Behind the Headline: This Viral Video of a Teacher Berating a Student is a Window on the Charter School Debate

successacademyOn Top of the News
This Viral Video of a Teacher Berating a Student is a Window on the Charter School Debate
Vox | 2/12/16

Behind the Headline
What Explains Success at Success Academy?
Education Next | Summer 2015

Libby Nelson describes the controversy that has erupted after a secretly-recorded video was released showing a teacher from a Success Academy charter school berating a student in front of her classmates. Nelson writes “The video is undeniably upsetting. But the bigger question it raises is whether it happened to capture a teacher’s worst moment, or whether it’s indicative of a larger pattern.”

As Nelson explains, critics of  Success Academy and other “no excuses” charter schools say that their culture of strict discipline is too harsh on students, while supporters say that it is necessary to help disadvantaged students catch up, and point to the stellar performance of these students on standardized tests.

She writes

Reading accounts of visits to Success Academy schools makes it clear that even if critics and supporters are observing the same classrooms, they’re filtering what they see through their own biases.

The New York Times, which has published a critical series of articles on Success Academy, described the schools as exacting, with students marching silently in straight lines in the hallway and teachers who did not hesitate to shame students publicly for low grades or test scores — even if they also praised them lavishly for improving. The article barely mentioned the curriculum.

Education Next, a journal generally friendly to the education reform movement, published an article from the education policy director at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who observed classrooms and praised the rich, challenging curriculum students were asked to master. The article barely mentioned discipline.

Both are probably true: that Success Academy students receive high test scores because much is expected of them and their teachers, and that those expectations, combined with strict discipline codes that would seem out of place at a wealthy public school in the suburbs, can be extremely stressful.

The Education Next article is “What Explains Success at Success Academy?” by Charles Sahm.

-Education Next

P.S. Peter Cunningham offers some advice to Success Academy on how to respond to the controversy here.

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