Moskowitz and Mussolini

Say whatever you want about Eva Moskowitz; At least she makes the trains run on time.

Because the above comment, not directed at me, came from across the dinner table in a large, noisy banquet room, I wasn’t able to hear responses.  However, the speaker was clearly praising Moskowitz for her schools’ academic success, not equating her with the Italian Fascist dictator and Hitler ally.

But it got me thinking about both Mussolini and Moskowitz, one of whom was shot while trying to flee to Switzerland, the corpse then mauled by the public before being hanged upside down from a steel girder in a Milan suburb, while the other is riding high on a wave of adulation stoked by puff pieces in major publications including The Atlantic.  In addition to a commitment to efficiency, could Moskowitz and Mussolini be close in other ways?

Back to Mussolini: How did Il Duce get the trains to run on time?  Could he have ordered them to do whatever was necessary to stay on schedule?  Perhaps he issued a directive: ‘If people are still trying to get on the train, but it’s time to leave–just leave.’  He might have added, ‘If a flock of sheep, or some school children, are on the tracks, don’t slow down but toot your horn and plow on through so you can stay on schedule.’  Perhaps there was a third fiat:  ‘If a train is so crowded that it cannot get up to full speed, just toss some passengers off the moving train and get back up to speed.’

If tactics like that enabled Mussolini’s trains to stick to the schedule, then he and Eva Moskowitz have something in common, because the latter has a long history of discarding students who don’t meet her exacting standards.  As Kate Taylor in the New York Times (also here). Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News (here), (here) and (here), and my colleagues and I on the PBS NewsHour have reported, Success Academies use a wide variety of questionable tactics to weed out students who are not performing–or do not seem likely to perform–well on bubble tests.  Those tactics keep her trains running on time, I.E., scoring at the top of the charts on standardized tests.

Elizabeth Green’s endorsement of Success Academies and their approach to education The Atlantic, headlined “How Charter Schools Won,” is particularly disappointing.  Green mentions Taylor’s New York Times reporting but only in the context of Moskowitz’s attacks on her.  Green ignores reporting done by Gonzalez, a two-time recipient of the George Polk Award.  If she had contacted me, I could have introduced her to a Success Academy custodian who told us about regularly emptying student vomit from the wastebaskets.  Although he declined to appear on television, I believe he would have gladly educated Green.

The omissions in Green’s article (and, to be fair to Green, in most coverage of Moskowitz) are almost too numerous to mention: She does not tell her readers that Moskowitz drives away children–some as young as five–by excessive use of out-of-school suspensions.  Banning kids from school for days at a time is an effective device for getting rid of children, particularly when the parents have jobs outside the home. And it’s easy to get suspended from Success Academy.  On my blog I published Success Academies’ draconian list of offenses that can lead to suspension, about 65 of them in all.  “Slouching/failing to be in ‘Ready to Succeed’ position” more than once,  “Getting out of one’s seat without permission at any point during the school day,” and “Making noise in the hallways, in the auditorium, or any general building space without permission” can get a child an out-of-school suspension that can last as long as five days.  The code includes a catch-all, vague offense that all of us are guilty of at times, “Being off-task.”

Let’s play out how this might work: When an out-of-school suspension is handed out the first time, maybe the Mom asks her mother to watch the child; the second time, maybe her sister can pitch in.  But the third one…that’s probably when the Mom decides to seek another school for her first grader.   Was that the administration’s goal?  In our NewsHour piece we reported on the out-of-school suspensions at one Success Academy and a co-located district school, and the numbers were staggering.  Kate Taylor reported on one Success Academy principal’s ‘Get Rid Of’ list.  How many others have similar lists?

Although Success Academies are public (charter) schools funded with taxpayer dollars, she does not fill open spaces (after grade 3) when children leave.  Law-abiding public schools are required to take all comers.  

What is also missing from Green’s puff piece are other steps Moskowitz takes to ‘cull the herd,’ steps that seem designed to eliminate all but the most dedicated parents.  For example, Success Academies does not participate in the free transportation for students. What is the impact of that?  Does it eliminate single parents who work and don’t have time to bring their children to school?  Is it designed to do that? Do any other charter schools pass up this perk? I have not found any.  

Green does not bring up an important question: what happens to the children who do not meet Moskowitz’s standards? Whether they leave of their own accord, are pushed out, or are effectively thrown out, they have to go to school somewhere. If the Moskowitz model were to be widely accepted, which is what Green is endorsing, where would those children go to school?  

Green’s article (and other superficial press coverage) ignore student turnover, a critically important measure of school success.  After all, if students are leaving in droves, something is amiss.  There are two obvious ways to measure retention, one that’s brutally honest, and one that obscures the facts.   Guess which one Moskowitz employs? Here’s the honest way: The charter network known as KIPP counts students from Day One of the school year through the beginning of the next school year, meaning that whoever drops out during the summer is counted as a loss (and, from KIPP’s point of view, a failure on its part). That’s 365 days.  However, strictly speaking, charter schools are allowed to count from the district’s official ‘count day’ in early October and can stop counting on the last day of school. That’s about 260 days, not 365. Doing it that way means a school does not have to report any children who leave before the ‘count day’ (perhaps because administrators have ‘encouraged’ them to leave).  Nor does a school have to report those who drop away during the summer.  That narrow approach is how Success Academies measures its own retention…and they still don’t do all that well.

