THE BLOG
02/15/2016 07:12 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2017

Success Academy's War Against Children

This is not about an individual teacher. I have lost patience with students. Every parent has lost patience with their children. Every teacher I know has also.

This is about a charter school network that systematically terrorizes young children to maintain total control over their behavior. This is about the Success Academy Charter School Network that should be investigated by state educational officials and the local district attorney's office and probably shut down -- permanently.

Success Academy is New York City's largest charter school network. About 11,000 children attend its thirty-six schools. The network receives federal and state funding and free space from New York City for all of its schools. Currently it is accused of discriminating against students with disabilities, at least according to a legal complaint filed by parents and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James with the State University of New York, which licenses charter school in the state.

On Saturday, February 13, 2016, The New York Times reported on a "Teacher Seen Chastising First Grader On a Video." In the video, filmed in fall 2014, we see a young African-American girl who is confused about a math problem. Her teacher then rips up her paper and sends her to the "calm-down chair," although the only one who is not calm in this sequence is the teacher. The teacher then addresses the entire class telling them in a loud and agitated voice, "There's nothing that infuriates me more than when you don't do what's on your paper."

What stands out for me as I watched the video is the other children. It is a first-grade class. The children are probably six-years-old and all appear to be children of color, either African-American or Latino. During the math lesson while this little girl is being berated by the teacher, who is White, twelve children are seen sitting attentively, backs upright, hands folded in their laps, in a tight circle. Every child is in uniform. They do not smile or giggle. They are not allowed slouch. They are not allowed to squirm. They are not allowed to be children. They are terrorized into obedience fearful of being the next child targeted by a White authority figure.

The teacher, shown in the video, is what Success Academy considers a model teacher. Not only does she teach first-grade students, but she mentors other teachers in the Cobble Hill, Brooklyn school. After the incident surfaced, the teacher was suspended temporarily, but was returned to the classroom and her role as a mentor in less than two weeks. Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz dismissed the teacher's behavior in the video as an "anomaly."

Like many Success Academy personnel, this teacher has questionable teaching credentials. She is a 2009 graduate of Butler University in Indiana with a degree in sociology and political science, but without teacher certification. Online, including Success Academy webpages, I found no reference to how she was trained as a teacher.

Since 2012, Success has partnered with Touro College in New York City which allows the network to essentially "train" its own staff. Under the partnership agreement, which is funded by Success Academy, Success staff teach Touro courses as adjuncts. The program is designed so that enrollees earn master's degrees and teacher certification. Success claims that its training material, which it produces, make clear teachers should not be punitive or sarcastic with children.

This is the second Success Academy anomaly that surfaced in recent months. In January the principal of the Cobble Hill school took a leave of absence after it became public that the school had a "got to go" list of difficult children officials wanted to transfer out of their program. It turns out the leave of absence was very brief and the principal was working as a teacher in a different Success Academy school two weeks later.

While the principal apologized, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz apologizes to no one. In a memo to Success Academy staff she accused the New York Times of a vendetta against her and the charter network and called on staff to support the teacher captured berating a child in the video. Moskowitz rallied her staff saying "We must not allow the haters to bully us or stop us from re-imagining public education." She also hired a new public relations firm to represent the network because her problem, as she sees it, is just bad PR.

Again, the issue is not just the behavior of an individual teacher. This is about a charter school network that systematically terrorizes young children, almost all African-American and Latino, to maintain total control over their behavior. This is about the Success Academy Charter School Network that should be investigated by state educational officials and the local district attorney's office and probably shut down -- permanently.