New York’s Success Academy is Changing the Education Landscape

The Network
Success Academy is a renowned network of public charter schools that offer families in New York City a free alternative to the many dysfunctional failing schools that prevail in disadvantaged neighborhoods. From the first day a student joins a Success school, the adults in the system are committed to ensuring that the scholar succeeds in school, in university, and throughout life.

Success is a public school system and, more specifically, a charter network wherein scholars, teachers, and school leaders work together to ensure that each child’s academic and socio-emotional welfare are well catered for. The school leaders aren’t just Principals in the classic sense of the word - Success divides administrative responsibilities across an academic leader and an operations leader, because part of their theory of impact is that principals - the academic leaders - should be focused exclusively on academics, and that other administrative aspects of managing schools – from fire drills to field trips — are best handled by an operations team.

The Founder
Success Academy was founded and is still run by Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz is passionately involved in all aspects of the schools, regularly visiting schools and individual classrooms to observe and provide feedback to principals and teachers.

She believes that high-quality education should be available to all children, regardless of their family’s socio-economic background. Success Academy welcomes all students through their doors and into their classrooms for a top-notch learning environment. Well, not all students, because there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate the thousands of families who want to their children to attend Success Academy. So the schools hold a lottery each year to determine who can attend, and Moskowitz has rapidly expanded her network of schools from one to 41 to meet demand. Sadly, they still have to turn away more than ten thousand students every year.

Moskowitz, who has a PhD in history, is highly knowledgeable on educational theory and practice - something she seems ready to discuss at a moment’s notice in a wonky fashion that sometimes draws criticism but reveals the depth of her connection to the work. She categorizes their approach as progressive pedagogy, which depends on children learning by doing and emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving.

Classroom Snapshot

Moskowitz and her growing team of educators believe in the power and primacy of literacy as the gateway to all learning. Success is devoted to setting the standards high in education, by ensuring that school experience is filled with chances for discovery, exploration, personal engagements and humor. They believe each kid has unlimited potential to achieve educational goals at high levels.

Success Academy has centralized much of the management of schools, so that curriculum development and training are provided to each of the schools in the network. For example, the Literacy Team curates reading lists for students at each grade level. Moskowitz believes that high quality children’s literature, both fiction and nonfiction, can lead children to enjoy and embrace reading — and progress rapidly in their overall studies, all of which require reading. Finding the right texts at the right levels is crucial for capturing student engagement.

Their approach to literacy relies heavily on independent reading time but also, of equal importance, on discussion among students. Teachers are trained to encourage interaction among students rather than what is typically seen in classrooms when a teacher asks a question and gets an answer from a single student, and repeats that process ad nauseam. “If the adults are asking factual recall questions, you're not going to get high levels of learning. You have to ask open-ended questions," says founder Moskowitz. This is what leads to critical thinking.

Success champions what some call student-centered learning. This can mean a lot of different things, but at Success, it boils down to the fact that a teacher’s job isn’t really teaching content so much as it is facilitating learning. The distinction may seem small, but it is born out in how time is spent during the school day and what students are expected to do in the classroom. For example, mere Kindergartners perform one hundred or more experiments by the end of their first year of school - experiments that introduce them to the scientific method. As with their approach to literary texts, the exploration of other content areas also centers around discussion. "It's not just about what your students say, but their ability to then comment on and question what other kids are saying. Helping to create that symphony of discussion is what teaching is all about,” says Moskowitz.

Another way Success Academy gets children excited about learning is through project-based learning, or PBL. As early as kindergarten, students learn about a variety of subjects in project-based learning units: supermarkets, birds, the Brooklyn Bridge, their own neighborhoods, and the New York City subway system. Through hands-on exploration with their classes and on their own with family members, they learn to gather information, gain communication skills, use their imaginations, and apply knowledge learned from a variety of sources. Exploring a topic in such depth brings history to life and allows scholars to develop their own deep insights. For instance, during Brooklyn Bridge Project Based Learning, second grade scholars conduct experiments to learn the engineering principles behind bridge construction, read about Emily Roebling, the project’s chief engineer, walk across the bridge to interview pedestrians, take a boat to look at it from underneath—they draw it, write about it, and build a replica of it.

The Data Doesn’t Lie 

Success Academy was first opened in 2006 and today consists of a network of 41 schools serving approximately 14,000 students. They started with one school and have since opened 40 more over a mere ten years, and their growth trajectory seems to be continuing apace. Apparently, their results are able to stay strong as they grow their footprint across New York City, whereas other networks with a smattering of high-performing campuses have struggled to maintain that performance when they add new schools.

In 2016, 29 percent of New York City’s children were considered proficient in English, and 35 percent in Math on the State’s Common Core-aligned examination. Success Academy students in New York City blew those averages out of the water with proficiency rates of 82% in English and 94% in Math. Moreover, Success’s pupils in the city’s poorest neighborhoods demonstrably outperformed those in the wealthiest communities.

The results speak for themselves. Even when factoring the relatively small percentage of students enrolled in Success Academy schools relative to all the other public schools in New York, it’s fair to say that the performance has been extraordinary, the results have been consistent, and the impact is only growing. Success recently launched what they are referring to as the Success Academy Education Institute to share best practices and help train their own and other teachers throughout the year. Their influence is now beginning to extend beyond their own classrooms and across the country.

Check out the CrunchBase of Success Academy Charter School Network.





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