Teacher turnover is another key measure of the health of a school that is overlooked. Teacher turnover is high at Success Academies.   

Elizabeth Green admits that Eva Moskowitz is scary to cover.  In our reporting, we learned just how frightened people are; close to a dozen parents whose children had been expelled from Success Academies for what seemed to be trivial offenses changed their minds, at the last minute, about appearing on camera.  The source I most regret losing is that custodian who told us how many times a day he had to empty vomit from the wastebaskets in the Success Academy classrooms.

While Green is correct about the academic achievements of Success Academies, she does not explore disturbing patterns and numbers.  Had she done so, she might have been less enthusiastic. How many of Success graduates have done well enough to gain admission to the New York City’s selective high schools like Bronx Science?  Last time I checked, it was zero.  And Green, a veteran reporter, must have heard stories about how Success kids, after years of regimentation, proved unable to handle a relatively unstructured environment.  In Moskowitz’s own Success Academy high school, an attempt at a less-structured environment failed because the graduates of her highly regimented K-8 system were unprepared for even a small taste of freedom

Success Academies and their founder ignore the wisdom of Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Because Moskowitz worships test scores, students at her schools spend an inordinate amount of time being tested or practicing for tests. Moreover, they are rewarded for obedience and punished for drawing outside the lines and thinking outside the box.  Who on earth thinks these students are being prepared for life in a complex society?

Dr. Moskowitz is very smart, focused and ruthless.  She knows how to work the system, and she has humiliated Mayor de Blasio more than once. On one level, it’s tragic that she has bought into the ‘test scores rule’ approach to education.  She does have some ‘progressive’ instincts that, had she followed them, might have produced schools that children want to attend.

However, at base, Moskowitz’s instincts are dictatorial, not democratic, and in that she resembles Mussolini, both authoritarians at their core.   While it is true that democracy is messy (one of Green’s complaints), there are plenty of examples of effective schools. The best schools approach each child with a paradigm-shifting question, “How is this child intelligent?”  Success Academies ask the opposite question: “How smart is this child?” 

Moskowitz has perfected a ‘sorting machine.’  Not only does she sort children by test scores; she also discards those who don’t measure up.  One could defend sorting if the goal were to create the best ways to help all children, but she does not do that.  Instead, she discards.

I suspect that Green did not think through her endorsement very carefully, even though she wrote on Chalkbeat, the electronic newsletter she co-founded, about her anguish.  I am not alone in being concerned.  One other concerned observer, Andrea Gabor, just published an article worth reading.

There is clearly a powerful Moskowitz bandwagon—the $250,000 Broad Prize for charter networks, strong support from Governor Andrew Cuomo, multiple millions from billionaire supporters Dan Loeb, John Petry, Julian Robertson, and others, uncritical pieces in New York Magazine and The Atlantic, and a cautiously skeptical piece in The New Yorker.   I am a contrarian. I believe that Success Academies represents an approach to schooling that we need to move away from–and as quickly as possible.

35 thoughts on “Moskowitz and Mussolini

  1. Excellent article and I could not agree more with this: “Green does not bring up an important question: what happens to the children who do not meet Moskowitz’s standards?” But it;s not only Green. That question is ignored in most of the coverage of Success, leading one to the sad conclusion that few care about poor, black kids who are struggling in school (this school anyway) and may have behavior issues.

    One little quibble: It’s Andrea Gabor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought Green’s article was, rather than a puff piece, instead a superbly well-written, incisive piece of balanced journalism.

    I’m curious, John, why you are continuing to make criticisms that I thought Moskowitz had quite effectively rebutted in her October 2015 letter to Judy Woodruff. Do you dispute what she wrote there, e.g., the following:

    “Second, I noted in my first letter to you that the data show that Success Academy’s rates of attrition are lower than averages for both district and charter schools in New York City. You do not contest this fact in your letter. Instead, you provide this convoluted explanation of how Mr. Merrow made his own calculations to compare us to one single charter network:”

    ‘This is a complicated area because charter schools, including Success Academy Charter Schools, calculate attrition differently. Mr. Merrow addressed these disparities by comparing similar time frames and methods for calculating attrition. He used both public numbers and internal documents to calculate a comparison of attrition rates. One of the charter schools in the report calculates attrition by the names of individual children over a 365-day calendar year, from the beginning of one school year to the beginning of the next school year. Success Academy’s data is based on the number of children over the school year, not the calendar year. Mr. Merrow reconciled those numbers fairly and thoroughly.’

    “This response is nonsense. It is not complicated. In fact, there is publicly available data that respected journalist Beth Fertig of WNYC radio received from the New York City Department of education that makes apples to apples comparisons of Success’ attrition rate with that of district schools and other charters.

    “Second, your claim that “Success Academy data is based on the number of children over the school year, not the calendar year” is just false. Ms. Fertig noted that her data “used enrollment records from October 31, 2010 to Oceober 31 of 2011” and she found that our attrition was 10%, the same number we quoted to you in our letter and that is less than the average for other district and charter schools in New York City. So your “clarification” contains yet another misstatement which we demand that you correct.

