Friday, February 12, 2016



FEB. 12, 2016 ::   In 2014, an assistant teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill secretly filmed her colleague, Charlotte Dial, scolding one of her students after the young girl failed to answer a question correctly. The children's faces have been blurred and their names obscured to protect their privacy.

[If the video does not appear above it can be viewed at:]

In the video, a first-grade class sits cross-legged in a circle on a brightly colored rug. One of the girls has been asked to explain to the class how she solved a math problem, but she has gotten confused.
She begins to count: “One… two…” Then she pauses and looks at the teacher.

The teacher takes the girl’s paper and rips it in half. “Go to the calm-down chair and sit,” she orders the girl, her voice rising sharply.

“There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” she says, as the girl retreats.

The teacher in the video, Charlotte Dial, works at a Success Academy charter school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. She has been considered so effective that the network promoted her last year to being a model teacher, who helps train her colleagues.

After sending the girl out of the circle and having another child demonstrate how to solve the problem, Ms. Dial again chastises her, saying, “You’re confusing everybody.” She then proclaims herself “very upset and very disappointed.”

Success Academy’s charter school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The Success network is known for its students’ high achievement on state tests, and it emphasizes getting — and keeping — scores up. Credit Gabriela Herman for The New York Times 

The video was recorded surreptitiously in the fall of 2014 by an assistant teacher who was concerned by what she described as Ms. Dial’s daily harsh treatment of the children. The assistant teacher, who insisted on anonymity because she feared endangering future job prospects, shared the video with The New York Times after she left Success in November.

After being shown the video last month, Ann Powell, a Success spokeswoman, described its contents as shocking and said Ms. Dial had been suspended pending an investigation. But a week and a half later, Ms. Dial returned to her classroom and her role as an exemplar within the network.

Success’s own training materials, provided by the network’s leader, Eva S. Moskowitz, say that teachers should never yell at children, “use a sarcastic, frustrated tone,” “give consequences intended to shame children,” or “speak to a child in a way they wouldn’t in front of the child’s parents.”

Ms. Moskowitz dismissed the video as an anomaly. A group of parents gathered by the Cobble Hill school’s principal defended Ms. Dial and said the video did not reflect their experience of the school.
But interviews with 20 current and former Success teachers suggest that while Ms. Dial’s behavior might be extreme, much of it is not uncommon within the network.

Success is known for its students’ high achievement on state tests, and it emphasizes getting — and keeping — scores up. Jessica Reid Sliwerski, 34, worked at Success Academy Harlem 1 and Success Academy Harlem 2 from 2008 to 2011, first as a teacher and then as an assistant principal. She said that, starting in third grade, when children begin taking the state exams, embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders.

“It’s this culture of, ‘If you’ve made them cry, you’ve succeeded in getting your point across,’” she said.

Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy, along with various principals from each school branch, spoke in October in response to an article showing evidence of unfair practices by school administrators, including a “Got to Go” list of students to weed out. Credit Christopher Lee for The New York Times 

One day, she said, she found herself taking a toy away from a boy who was playing with it in class, and then smashing it underfoot. Shortly after, she resigned.

“I felt sick about the teacher I had become, and I no longer wanted to be part of an organization where adults could so easily demean children under the guise of ‘achievement,’” said Ms. Sliwerski, who subsequently worked as an instructional coach in Department of Education schools.

Some parents had another view. Clayton Harding, whose son, currently in fourth grade, had Ms. Dial as a soccer coach, said: “Was that one teacher over the line for 60 seconds? Yeah. Do I want that teacher removed? Not at all. Not because of that. Now if you tell me that happens every single day, that’s a different thing. But no one is telling me that, and everyone is telling me about all the amazing things that she does all the other days.”

The mother of the girl in the video, in emails to The Times, initially supported the school and asked that the video not be published, citing her daughter’s privacy. After the network said that Ms. Dial would return to the classroom, she said she was unhappy with the school, but declined to talk further.
Ms. Dial did not respond directly to requests for comment, but gave a statement through the school, saying, “I’m deeply committed to the children and families of our school, and I’m sorry for my lapse in emotional control 15 months ago. As I tell my scholars to do, I will learn from this mistake and be a better teacher for it.”

Ms. Moskowitz said in an interview and a subsequent email that Ms. Dial’s behavior did not match Success’s educational philosophy, but she also called her “a wonderful and committed teacher” and said she had lost her cool because she “so desperately wants her kids to succeed and to fulfill their potential.”

She said Ms. Dial had been reprimanded and had received training in how to be more aware of her emotions and manage them.

