Ian Malcolm on Eva Moskowitz

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Another good piece documenting the lack of “there” at the Success Academy schools, this one by Kate Taylor at the Times.

Pretend that Judge Patrice Lessner is interrupting me every four words for this next bit:

Success Academies’ “success” will eventually be revealed as a chimera. Certainly they are skimming on a massive scale, and their attrition rates over time are pretty telling. Despite Moskowitz’s constant denials,the kids spend a shocking amount of time in test prep—one witness even saw an early slam the exam class.

But skimming, test prep, and attrition don’t explain enough. If Carol Burris is providing correct information here, then 45% of whites were proficient in math, and 31% in ELA. According to Robert Pondiscio, the numbers for the overwhelmingly low income black and Hispanic Success Academies were over 90% and 68%, respectively. That suggests the schools are doing more than cherrypicking.

I don’t know how. Unlikely to be anything as obvious as fixing the tests later or telling the kids the answers, or we’d hear about it. Possibly they are engaging in the Chinese variety of test prep.

But if low income black and Hispanic proficiency rates are twice that of whites, then the dinosaurs have escaped.

Paul Bruno is more careful, less intuitive (in his writing) and far more data-driven than, say, me. So maybe everyone doesn’t read his explication of everything we don’t know about Success Academy as howlingly skeptical, but nor would anyone see the piece as a ringing endorsement. More surprisingly, Robert Pondiscio asks “what the hell is going on at Success Academy? in a way that doesn’t sound very flattering.

In no way are Bruno or Pondiscio going out on the ledge with me. Not for them the wise words of Ian Malcolm. I’m just saying that their articles signal considerable skepticism to me, a frequent reader of both.

I haven’t seen many respectable reformers touting Success Academy, either. Take that as you will.

Here’s a story idea for some enterprising reporter:

Contact Success Academy and ask to see score progressions for their early students. Presumably, all the students didn’t come in scoring at the top level (don’t laugh, skeptics!). So Eva and her minions should be able to provide initial scores for students–they are testing them constantly, yes?–and connect these scores to their actual state exam scores. By year. Then that enterprising reporter should track down Success Academy alumni and get their scores year by year since they’ve left. In a year, that could include SAT/ACT scores.

This would provide actual data to answer the following questions:

  1. Are the weakest students leaving the schools?
  2. Are specific students improving their demonstrated abilities during their tenure at the schools?
  3. Are alumni still doing well after they leave school?

Those questions would eliminate or at least reduce the charges of skimming, attrition, and prepping-to-the-extent-of-cheating.

I note that Kate Taylor or the Times is looking for students or parents to “share their stories”. Less stories. More data. Get test scores over time per student, stat!

If I’m wrong, nothing happens! No one gets fired. I’m just an amateur. It’s not like I’m claiming a frat party instigated a gang rape, or anything. And oh, yeah, the achievement gap that has plagued our education efforts for over fifty years has finally been beaten.

So if I’m wrong, someone should go look for Isla Nublar to see if the T-Rex has eaten all the velociraptors.

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20 responses to “Ian Malcolm on Eva Moskowitz

    • educationrealist

      I know! I wonder how that will play out. They’ve got much more data to prove that it doesn’t link to outcomes than they did the last time they tried these suits.

    • momof4

      I agree with the question posed by the spokesperson for NCTQ, who asked whether the judge would want the kids in her own family to be taught by teachers who couldn’t pass the exam. Throwing out the exam based on racially different pass results says that kids don’t deserve teachers who know academics; the learning of which should be the goal of schooling. On the Joanne Jacobs website, it was pointed out that the cheating scandals have been committed by black teachers, in black-run districts which have many teachers who have been unable to pass the GA tests (in the case of Atlanta). I was very disappointed to read comments from Atlanta teachers seeing no real purpose in student testing, seeing it as a “white thing” and feeling kids have more important, non-academic things to do. Maybe having teachers who can’t pass meaningful certification exams, don’t really know the material they are teaching and don’t feel it’s important for poor and minority kids to be literate, numerate and have enough general knowledge to be employable isn’t the best idea?

      There’s also the issue that any meaningful student test will have kids who cannot pass it and this is particularly true of the low-performing schools/districts that have a large number of lower-ability students whose community does not place much emphasis on academic success. Maybe it’s time to re-think the all-kids-including-the spec-ed-have-the-same-ability-and-motivation approach, such as to offer the lower-end kids an opportunity to be taught the things they are able to do.

      I remember when MA made the certification tests more difficult, there was a huge failure rate, but the state stood its ground and future teachers are now passing a decent rates.

      • educationrealist

        “asked whether the judge would want the kids in her own family to be taught by teachers who couldn’t pass the exam”

        The judge’s (and your) kids were taught in elementary and middle school by teacher who couldn’t pass the current exams. And the teachers today certainly couldn’t pass the high school exams. So despite your fastidiousness, your kids were taught by people you deem unfit.

  • Lagertha

    After reading the entire piece about Success in the NYT, I was horrified. Just couldn’t get passed students wetting themselves…this was always a sign of child abuse in the past, I thought – being so nervous, stressed that the bladder just empties from fear.

    I personally, and from experience, believe that all the Charters and Magnets are no better than a regular public school. They cull out “hard-to-teach” students because of background, behavior, low-ability, ELL’s. Yet, children are still wetting themselves?; and the schools admit (and the NYT printed it!) to having a closet full of fresh underpants and sweat pants… What???!

    And, the article hints at Moskovitz possibly, leaning towards recruiting whites more…since now she has “bravely” sent her own kids to a charter…and other white kids could be part of a “pilot” group of some kind, I guess.

    My son and his suburban friends (at their magnet school) were used to boost the test scores for the aggregate test score to keep their school open during the horrible NCLB years. Same problems were in that magnet school 10 years ago as now. Test scores are not higher.

    It bothers me tremendously that this country’s billionaires (and venture capitalists) are so enamored of these schools since they should really be figuring out what is to be done with the dozens of public schools like in Chicago, that R Emmanuel just shut down this past year! It is so weird that the elites, both liberal and conservative ignore the vast numbers of students who are kicked out of charters/magnets; the ones that have the behavioral, language, intellectual and health needs that no charter school principal wants. And, none of these people, privileged, elite liberals and conservatives, would ever send their kids to a public school that is 90% minority or chose to live in a neighborhood like Ferguson, MO.

    But, for a child to be so upset or tense that the result is peeing in one’s pants is an outrage! Back in the early 90’s when my son peed in his pants in nursery school, I had to get in the car and bring fresh clothes since the teachers weren’t authorized to change kids’ underclothes…changing soiled diapers/clothes required a different license from the Board of Health…and OSHA requires a set-up for that.

    This woman is a monster. And, the fact that so many young teachers were repelled by the modus operandi (afraid to speak ill of it in case that means committing career seppuku) of Success speaks for itself. Some thing hellish IS going on at Success.

  • momof4

    With one exception, II was taught, in ES, by very bright teachers with serious subject-matter knowledge. With a couple of exceptions, the same was true of my kids’ teachers, mostly in classes grouped by academic need. I don’t think their passing today’s test would be an issue. In HS, I had outstanding English and history teachers, and weak sci teachers who would likely have had problems passing subject-matter tests because one teacher taught all sciences. My math teacher probably would pass. My kids’ HS had excellent HS teachers across the board; it was a school which attracted top teachers.

    • educationrealist

      No offense, but I very much doubt that your ES teachers had “serious subject matter knowledge”.

      • momof4

        Obviously, not at a HS-specialty level, but far more than most in ES (with the exception of my male 6th-grade teacher who was an ed school grad only qualified to teach music) My other 5-8 teachers had non-ed degrees in their subjects and the 1-4 were Normal School grads (who weren’t offered the chance to go to college). Like my teachers, my kids’ teachers were of the era where women were mostly limited to nursing, teaching and secretarial work.