    “Third, you fail to explain why Mr. Merrow would concoct his own home brew statistical manipulations when there is publicly available data making apples to apples comparisons that has already been cited by another journalist. Moreover, why keep Mr. Merrow’s home brew analysis secret? If it is correct, why not share it with the world?

    “Finally, you do not explain why Mr. Merrow cherry picked a comparison to one single charter network when there is data available to compare us to the averages for all district and charter schools in New York City.


    “You note that we were given an opportunity to respond to Mr. Merrow’s other allegations. Yes, we were and we did — but Mr. Merrow and his colleauges simply ignored the evidence we provided that contradicted the story he wanted to tell. For example, one of the schools mentioned in Mr. Merro’s report as Success Academy Prospect Heights. We showed Mr. Merrow a printout from our data systems of every single student who withdrew over a two year period. I have attached that report It shows that of the 21 students who left during that period, only three of them had ever been suspended. And of the 19 students who did receive suspensions, only two of them withdrew. So this supposed link between suspensions and attrition is demonstrably untrue. But Mr. Merrow simply ignored this data.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen, Not only do I dispute what Moskowitz wrote to Judy Woodruff; I stand by what I have written. Let’s start with the attrition numbers. Let me begin by quoting what I wrote in an earlier blog about Moskowitz’s high-powered PR effort to rebuild her image (it was successful, obviously):

      “Moskowitz’s most surprising ally in her PR offensive is Beth Fertig of WNYC public radio here in New York. She and her colleague Jenny Ye reported on March 15 that NYC Charters Retain Students Better Than Traditional Schools.’ The lead sentence: “Citywide, across all grades, 10.6 percent of charter school students transferred out in 2013-14, compared to 13 percent of traditional public school students.” They cite the KIPP charter network as having an especially low attrition rate, about 25% of the rate in neighboring traditional schools.

      This is like comparing the kids who go to the playground to toss a ball around with the kids whose parents enroll them in the karate program at the Y, buy them uniforms and accompany them to practice and competitions.

      Of course the departure rate from traditional urban public schools is higher. Families lose their homes and have to move. Parents change jobs and have to move. The single parent gets sick and has to move in with relatives. And generally the kids then move to the closest school. I.E., they ‘transfer.’

      On the other hand, getting into a charter school entails jumping through hoops, often a lot of them, and those parents–who have sought out what they hope to be better opportunities for their children–are not going to change schools just because of a job loss or an illness. Some charter school students may ‘transfer’ because their school doesn’t provide the special education services they’re supposed to. Some students may ‘transfer’ after being sent home multiple times for minor offenses. That seems to happen quite often at Success Academies, which has a long laundry list of offenses that warrant out of school suspensions.

      Therefore, comparing transfer rates is meaningless, a waste of the reporter’s time and public radio’s resources. Every well run charter school should have attrition rates as low as KIPP’s, or lower.

      This silly and meaningless exercise in comparing unconnected numbers makes Success Academies look good. Although SA had the second-worst attrition rate (57.4% of traditional schools), that’s not how WNYC presented it. Here’s what they wrote:

      We found most of Success’s 18 schools in the 2013-14 school year had attrition rates that were lower than those of their local districts. The two schools that were slightly higher are in Bedford Stuyvesant and Cobble Hill (where the first grade teacher was caught on camera).Bed Stuy 2’s attrition rate was 13.4 percent versus 12.4 percent for traditional public schools in District 14. The Cobble Hill school’s attrition rate was 12.5 percent versus 10.8 percent in the regular District 15 schools.

      “Our low attrition rates reflect what parents appreciate about our schools,” said Success founder Moskowitz. “That our classrooms are as joyful as they are rigorous.”

      Allowing Success Academies to boast of a supposedly low attrition rate is beyond ironic, because the organization plays fast and loose with numbers. The single most accurate way to calculate attrition is to list everyone who starts school on Day One and then count again 365 days later on the following Day One to determine who has left. Then the school could figure out why students left and, where appropriate, make adjustments. This is what KIPP does. The resulting number is not necessarily flattering because it includes everyone who left: some families move out of town, some kids decide they don’t want to work that hard, other kids just want to be with their peers, and so on.

      A second way to count attrition would be from September 1 to June 25th or whenever school lets out. That leaves out summer loss, which actually is pretty significant. Other charter networks I am aware of count attrition this way.

      The third way produces the lowest and most impressive attrition number: That entails counting attrition from the official NYC attendance count day, known as BEDS. That occurs fairly early in October. So a school can count the number of students on October 10th and count again on June 25th. Doing it this way means that whatever happens between the true opening of school (late August or early September) and BEDS does not show up on any records. So if a charter network employs multiple out-of-school suspensions during that 6-week period, August-25-October 10, no one outside of the network would EVER know.

      Approach #3 is the one taken by Success Academies, which is why Moskowitz boasts of low attrition.”

      When Moskowitz and WNYC’s Beth Fertig objected, I simply cited what the WNYC research team wrote to me: “We counted attrition as the number of students discharged from every school from July 2013 through June 2014, excluding students who enrolled for the fall and left over the summer or during the first week of September.” That could not be clearer. Fertig and WNYC did not count kids who left over the summer or during the first week of school! Moskowitz continues to cite Fertig’s story as ‘proof’ of her success.

