For a lot of Barnard and Columbia students, finding a “good” job that also betters the world can sound quite difficult. Over the past few months, many of us have received several LinkedIn messages with invitations to panels to learn about “join[ing] the team” at Success Academy. While the prospect of networking and partaking in the project of “redefining what’s possible in public education” may sound progressive, the reality of Success Academy is far from it.
Charter schools, including Success Academy, are one part of the heightened drive for the privatization of education and the ongoing war on public schools. Even as some Columbia students have written about and organized against Teach for America’s recruiting on campus, there is still a prevalent attitude that public schools are all “bad”—or, at the very least, are less than their exclusive counterparts. Especially given that former Barnard President Debora Spar’s comment that students from public schools may not be "ready for Barnard,” it is abundantly clear that such sentiments are present here.
While many Barnard and Columbia students (including myself) went to public high schools, the noisy idealization of elite private schools like Phillips-Westlake-Whatever Academy among Columbia students and the subtle dismissal of the overwhelming majority of the country’s schools has left many students susceptible to the rhetoric of “education reform” organizations and recruiters. With ideas (and class interests) like these, perhaps it isn’t surprising to see how many Columbia affiliates hold high-level positions at Success Academy.
Upon graduation, Barnard seniors may find a number of jobs at Success Academy listed on the Career Development office’s materials. Even sophomores like myself have been the target of outreach from Success Academy’s recruiters. But Barnard and Columbia students need to cross Success Academy off our lists as we contemplate our career options and search for jobs.
Funded by The Walton Foundation and by hedge funds, Success Academy has a long list of major issues and considerable influence in New York politics. Contrary to their narrative of innovation and providing educational opportunities unavailable in public schools, Success Academy appears to rely on a number of deeply flawed methods. For example, their high test scores are arguably, in part, due to their consistent removal of students who aren’t performing to their standards through repeated suspension and harsh discipline. Currently, parents of current and former Success Academy students are suing the charter network for alleged discrimination against students with disabilities.
Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and a number of Success Academy board members have made significant campaign contributions and fought their critics tooth and nail. When Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed that wealthy charter networks pay rent to use space in public schools, Moscowitz ran a$3.6 million television advertising campaign that accused him of undermining the education of low-income students of color. This summer, Success Academy’s Chairman even went so far as to claim that a Black, pro-public education New York State Senator has done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” and call the United Federation of Teachers "thugs."
Public schools, a core democratic institution, should be celebrated, protected, and strengthened—not attacked and undermined by the “market-based solutions” of disconnected millionaires and billionaires. This doesn’t mean public education in the United States is without its problems. But rather than inadvertently advocating for its destruction by working with charter schools like Success Academy, perhaps we could engage in the wider conversation about, for example, the deeply inequitable way public education is currently funded.
Barnard and Columbia students have a good record of rallying around progressive causes. The actions and ideological underpinnings of Success Academy and institutions like it are an affront to this legacy. It is imperative that students interested in these issues read about education policy and the racist history of charter schools and support efforts to defend public education. Don’t “join the team.” Stand on the right side of history.
Meghan Brophy is a sophomore at Barnard College studying history and sociology. She organizes with Student-Worker Solidarity and hopes that her writing inspires critical thinking and collective action. Left Turn runs alternate Tuesdays.
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