic party apart at this point (perhaps in combo with the related predation in our healthcare system). I think the NEA endorsement of Clinton may be one of the last stupid things that establishment liberals are in position to do.

    1. run75441


      Interesting comment as I found the Repubs in Michigan driving this assault on public schools as a way of busting teacher unions and moving towards additional segregation of the haves and have-nots.

      1. washunate

        Yep, that’s what is so bizarre about Democratic support for NCLB and RttT and charter schools and teacher accountability and testing and all the rest.

        There is no good faith effort here to improve education. It’s simply a desire to replace universal public education taught by professional teachers with a tiered, class-based system taught by transient workers like the rest of the economy. You’d think even the most self-obsessed neoliberal might pause to wonder what happens if core support pillars of your party are completely destroyed.

  6. Anarcissie

    In considering issues like these, it would be helpful to define what we want the schools to do, and what resources we plan to give them to accomplish these ends, in an honest and realistic way.

    There is probably no greater set of delusions and contradictions than those which permeate public discussion of education. There is little relationship between the idealistic cotton candy puffed in fantasies of our supposed intentions and the ugly realities of the education industry and the social order which they serve. Naturally, some of the field has become shooting gallery for capitalist opportunism, which is all that charter schools are about. The sad fact is, you cannot have schools that are much different from the society in which they are embedded. And so we have elite playgrounds for the rich, mind factories for the middle class, and concentration camps for the poor and improperly pigmented. What else could one expect?

  7. NeqNeq

    This is a fluff piece from HuffPo. At no point does it provide any reason to believe the charter school is suspending kids to boost test scores. That doesn’t mean that suspension for having a shirt untucked is reasonable. Its not. Nor should we ignore the fact that a public school behaving this way would be brought up short by the local board. None of that, however, is relevant to to test scores being artificially high.

    Here is a very short (not exhaustive) list of questions the author should have answered if the testing claim should be believed:

    What percentage of kids who have received suspensions transfer out?
    What effect does in-school vs traditional suspension have on transfers?
    Do suspensions for behavior violations fall disproportionately on students with low academic achievement?
    Do transfers account for all/most/some of the increased test score average?

    1. Pat

      Add to that so that people understand even better:

      Does your school receive funding based on the number of students attending? When is this funding awarded? Does the school refund or return funding to the public school system when a student transfers out or is suspended permanently?

      Because if I understand it correctly, not only does charters in NYC get funded on a per student basis, they get to keep the money for the school year even if that student goes back into the traditional system where they are now do the job without funding.

      It is not just about the suspensions, or the testing shortchanging the system, it is about how the funding method itself also shortchanges the system directly. All of it is connected and it is long past time that:

      1.) charters actually have to function under the same rules as the traditional system – something that would be a huge wrench in them.
      2.) face the same consequences for ‘failure’ as the traditional system (when you get the figures you find out that charter system largely tests worst then the traditional schools). Thus another thing that would kill the lie.

      1. bdy

        Flash above to Jim’s comment – selection of students is everything. Basis schools are here in AZ. Their reputation: highly competitive and high performing. The model: underperforming and even average students are strongly encouraged to disenroll with aggressive disciplinary measures – after the date where subsidies are determined but before the standardized tests that measure schools’ performance.

        To be fair, they actually churn out a class of little neo-liberal competitors every year. But they feed the false myth that “some charter schools are doing it right . . . Just look at test scores.” The only thing they are doing right is recruiting and winnowing down to the kind of students who perform when strong-armed. Sadly, I know parents who are keenly aware of the model and still send their kids there. They think the bar is higher and don’t care so much how it is set.

        1. Ulysses

          This particular outfit, Success Academies, is notorious for kicking seniors out of school if they aren’t accepted into a 4-year college. This way they can point to amazingly high acceptance rate for graduating seniors. They just forget to mention that forced attrition rates for these seniors are outrageously high, in some schools more than 50%!!

          These for profit shams are a very corrosive force in NYC:

    2. Bridget

      Good list of questions. Suspension is not expulsion, and the kids receiving suspension are still enrolled and tested unless they transfer out.

      And while I would agree that suspension for having a shirt untucked seems rather extreme, if the result is an environment in which Success Academies can boast of high test scores while using “minimally qualified teachers”, I can well understand why many parents would trade their local public school and their maximally qualified teachers for high standards of conduct and “scripted lesson plans”.

  8. NoBrick

    First off, my comments aren’t an endorsement of the “Mask-o-wits” brand of conditioning.
    My shockometer remained still with the “The schools are publicly funded, but under private control.” thud. WHAT “tab” isn’t picked up by the “public”?
    “To imprint ideas or opinions, in the strict sense of the word, PREJUDICES, on the minds
    of children, is NOT education.” Are we not immersed in the product of invented tradition, or
    a set of practices of a ritual, of symbolic nature, that seek to inculate “certain” values and
    norms of behavior? Does the “fruit on the table” give legitimacy to the “seeds” of
    Our social hierachy seems to be based on social legitimacy. Social legitimacy conveyed
    through doctrines centered around democracy, equality, rule of law, in short, hypothetic
    “comfort zones”. No matter how much the “pesky results” indicate WHOSE interests are
    being served, the myths endure. Go figure, agents of power amplify the myths. Eva follows
    the tried and true method of “empowerment” through the division of sort and separate.