      We had access to confidential documents in which Success Academies acknowledged high attrition rates among both students and teachers. Why did they tell the truth in those documents? Perhaps because they were applying for money and there were consequences for omissions and prevarications.


      • “excluding students who enrolled for the fall and left over the summer or during the first week of September.” That could not be clearer. Fertig and WNYC did not count kids who left over the summer or during the first week of school! Moskowitz continues to cite Fertig’s story as ‘proof’ of her success.”

        They only cite half of Fertig’s story. What is shocking is that even while bending over backward to hide Moskowitz’ high attrition, Fertig’s study showed that every single charter network except one managed to keep a significantly higher % of their students.

        Which is ridiculous given that parents who seek out a high performing school are unlikely to leave it unless they are intentionally pushed out.


      • Thanks, John, I really appreciate your detailed reply. But don’t find it entirely persuasive.

        I would agree with you that there may prove to be some statistically significant difference in the reasons why parents move children out of charter schools relative to moving them out of district schools, but am less confident than you as to how the blends differ. I suspect that there’s rather more overlap than you imagine in respect to the set of stressors that may impel change.

        And it’s plausibly the case that the parents of district school children on average are somewhat more passive in respect to school assignment processes while parents of charter school kids are more aggressively mobile in respect to their children’s schools, more likely to jump at even better alternatives even if the present circumstance is good. They may move the child to a charter school of similar quality that’s closer by than the one far across town where their child was initially accepted. May take a chance to move to another town where the schools are particularly highly rated. That would tend to increase attrition at even the best NYC charters, particularly when parents recognize the opportunity to move up to Boston ;-).

        You write: “Although SA had the second-worst attrition rate (57.4% of traditional schools)”

        It had not only a much lower attrition rate than nearby traditional schools but also a bit better than average in comparison to all NYC charter schools, if I understand correctly. It only could be said to have the “second-worst” in respect to the subset of the successful, largest, long-standing networks, correct? Is your approach sort of like implying that the “second-worst” starter on the Celtics must be inept at playing basketball?

        You cite the WNYC research team as stating: “We counted attrition as the number of students discharged from every school from July 2013 through June 2014, excluding students who enrolled for the fall and left over the summer or during the first week of September.”

        And you, John, write: “That could not be clearer. Fertig and WNYC did not count kids who left over the summer or during the first week of school!”

        Well, to my eyes it could be clearer. Did they really mean that they didn’t count any kids who left over any summer? If that were true, then I think your critique would be valid. But I wouldn’t assume that to be the case. Isn’t it alternatively possible, and far more justifiable, that they mean that if a child is signed up to newly enroll at Success Academy or Kipp in the fall but in fact does not show up for school that initial year he or she is not counted. But he or she would be counted as attriting if he or she left during any of various subsequent summers? I don’t see that that methodology would create much of any difference from the Kipp method you praise, which presumably doesn’t count any who sign up but don’t show up on day one of their first year. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that tic-tac like objects swoop down and pull out vast “droves” of Success Academy kids between Aug 25 and Sept 7 of their very first year and quantumly entangle them into safe sanctuary in a district school that they then prefer, but you present no concrete evidence for either that or that Success parents themselves see the light quite quickly enough in those first few days to significantly alter the overall attrition numbers.

        I acknowledge that you raise some valid concerns re: Success Academy, as do Mead, Gabor, and Green. Together with Green’s piece I particularly appreciated Gabor’s 2015 piece:
        “Inside Success Academy: Nose Pressed to the Window Pane”:

        That helped illustrate why attacks against the school as narrowly focused test-prep factories are unconvincing. It seems plausible that the schools are impressively successful in facilitating a love of reading, and that many of their other successes are intimately intertwined with that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nothing in Stephen Ronan’s reply above addresses one of John Merrow’s main points:

        According to Beth Fertig’s study that Stephen Ronan insists is valid, the attrition rate at Success Academy is higher than every single charter network in NYC except one.

        I’m still waiting for Stephen Ronan to explain why so many parents pull their children from the high performing Success Academy and not from other charters.

        And I’m still waiting from any expression of concern from the pro-charter industry after so many Success Academy parents have sued, testified, and explained just how they drum out unwanted students with a ruthless efficiency that those lowly and mediocre charters just can’t seem to match. Maybe they need to hire more ruthless and uncaring staff like Eva Moskowitz seems to do. Or maybe you have to pay a higher salary to get staff willing to look the other way or remain quiet when they see children suffering.


      • Parent010203: “According to Beth Fertig’s study that Stephen Ronan insists is valid, the attrition rate at Success Academy is higher than every single charter network in NYC except one.”

        Well… not exactly. There were, according to that research, some additional charter networks with schools in NYC that had a higher attrition rate than S.A..

        But if you were to carefully limit the group being compared just to the nine networks with the most schools in the city you could, I am confident, construct a valid sentence on the subject.

        Hey, Magnus Carlson is the second-worst chess player (if solely compared with me).


