New York City

Opinion: Success Academy, not its students, should be suspended

Many in the education industry had long suspected that the high-ranking charter school network Success Academy, with 34 schools in New York City, was systemically weeding out weaker and academically challenged students. Last week’s New York Times investigation into Success Academy proved it: Success Academy schools upheld their high academic standards through the unscrupulous practice of pressuring students to drop out in order to improve overall rank and standing.

Charter schools are run on public money, but their lack of oversight allows bad practices such as those of Success Academy to go unpunished. It’s time Success Academy’s “model of success” is exposed as not just a mirage, but also harmful to many of the young students its schools are meant to be educating. Success Academy plans to expand its network to 70 schools in the coming years, making it even more important to hold them accountable for their actions and ensure that they take true responsibility for the students put in their charge.

Late last year, Success Academy Fort Greene placed 16 students on a “Got to Go” list, the Times wrote. The children on the list were then repeatedly suspended for two to three days at a time, while their parents experienced frequent demands disrupting their everyday lives, such as having to pick up their children early and repeatedly being called into meetings. Four of the parents were even explicitly told by Success Academy officials that the school was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere. The oldest of these students who “weren’t right for Success Academy” are now in third grade.

The charter school network succeeded in their effort to drive out its weakest students, with nine of the children on the list later withdrawing from the school.

Recently, a report by the Shanker Institute found that Success Academy schools suspend students at seven times the rate of other New York City public schools. Furthermore, the report found that the network misrepresented their suspension data in required reports to the U.S. Department of Education.

We must demand that any school receiving public money that suspends students at a higher rate than public schools should face an immediate moratorium on expansion.

There must be direct consequences for schools that put their own achievements over those of their students. By turning a blind eye to charter schools’ callous policies, we are failing those children who need quality education the most.

The Success Academy network serves mostly low-income black and Hispanic students. All children, despite their parents’ financial situation, deserve to be given the opportunity to chart their own course in life. And when Success Academy shows poor children the door, they are fundamentally damaging the poorest black communities and discriminating against those in our society who are already at a steep disadvantage. 

While this specific misconduct was proven at Success Academy, the lack of scrutiny over charter schools means that similar mismanagement could be taking place all over the nation, where the number of charter schools has doubled three times since 2000. The Center for Popular Democracy recently found thatover $100 million in public tax funds were stolen in the charter school industry.

The price of having inadequate regulations is simply too high, and while some charter schools manage well both in terms of academic outcomes and management, we are constantly faced with examples such as the “Got to Go” lists. Charter mismanagement not only wastes millions of taxpayer dollars, but more importantly, it fails our future generations.


Kyle Serrette is director of education justice campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy.