Who succeeds at New York’s Success Academy charter schools? The New Yorker provides some clues. The first high school graduating class at New York City’s Success Academies has made it through years of strict discipline and mind control. There is even a correct placement for your pencil when it sits on your desk. Suspension is ‘one tool in the toolkit’ and is used often, not to punish but to increase awareness of expectations. Only seventeen students made it to graduation, but their accomplishments are notable. Even the teachers tend not to last; an average of twenty-five percent leave every year.
The environment for learning attracts parents. Success charters receive large donations from the business community. There are well equipped classrooms and field trips. Instruction is both very directed toward skill mastery and somewhat more progressive. Teachers, however, do not develop their own lesson plans. They teach what the ‘network’ demands. Teachers and students alike operate within tightly controlled boundaries and frequent assessment, according to the authors.
The recipe for Success Academy is high expectations, strict and intense behavioral control, and formulaic teaching strategies. Test scores for those who last are excellent. Most do not last, and after second grade, new students are not added. By high school, enrollments are small.
College enrollment for graduates is high, but then something happens. Students do not complete college.
John Dewey’s educational philosophy gives a hint to what could be happening at Success Academy schools i.e. “The society for which a child is being prepared…should be replicated in a simplified form within the structure and culture of the school itself’. In other words, if a school prepares students in an authoritarian manner, then the students will expect to function in an authoritarian world as adults. They may well have problems, as students at a Success Academy high school experienced, when they were given the opportunity to structure their own time and academic activities. They simply did not know how.
We all have to ask ourselves what is important about education. Is it measured by test scores or is there something more fundamental? These are not simply philosophical questions. There is a constitutional amendment proposed in Florida to define the purpose of education the development of the intellect and preparation for the workforce. What’s missing in this definition?