A leader of New York charter schools is attacked for daring to impose, gasp, discipline in her schools. Schools that actually perform quite well and have a student population that is predominately composed of minorities. Eva Moskowitz writes in the Wall Street Journal:
This year charter-school enrollment grew by 260,000 students nationwide. Most of the fastest-growing charter networks, including Success Academies in New York City, which I run, believe we have a responsibility both to push children to achieve their potential and to protect them from the mayhem that in district schools often robs students of their opportunity to learn.
This stricter approach has encountered fierce criticism in certain quarters. The New York Times, for example, has bemoaned Success Academy’s “stringent rules about behavior” that require students to have their “eyes following the speaker” and walk “in formation reminiscent of the von Trapp children at the beginning of ‘The Sound of Music.’ ” Over the past year the Times’s principal education reporter has devoted 34% of the total word count for her education stories, including four of her seven longest articles, to unrelentingly negative coverage of Success.
We are hardly perfect and are, like all institutions, a work in progress. Yet the expenditure of such a disproportionate amount of investigative resources on one network of schools that educates just 1% of New York City’s students is curious, given the dire failures of the district schools. In Central Harlem’s district schools, for example, just 15% of students scored proficient on the state’s math exams in 2015. The budget at one Harlem district school, P.S. 241, amounted to $2 million for each of its two students who tested proficient in math. By contrast, 90% of the students at Success’s Central Harlem schools scored proficient in math in 2015.
Many education professors are also critical of strict charter schools. But there is at least one group that strongly supports our schools: parents. For the current school year, Success Academies received 22,000 applications for 2,300 spots. Another network in New York City with a similar approach, Achievement First, received 21,000 applications for 1,000 spots. Meanwhile, most district schools with which we compete are massively under-enrolled.
This raises an important question: Why are the views of parents about discipline so different than those of Times reporters and education professors? The answer, I believe, is that parents know from personal experience that when schools have lax discipline, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, children are bullied, robbed of educational opportunities by unruly behavior and even subjected to violence. Indeed, according to state statistics compiled by the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, 2015 was the most violent year in New York City schools in a decade.
Unfortunately, reporters and education professors often fail to realize that they are hampered by their own lack of personal experience with dysfunctional urban schools, which most of them didn’t attend—and aren’t where they are forced to send their own children. The New York Times education reporter claimed that her coverage of Success raised doubt about “How much . . . parents know of what goes on in their children’s classrooms.” The message was clear: Parents send their kids to stricter schools because they are clueless and need the help of a reporter to tell them what’s really going on. Really? Even though these parents speak with their own children every day?
The unstated premise is that parents are susceptible to being duped because they are poor and unsophisticated. (Once upon a time, this view was known as “false consciousness”—the Marxist critique of how the proletariat could be misled by capitalist society.) But if parents of Success students were complacent and so easy to please, they wouldn’t be taking their children out of district schools in droves. Moreover, even affluent families are increasingly recognizing the value of schools that are academically rigorous. We have several schools in relatively wealthy communities, and our oldest, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, received almost 3,000 applications for 100 seats in 2015.
Even the views of students themselves are dismissed by critics. In a 2013 study, Joan F. Goodman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, interviewed 56 seniors from a strict school about its discipline policies. She reported that all but three students spoke favorably about the policies. Without them, the students said, “hallways would be crazy” and students would “act up,” “not do their work” and “mess up in class while someone else [is] trying to learn.” But Ms. Goodman concluded the students’ views just showed how the school had lowered its students’ “self-esteem.” Social psychologists, she later observed in an interview, “call it ‘identification with the oppressor.’ Here oppressor should be changed to authority.”
Critics claim that strict discipline stymies students’ creativity and voice. This just isn’t true. Requiring students to wear a uniform, speak respectfully and pay attention in class doesn’t prevent them from developing their identity or thinking for themselves. Our view at Success is that when schools are calm and organized, children feel free to express themselves precisely because they do feel safe....
Ms. Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. Rest of article
Kingfish note: Meanwhile, parents are suing New York City public schools over discipline problems. 2016 New York Times story about violence in NYC schools.