      • Stephen Ronan says:
        “Sure, it’s theoretically possible that tic-tac like objects swoop down and pull out vast “droves” of Success Academy kids between Aug 25 and Sept 7 of their very first year and quantumly entangle them into safe sanctuary in a district school that they then prefer, but you present no concrete evidence for either that or that Success parents themselves see the light quite quickly enough in those first few days to significantly alter the overall attrition numbers.”

        NAACP Task Force on Quality Education July 2017/Hearing Report:
        “Clarence Sprowler, a former charter school parent in New York City, shared the following:
        My son, with great fanfare, got accepted into Harlem Success Academy. Within his first day of school, I was told that he was unfocused and he needed to be disciplined. I was like, “Okay. They have high standards. This is good.” I didn’t see anything wrong with it…within days, people were coming into the classroom. They didn’t identify themselves. They were sitting in the back and they had papers and pads and they immediately, systematically, with these systems in place, identified children that they knew were going to be problematic and my son was among them, along with four other kids. Within three days, they had placed him in the back of the class in a table together and one by one, as every day went by, one of those kids were missing and they were gone. I was the hold out and I only lasted twelve days… I could not understand how a school that claimed to be public could come to me and say, “Listen. Something is wrong with your son. You got to go.”

        Five children out of 25? 28? A 20% or 18% attrition rate in the first 12 days of school.

        And why are you calling Success Academy staff who sit in the back with papers and pads “tic-tac like objects”? “Tic-tac like objects” don’t swoop down and identify the kids they want to leave in the first few days of school. But we know for a fact that Success Academy staff does. And no one — including Eva Moskowitz herself — has ever publicly stated that this fact written in the NAACP report is a lie. (Instead, they’ve tried desperately to accuse the NAACP of being a tool of the union but never actually said a single fact about them was untrue.)


      • Success Academy has one of the highest attrition rates of any NYC charter network. Which is odd since Success Academy is the very best charter school in the entire state of New York, and the other charters that keep more of their students are mediocre to failing in comparison.

        Stephen Ronan’s insightful and enlightening reply to this:

        “Is your approach sort of like implying that the “second-worst” starter on the Celtics must be inept at playing basketball?”

        “Hey, Magnus Carlson is the second-worst chess player (if solely compared with me).”

        Is everyone clear on why Success Academy – the best charter network in all of NY State — would have an attrition rate that is significantly higher than all other NYC charter networks except one? Because of the Celtics. Or because of Carlson. It’s hard to keep track of all Ronan’s brilliant excuses for why the charter with the got to go lists whose model teacher was caught punishing a low-income child who had done nothing wrong would lose so many more students than the charters who are poor performing compared to Success Academy.

        But I have no doubt that the woman who told us that “Betsy DeVos has the talent, commitment, and leadership capacity to revitalize our public schools and deliver the promise of opportunity” would also say “Stephen Ronan gave a brilliant explanation for why my schools lose such an extraordinarily high number of students while those mediocre charter networks have the mysterious ability to keep their lottery winning students. It’s because of the Celtics! I mean it’s because of Carlson. That Stephen Ronan proved he has the talent and commitment and leadership capacity to revitalize the defense of my high attrition rates! I endorse him heartily!”

        No doubt the same people who believed Moskowitz when she insisted that Betsy DeVos was a fantastic choice who MUST be confirmed also believe Stephen Ronan when he says the explanation for Success Academy’s sky high attrition rates is the Celtics.

        The rest of us recognize liars when we see them.


      • Parent010203: “Is everyone clear on why Success Academy – the best charter network in all of NY State — would have an attrition rate that is significantly higher than all other NYC charter networks except one?”

        Inexactitude. Again.


      • Stephen Ronan:

        When you keep posting “inexactitude” without being able to cite a single point that is wrong, it makes you look like you have a very weak case. Debating 101. If you ever coach debate, I suggest you don’t tell the students that if the other side makes a point that they can’t refute, saying “inexactitude” is a brilliant reply. Do you teach at a charter school by any chance?


      • ^^^By the way, I challenge you on this because I hope to hear your “exactitude”:

        “Success Academy doesn’t have the second highest attrition of any charter network in NYC. It just has a very high attrition rate when compared a group that contains every other charter network in NYC that is most similar to Success Academy.”

        lol! Is that “exact” enough for you? And when you are done focusing on semantics, I’d love to hear your theory on why so many parents run away in droves from Success Academy charters when they aren’t running away in droves from KIPP and Achievement First and Uncommon Schools and Icahn and Ascend and Explore Schools and National Heritage Academies. What are those other NYC charter networks with far crummier test scores and half the donations that Success Academy has and without the free lunches and after school programs and chess and soccer offering to their students that Success Academy isn’t?

        It’s tiresome to hear you repeat incessantly that there’s nothing odd about Success Academy losing so many more students than similar charter chains with far inferior test scores. Why are you so adamant that it’s natural for charter school parents to prefer mediocre charters to high performing ones?


      • Parent010203: “Success Academy doesn’t have the second highest attrition of any charter network in NYC. It just has a very high attrition rate when compared a group that contains every other charter network in NYC that is most similar to Success Academy.”
        Parent 010203: “lol! Is that ‘exact’ enough for you?”

        Nothing certainly false about it, but I’d still offer some suggestions.