Outside Success Academy in Cobble Hill. Credit Gabriela Herman for The New York Times 

She said it was possible that some teachers — “I think it’s really a handful of people” — had misinterpreted the network’s philosophy and that, out of an abundance of caution, the network would provide additional training to all its teachers in the importance of tone in speaking to students.
Still, Ms. Moskowitz said the video was not indicative of any wider problem, and she questioned the motives of the assistant teacher who recorded it.

“This video proves utterly nothing but that a teacher in one of our 700 classrooms, on a day more than a year ago, got frustrated and spoke harshly to her students,” she wrote in her email.

But Joseph P. McDonald, a professor of teaching and learning at New York University’s school of education, who viewed the video at The New York Times’s request, described Ms. Dial’s behavior as “abusive teaching.”

“We don’t see enough here to know for sure that this classroom is typically full of fear, but I bet that it is,” he wrote in an email. “The fear is likely not only about whether my teacher may at any time erupt with anger and punish me dramatically, but also whether I can ever be safe making mistakes.”
Indeed, several of the current and former staff members interviewed said that the network’s culture encouraged teachers to make students fear them in order to motivate them. Carly Ginsberg, 22, who taught for about six months last year at Success Academy Prospect Heights, said teachers ripped up the papers of children as young as kindergarten as the principal or assistant principal watched. She once witnessed a girl’s humiliation as the principal mocked her low test score to another adult in front of the child.

In one instance, the lead kindergarten teacher in her classroom made a girl who had stumbled reciting a math problem cry so hard that she vomited. Ms. Ginsberg resigned in December because she was so uncomfortable with the school’s approach. “It felt like I was witnessing child abuse,” she said, adding, “If this were my kindergarten experience, I would be traumatized.” She is now teaching in Los Angeles.

Five of the teachers interviewed, including Ms. Sliwerski, described leaders at multiple Success schools and a Success supervisor in the teacher training program that the network runs with Touro College endorsing the practice of ripping up work if it was deemed not to reflect sufficient effort. The purpose, they said, was to get students’ attention and demonstrate urgency.

At some schools, there was even a term for it. “It was ‘rip and redo,’” Ayanna Legros, who taught at Success Academy Harlem 1 for about seven months in the 2013-14 school year, said. “It’s embarrassing” for students, she said, “so the idea is that you won’t want to ever have that moment again in the classroom.” She is now teaching part time while in graduate school.

Ms. Powell, the Success spokeswoman, pointed out that Ms. Sliwerski had left the network five years ago, midyear, and that both Ms. Ginsberg and Ms. Legros had also left midyear after only about six months. Ms. Powell also said that the principal of the Prospect Heights school could not respond on short notice to Ms. Ginsberg’s allegations.

Ms. Moskowitz insisted that she had never seen a Success teacher rip up a child’s paper, though she was in schools “3-5 hours a week.”

As to making children cry, Ms. Moskowitz said that no one at Success purposefully reduced children to tears, but that “children cry a lot” and a child crying did not necessarily mean that a teacher had done something wrong. “Olympic athletes, when they don’t do well, they sometimes cry,” she said in a talk at New York Law School last month. “It’s not the end of the world.”

Ms. Moskowitz repeatedly described the former assistant teacher as “unethical” for not sharing the video with the school’s principal, Kerri Nicholls, at the time she took it. Ms. Moskowitz said that the network had shown itself to be “very quick to investigate” when such matters were brought to its attention, as when a principal at one of its schools created a “Got to Go” list of difficult children whom he wanted to leave the school.

But the assistant teacher said that, because Ms. Nicholls had made it clear that Ms. Dial was a favorite of hers, she did not think raising her concerns would have any effect other than to possibly imperil her own job. Success teachers are not unionized and can be fired at will.

Around the same time that she took the video, the assistant teacher said, she saw Ms. Dial become frustrated with a girl who was playing with her hair. She said Ms. Dial proceeded to pull the girl’s hair into a ponytail in a manner that she perceived as rough. She shared her concerns with another staff member, who in turn told Ms. Nicholls. Ms. Nicholls called the assistant teacher in for a meeting, but seemed more annoyed at her than concerned about Ms. Dial’s behavior, the assistant teacher said.

Ms. Nicholls said in an interview that after investigating the incident she had found “nothing inappropriate aside from” the assistant teacher’s “lack of reporting her concerns.”
Dr. McDonald, the N.Y.U. professor, who also sits on the board of the Great Oaks Charter School on the Lower East Side, said that the behavior in the video violated an important principle of schooling.

“Because the child’s learning was still a little fragile — as learning always is initially — she made an error,” he said in his email. “Good classrooms (and schools) are places where error is regarded as a necessary byproduct of learning, and an opportunity for growth. But not here. Making an error here is a social offense. It confuses others — as if deliberately.”

No comments: