May 8, 2023

Livia Camperi: The Cruel Dystopia of Success Academy

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Livia Camperi used to teach at a Success Academy charter school. They terminated her, but they never made her sign an NDA.

SA’s entire model revolves around hiring young, inexperienced teachers, largely straight out of college, and giving them less than two weeks of training before throwing them in the deep end. If you get hired during the regular summer hiring season, you get one to two weeks of training (if it can be called that), but that’s cut down to a few days if you’re hired during the school season. Even given the most amount of “new teacher training” available to you, you will receive virtually no actual pedagogical instruction. SA’s entire teaching model is centered on behavior management: the idea is that if students are well-behaved, they will learn in the classroom. The issue, though, is that they never actually teach you, well, how to teach. There is no training centered around how to organize a lesson, how to communicate concepts to children, how to teach around gaps in understanding, how to scaffold tasks, or anything else that they will then expect you to know. I was very fortunate in my first year to work with a lot of experienced teachers who guided me, mentored me, and showed me such basic things as how to enter grades online since no one had told me.

All of this, then, contributes directly to the culture of criticism at the school: they throw novices into the trenches and then shower them with negative feedback until they either come out stronger or buckle under the pressure. I was once literally laughed at by a manager when I asked if there was any positive feedback in a meeting. In my first year, we had 33 staff members (from a starting staff of approximately 60) quit during the school year. Most of the rest ended the year and did not return; the school currently has only about 25 teachers. Instead of investing more time and energy into training rookie teachers so they are better equipped to handle the year, the schools encourage this churn and continuously hire throughout the year, filling in holes as they appear (again, sinking boat anyone?).

She has a few observations about how academics are handled.

SA is a data-driven institution, just like the entire rest of the American education system. This is not a surprise. What was a surprise, though, was the lengths the school goes to attain its desired data. For nearly three months leading up to the NY State English and Math tests (January to March), the students are not learning anything. I feel the need to emphasize that again before I explain: for three months, students attending a school are not learning anything in their time there. What they are doing, instead, is practicing taking multiple-choice tests, day in and day out. This is, ironically, called “Think” season.

During Think, the students take practice tests for the state exams in every single English and Math class, every single day. For the last two years, halfway through February, when they realized the data was not good enough yet, the network canceled Science and History classes to do more English and Math practice tests. Those are their only four content classes. I say again: students are not learning anything during that time. All they are doing is practicing test-taking skills and hating every minute of it. This is not education. This is callous data-chasing.

There is much, much more in this piece. Read the whole post here. 

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