        In respect to “very high attrition rate,” I’d encourage you to consider that the S.A. rate may be more closely similar to most of those other charter networks than it is to local district schools, so I’d wonder if you’d really want to give the impression that you think that the gap between Success Academy and those local district schools is quite so exceedingly vast. But that’s a judgment call not a matter of factual exactitude.

        Similarly, I’d question your describing those other networks as being “most similar to Success Academy”. In respect to which characteristics? Perhaps you could say: “most similar in size to Success Academy.”

        And it may be helpful to cite a source and date, since we can’t ourselves know with full certainty that Fertig et al’s reseach was entirely accurate, nor that circumstances haven’t since changed somewhat.

        Perhaps something more like this? “Success Academy didn’t have the second highest attrition of any charter network in NYC; indeed its rate has been better than average for charter schools city-wide. But, according to WNYC, for the 2013-2014 school year, Success Academy had a higher attrition rate, relative to nearby district schools, than seven of the eight other charter networks in NYC that are most similar in size.”

        You ask for my theory as to why that would be the case. I don’t have a solid theory, but think you New Yorkers should encourage the city and state data gathering efforts to more effectively give you answers, to clearly detail year-round school attrition rates, and also develop survey data that helps onlookers achieve a reasonably acurate understanding of the incidence of various reasons why students leave any school.

        Meanwhile since you seem eager for me to at least hazard an ill-informed guess or two as to why 2, 3 or 4 percent more of Success Academy parents withdraw their children during the course of a year than is the case at several of the other long-standing, established, successful NYC charter networks….

        Mmm, would that be like my speculating as to why Harvard may in recent times have had a six-year graduation rate of 97%, but at MIT it has been 4 percent lower, at 93%? I don’t know if it’s more comfortable chairs or what, but rumor has it that it can be so much easier to sleep at Harvard. To coast, to slip, to slide on through… to read and write and rest, but not think to any really stressful degree. Is that an appropriate analogy? Is Kipp playing Harvard to Success Academy’s MIT?

        And then there’s been considerable, plausible speculation that S.A. may be somewhat less agile and welcoming, in comparison with some other major charter chains, in respect to coping with particularly energetic students who have frequently exercised, extraordinary capacity for creative disruption.

        And the fact that some, like yourself, keep unremittingly emphasizing the fact that Success Academy student test scores are so exceedingly high…. does that tend to make it a magnet for never-satisfied academic climbers… the type who rest for mere minutes atop what they perceive as the summit in NYC and then hear rumors of Stanford-validated greater academic performance increments further north, pack up everything, and hop an Amtrak to Boston?

        Success Academy is growing more rapidly, has more relatively new schools in NYC than other major charter networks, is that the case? My impression is that for a variety of reasons newly established schools tend to have higher attrition rates than those that have filled out and stabilized.

        Gluten intolerance? I wouldn’t assert that, although: “For kindergartners, Success offers a six-week interdisciplinary study of bread. After students read about bread and baking—the importance of bread in different global cultures; the grains that go into making various breads—they take a field trip to a bakery, and bake bread as a classroom activity.” — Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, 2017.

        OK, I suppose there may be some few moms who complain: “Sheesh, a lot of those kids love Success Academy so very much that they insist on attending even when they’re throwing-up sick. I don’t want my kid bringing home germs. Some of those waste receptacles… icky!”


      • Stephen Ronan,

        Wow, you are FINALLY acknowledging that Success Academy loses far more students that almost every other similar charter network in NYC, like KIPP and Achievement First. Still you imply that the ONLY reason that KIPP and Achievement First have failure rates 25x higher than Success Academy with their students is due to the poor mismanagement and general greed of Dave Levin and Doug McCurry who should be turning over their mediocre charters to your beloved Eva Moskowitz. Do Dave and Doug know how much you insult them when you claim the fact their charter networks retain so many more students than the high suspending high attrition Success Academy is irrelevant. Do Dave and Doug know that Stephen Ronan insists that their lousy and embarrassing failures with so many children has nothing to do with not drumming out low performing children like Moskowitz does, but is ONLY because Dave and Doug are lousy educators failing so many students who would have been high performing scholars if only your beloved and perfect Eva Moskowitz had overseen those students’ education instead of mediocre KIPP.

        Do you think Dave and Doug feel better knowing you are willing to concede that their lousy, subpar charter that fails 25 times more students than Eva Moskowitz fails are a little bit better than failing public schools that take every student, including newly arrived immigrants and those dumped by charters mid-year?

        Do you think Dave and Doug and all the administrators at Achievement First and KIPP and every other NYC charter chain whose truly lousy results when compared to Success Academy you claim are simply due to their own inept schools and nothing else think you are correct about their own INFERIOR abilities when compared to the great Eva Moskowitz who leaves them in the dust?

        Do you think Dave Levin and Doug McCurry don’t mind how inferior they are to the great Eva Moskowitz because Stephen Ronan is willing to concede their truly mediocre charters are a little better than public schools even if their performance is a miserable failure when compared to the great Eva Moskowitz who they should be begging to tell them what to do?