  9. Denis Drew

    This sounds like corporal punishment schools without the corporal punishment — same war on the students.

    I find an inhuman parallel with so-called broken windows policing. Broken windows as practiced by the NYPD consists of hitting every citizen they can with every infraction they can spot.

    Thus the NYPD pits 200 years of social contract against 200,000 years of evolved social instinct. Crossing between subway cars: a ticket/maybe arrested! Riding a bike down a one-way street the wrong way. Gotcha!

    The (evolved!) instinctive response to this is RAGE. Check out Ferguson — its ticket blitz — being told not to walk down the middle of the street on your own suburban back street.

    The right way to police — and teach: if the technical violation and the real world (instinctive view of) of the violation match, take action. That syncs laws with how our brains have actually evolved to work with others. That always worked just fine before the invasion of the body snatchers landed …

    … landed appropriately in impersonal New York; too big to feel enforcement in anyway personally; it’s always the distant drummer of the law — the only place the police would (even before the invasion) arrest a Guardian Angel on the complaint of a drug dealer (claim/counter-claim; everybody goes to court — exactly what happened to make Bernie Goetz start carrying a gun). Now Zombies with ticket books are spreading out over the country. Not saying other places don’t have their own pathologies.

    Anyway now the rigidly-impersonal is being sicked on school children to their deep emotional deficit. (Beginning in impersonal NY?)

  10. Kris Alman

    At the same time, Education Week’s Spotlight on Human Capital Management rationalizes the problem of teacher retention in “no excuses” charter schools. Miss Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says: “In my opinion, so long as teachers are producing results and impacting stu- dents in a positive way, and the school is able to attract new talent, it’s not that big of a deal.”

    Never mind that a good percentage of Teach for America teachers that aspire toward leadership in corporate education are churning through these schools.

    Also take a look at the new report from the Center for Media and Democracy. CHARTER SCHOOL BLACK HOLE: CMD Special Investigation Reveals Huge Info Gap on Charter Spending.

  11. Inverness

    What kind of monstrous policies lead to the suspension of 6 year-olds? This is legal child abuse. Imagine your small son or daughter is already labeled a problem child at such a tender age, and how this will affect their emotional and intellectual development. No wonder teachers burnout at those schools. Lousy work conditions aside, few teachers get into the profession to hurt children.

  12. low_integer

    Moskowitz defended the networks zero-tolerance policies as a way of maximizing “freedom”

    She should have been a politician.

    1. Lambert Strether

      She is. This is interesting:

      Even after deferring requests for public space — and thus taking the chance to appeal to the state for funding to open in private space off the table — Success still could have opened the schools by finding and paying for private space, though it has decided not to do so.

      So it looks like “Success” is successful as a parasite only as long as the host permits. They can’t make it on their own, otherwise they’d pay for private space.

    2. Knute Rife

      She certainly has Doublespeak down cold. What I keep wondering is what kind of lamegroin needs to suspend kindergarteners.

  13. nat scientist

    Success by the Bed of Procrustes method is no way to treat children; punishing the fast learners yearning to break free from the slow puddings is edu-criminality. Mobility of learners reflects success in most endeavors. Eva is better suited for training large-breed canines.

  14. Lambert Strether

    This is cute:

    Recently-elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to put an end to the rent-free usage of public school space by charter schools.

    Moskowitz’s response?

    She closed her 22 schools on October 8, 2013, so that her students could “volunteer” to protest.

    Public schools do not close in order to have public school students engage in protests– and this protest coincided with the political agenda of Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, who just happened to attend.

    Moskowitz is playing both sides of the public-private hybrid that is the Success Academy charter school. Her schools are “public” when it benefits her schools to be so, and they are “privately managed charters” when that is title is convenient (as in her closing school in order to have her students “protest” in favor of a mayoral candidate).

    So, the “self-serving use of public power for private ends,” something Moskowitz, charters, and neo-liberals generally excel at.

    1. low_integer

      I wonder if the students that declined to “volunteer” received suspensions for not maximizing their “freedom”.

  15. Bridget

    “Public schools do not close in order to have public school students engage in protests”

    But it’s ok for them to close in order to have public school teachers engage in protests.

  16. paul lauter

    If I knew how to paste in the original, I’d provide the 1908 German (from Neukolln, Berlin) Schulregeln, but here’s a translation:
    –Students must sit up straight.
    –Hands must be kept together on the desk (table)
    –Feet must be placed side by side on the floor.
    –Students must keep their eyes on the teacher.
    –Laughing, whispering, talking, moving or looking around are forbidden.
    –Students must signal with the pointer finger of the right hand; the left hand supporting the elbow.

    Well, we know where these pupils were politically 25 years later.

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