      • educationrealist

        People think that teachers were much smarter in years past, but in fact, they weren’t. They are slightly smarter in the past decade or so (since NCLB) and before that, they were about the same. The range is smaller, but there were more male teachers. So the average intellect and academic abilities has been unchanged. Therefore, your premise that by definition, teachers in earlier eras were smarter, is simply untrue. You are describing roughly the same intellect that teachers have today. And your teacher back then would have roughly the same abilities as the teachers of similar schools today.

  • toomanyspiders

    I’m puzzled by this as well. The numbers are too good, and if real, then she’s succeeded where billions of dollars and going on three generations have failed.

    What wasn’t clear to me in the nytimes article is if the 90/68 proficiency rate is for all her schools, just one, and which grades? Also of note is that none of the SA 8th graders passed the SHSAT (not mentioned in the article).

    • educationrealist

      Is there a passing grade on the SHSAT? I haven’t read up on this much, but my understanding was that they take the highest grades. Which isn’t the same thing.

      • toomanyspiders

        passing = acceptance into one of the specialized schools. The exact number changes year to year for the respective school but remains within a general bracket.

      • educationrealist

        Right, but that’s not the same thing. It’s quite possible that every single kid at the Academies scored proficient but were well below the average proficient score.

      • toomanyspiders

        sorry, I should have clarified. There is a cut off score for each school, which are tiered from highest cutoff score (stuy) to lowest (usually brooklyn latin).

      • educationrealist

        Yes, I know. What I’m saying is that the failure to send any kids to the top schools does not indicate that their scores are lies. And given the degree to which Asians prep for that test, I’m not sure I trust the SHSAT anyway. I don’t find that evidence compelling–Gary Rubinstein has been pushing it for a while.

      • toomanyspiders

        oh I see what you’re saying. The SHSAT performance has no bearing on the state tests. It would be interesting to see how many SA students are achieving 4s since I assume only those students would have a serious chance at the SHSAT. Also if SA students are lopsided in reading this would make the scrambled paragraphs (which count double) and reading sections very difficult.

        I’m sure you’ve read about the claims of the SHSAT being discriminatory. I’ve often thought they should make the test math only and get rid of the scrambled sentences and reading sections if they don’t want to “discriminate” against students strong in math but weak in english/ reading.

        And/or, simply add more specialized schools with somewhat lower bars.

        Back to SA, are ALL 32 schools operating at the 90/ 67 proficiency? Even the ones that haven’t been open that long? This is the part I find strange.

      • anonymous

        The specialty school admission test is quite difficult. Only 19% of test takers were offered admission. Only 4% of Black test takers were offered admission (33% of Asian test takers were offered admission for comparison). There were 27,000 test takers which I believe is about a third of the 8th graders.

        I am skeptical of SA results. But, I don’t think the poor record on the High School Admission test is evidence against them. It is possible that the state tests are hard, but not so hard that SA can prep a somewhat below average ability student get a somewhat above average score. Prepping an average student to outscore a very high ability student is nearly impossible.

        My guess is that SA is overwhelmingly average to somewhat below average ability students. SA has more students “pass” the state tests that the vast majority of schools. But many schools that have a lower proficiency percentage than SA will have quite a few very high ability students.

        Admission Statistics here.

  • educationrealist

    I’m sure you’ve read about the claims of the SHSAT being discriminatory. I’ve often thought they should make the test math only and get rid of the scrambled sentences and reading sections if they don’t want to “discriminate” against students strong in math but weak in english/ reading.

    The test discriminates in favor of math strong students. In fact, it discriminates heavily in favor of students who are strong in math but weak in English. may as well say WE WANT ASIANS.

    I agree with anonymous above–the scores are probably bogus, but the lack of SA students making the 8 top schools has nothing to do with it.

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