        Why don’t you have a little talk with Dave and Doug and tell them to start taking their marching orders from the SUPERIOR charter CEO who leaves them all in the dust? But you can console them in their mediocrity by saying that you do think they are a bit better than public schools and if that apples to oranges comparison doesn’t make them feel good, well, then it’s their own fault for not understanding how superior Stephen Ronan keeps insisting that Eva Moskowitz is to them.

        LOL! Make sure you tell them they are better than some public schools when you tell them how inferior they are to Moskowitz, who you keep claiming leaves them in the dust because her high attrition rate is simply something that must not be mentioned when Moskowitz’ superiority to Levin and McCurry is examined. She is superior, period, says Stephen Ronan. And attrition does not matter.


      • I had suggested an analogy: Kipp is to Harvard as Success Academy is to MIT. You’re somewhat obliquely prompting me to recognize that as a faux pas? Ah, Kipp founder Dave Levin is a Yalie.


      • ^^By the way, I find it very telling that you quote the New Yorker article about the bakery but leave out the more telling observations. Typical of the way you cherry pick facts the way Eva Moskowitz cherry picks students. Read them all, take them all, and discard every child or every fact that is not useful to your ultimate goal — promoting what is good for Eva. You and Eva have so much in common! Here’s some of the facts you discarded that to you were as useless as the children who disappear from Success:

        “In some classrooms that I observed, there were even expectations for how pencils should be laid down when not in use: at Springfield Gardens, the pencils had all been placed to the right of the desks, aligned with the edge. The atmosphere can be tense, and sometimes tips over into abuse, as was documented by the Times last year. The newspaper obtained a video that had been recorded secretly by an assistant teacher. It showed a teacher berating a first-grade girl who had made an error on her math worksheet, ripping up the sheet, and sending the child to sit in a “Calm Down” chair. Moskowitz has insisted that the event was an outlier, but the teacher in the video was an experienced educator who had been considered an exemplar of the Success Academy approach. Among some Success teachers, “rip and redo” was a term of art.”

        “According to data from the New York State Education Department, three years ago, when Success Academy Springfield Gardens was starting up and had only kindergartners and first graders, eighteen per cent of the students were suspended at least once. It’s entirely believable that lots of children between the ages of four and seven found it impossible to meet the school’s stringent behavioral expectations. But it’s also fair to wonder whether, if one out of five young children cannot comply with the rules, there might not be something wrong with the rules.”

        And Stephen Ronan, here is one quote from that article that you forgot to include but it proves your point that KIPP is terrible and David Levin should hide his head in shame and beg Eva Moskowitz to take over this schools and Make them Great Again!

        “A few years ago, some school districts, including the New York City public schools, began attempting to reduce suspension rates by experimenting with “restorative justice,” a progressive approach in which students, in concert with teachers, would decide how a classmate who had violated the rules might best repair the misdeed. K.I.P.P. schools adopted the method with considerable success, as did other charter networks formerly known for punitive disciplinary practices. Moskowitz’s response to the innovation was scathing.”

        There ya go! KIPP needs to take lessons from Eva Moskowitz to achieve the excellence that Stephen Ronan claims is only due to the superiority of their CEO and system, which KIPP — in their ineptitude and ignorance, refuse to do.

        Why Stephen, you could write a whole article about how lousy David Levin at KIPP is when compared to your beloved Eva Moskowitz! I’m sure he’d be pleased as long as you mention his miserable charters are just a little bit better than public schools so his vast inferiority to Moskowitz is at least mitigated by that. Right? LOL!


      • ^^^And finally, I challenge you to cite the Boston charter network that has 99% passing rates on Massachusetts state tests.

        Maybe you can convince the great Eva Moskowitz to come in and take over all the Boston charters when she is done taking over KIPP and Achievement First in NYC.


      • Stephen Ronan,

        You keep insisting Success Academy’s high attrition rate is irrelevant to their far superior performance compared to the many far inferior NYC charter networks like KIPP and Achievement First.

        Why are you trying to change the subject? I’m just pointing out what you are implying with your rabid insistence that the significantly higher attrition rate at Success Academy has nothing to do with how superior Eva Moskowitz is as a CEO when compared to the very inferior Dave Levin and KIPP where the % of students who fail the state tests is 40 times higher than at Success Academy. They aren’t in the same league. (Although I’m amused with your odd attempt to compare them to two Ivy League universities that only admit the best and brightest students to educate.)

        And there is nothing in the CREDO study you cite that shows any Massachusetts charter network that has 99% or 100% passing rates on state tests. Can you please name the charter networks in Massachusetts that achieve 99% passing rates or higher on the state tests? If not, then you should ask Eva Moskowitz to show your state’s inept charter operators how to improve their mediocre performances. I’m sure she will be happy to give them some tips to help them stop looking like amateurs.


      • Stephen Ronan,

        I’m still waiting to hear which Massachusetts charter network gets the 99% (and sometimes 100%!) passing rates on state tests that Eva Moskowitz (but not inferior charter operators like Dave Levin) gets in her charters.

        I suspect you can’t name any but maybe you will surprise me. But if there are few or none, as I suspect, you’ll have to beg your beloved Eva Moskowitz to take over all the mediocre Massachusetts charters and show those ineffective Massachusetts charter operators how it is done. She can tell them Stephen Ronan sent her to help them improve their mediocrity.


    • “Moskowitz’s most surprising ally in her PR offensive is Beth Fertig of WNYC public radio..”

      You must be joking as Beth Fertig has written over the top paeans to the greatness of Success Academy at WNYC for many years. I notice they finally pulled her from her beat but not before she managed many, many fawning stories and not even one critical one.


      • I am addressing the misleading and dishonest statements that “Stephen Ronan” is making to try to undermine the facts you stated in your article.

        Success Academy has one of the very highest attrition rates of any charter network in NYC. And every charter network with lower attrition rates also has significant worse test scores when compared to Success Academy.

        In other words, parents who choose charter schools stay at poor performing charter networks but mysteriously leave the top performing charter network at rates that are impossible to explain when you are denying that Success Academy does anything but welcome all students with open arms.

        Stephen Ronan tells us that we shouldn’t care that Success Academy has an attrition rate twice as high as some other charter networks because the Celtics play in the NBA so that means all their players are great, not just their starters. Maybe you can make some sense out of that reply but it is clearly an embarrassing attempt by Stephen Ronan to change the subject.

        “I know that those much lower performing charter networks like Explore Schools and National Heritage Academies who don’t get ten million dollar donations to offer their students the best education money can buy and don’t have 99% passing rates on state tests somehow manage to keep far more students than Success Academy does. But it’s all okay because the worst player on the Celtics is still pretty good. And that explains exactly why so many students disappear from the highest performing charter and none of the others. Because the Celtics are still pretty good with their bench players.”

        I think Stephen Ronan just insulted your intelligence.


  3. John Merrow,

    I want to point out one of the unintentionally revealing things “Stephen Ronan” posted that completely shoots down his criticism of you:

    “respected journalist Beth Fertig of WNYC radio received from the New York City Department of education that makes apples to apples comparisons of Success’ attrition rate with that of district schools and other charters.”

    There are many problems with how Fertig chose to do her comparison, but if you take Ronan at his word that Fertig’s study is valid, he just provided the reason to know that Moskowitz sheds low performing kids.

    Because Fertig’s study showed that the attrition rate at Success Academy was significantly higher than every other charter network in NYC except one.

    That’s right, the “highest performing charter network in the entire state” loses twice as many students as mediocre charter networks who fail half their students.

    Stephen Ronan has no answer for that. He tries to change the subject because even Beth Fertig just proved that Eva Moskowitz sheds students at an alarming rate that is higher than other charter networks who teach the same kids.

    When you compare apples to apples, something smells very fishy.


    • Again, most of our public schools sort children into groups, and some get preferential treatment. But Moskowitz also has a ‘discard’ pile. Why aren’t people paying attention to this?


      • It’s not just that Moskowitz has a discard pile. It’s that the pile is very likely significantly larger than anyone knows. And it is kept hidden.

        Looking at a one-year (or 9 month) attrition rate hides a great deal of bad practices. Many of the original Kindergarten lottery winners are not just drummed out, but they are replaced by older students pre-tested to prove they are worthy of a seat in first grade and beyond.

        Success Academy’s outsize attrition rate when compared to similar charter networks is especially glaring because of what Success Academy’s own commissioned August 2017 MDRC study stated on page 8.

        “Of the lottery winners in the sample (both kindergarten and first-grade entrants), about 82 percent attended a welcome meeting. Approximately 61 percent of lottery winners attended student registration, 54 percent attended a uniform fitting, and 50 percent attended a dress rehearsal. With few exceptions, lottery winners who did not attend an activity did not attend subsequent activities. Ultimately, about 50 percent of lottery winners enrolled in Success Academy schools in the 2010-2011 school year.”

        Success Academy does not just start with lottery winners. It starts with the lottery winners who have been willing to jump through hoops and attend 4 different pre-enrollment meetings just for the chance to enroll their kid in that charter. The half that wasn’t completely committed or motivated to go the extra mile to get their kid into this top performing charter give up their seats BEFORE attrition is even measured!

        The fact that Stephen Ronan brushes off the extraordinarily high attrition rate of the children of parents who have jumped through more hoops than any other charter network forces their parents to jump through is just inexcusable. Ronan is not interested in the issues that should interest one who actually cares about developing good charters. Ronan is simply an apologist for bad practices. No doubt it pays very well.


  4. If I may put in a plug: My new book, “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education,” describes schools that are the polar opposite of those Moskowitz has created. Please buy it and share it, or buy more than one copy. 🙂
    I’d prefer you purchase it at your local bookstore, but it’s also available on Amazon in print and ebook form.


  5. […] The best-known charter schools like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First are large networks; these are known as Charter Management Organizations, shortened to CMO’s.  If you are in New York City, you must know about Eva Moskowitz and her CMO/network of Success Academies. Those schools are controversial because of their harsh tactics that cull their classes of students, usually ones who aren’t likely to do well on standardized tests, often using ‘out of school suspensions’ for very young children.  I’ve reported on this for the PBS NewsHour, as has Kate Taylor of The New York Times.  And you can read Eva’s draconian list of 65 offenses for which a child can be suspended here.  (Some fans of Benito Mussolini were upset when I compared the two.) […]


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