Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School - including a book giveaway

In 2005 Eva Moskowitz, believing she could build a better elementary school than the dysfunctional ones she visited, left her position as chair of New York City Council’s Education Committee. She along with Arin Lavinia, a former teacher and national literacy consultant, went on to create Success Academy Harlem. In just 3 years this charter school became one of the top schools in New York City and State. In the spring of 2009 their students took New York State’s standardized for the first time. They were the top-scoring charter in New York City. 

There are now 3,500 students attending nine Success Academy Schools with five more schools slated to open in this summer.

How do they do it? What is their secret?
Eva Moskowitz the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and Arin Lavinia the designer and developer of Success Academy’s THINK Literacy program have written a book to share their secrets:

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School

The book details Success Academy’s THINK Literacy curriculum which produced the dramatic results in their student’s reading and writing skills. Some of the differences in their culture and curriculum include:

- Students attend class almost nine hours a day (7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and stay for an hour of after-school tutoring if needed and some are back again on Saturday mornings. They bring homework assignments home each night.

- There is a huge emphasis on teacher training. Teachers are given hundreds of hours of training every year beginning about four weeks before classes begin. Also during the first two years of employment a teacher has minimally six months of training.

- The teachers are given time during the school day for planning and lesson preparation.

- Success Academy ups the rigor bar. The majority of American schools underestimate children intellectually. Success Academy challenges and pushes educators and students to stretch themselves every day. Rather than teaching slow enough that all the children get a lesson and boring the other students, the academies encourage teachers to teach as quickly as possible, setting the bar very high and encouraging the students to meet the high standards and learn quickly.

I was asked to read and report on this book with the following writing prompt:
Stagnation, being unable to accomplish one’s job at a high level, is one of the greatest sources of low teacher morale. Why do you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions?
The way I see it for many years this country was content with keeping the public school system running status quo. It reminds me of the “because we’ve always done it this way” mentality.  Innovation or improving teaching methods was not a priority. See the following passage from the book:
Albert Shanker, who stood up for serious reform as president of the American Federation of Teachers, once said that public schools had fallen into the same trap as the U.S. Auto industry of old, thinking quality didn’t matter because it had a largely captive audience for its products.
Somewhere along the line public schools became lazy and complacent, just like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. A lot of things came together- grade inflation, social promotion, the breakdown of discipline – and made public education a mess. (Pgs. 13-14)
The current statistics are grim:
Currently it is not just Singapore, South Korea, and Japan that are putting our schools to shame; it is also Finland and Canada. A dozen of the world’s most prosperous countries now graduate more students for college, and only eight of the thirty four countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have worse high school dropout rates. (Pg. 144)
After realizing the country’s schools were in trouble the country did what it does best – threw money at the problem:
We spend well over $10,000 a year on average, educating each of the forty-nine million children and teens in public schools. No country in the world except Luxembourg spends that much. (Page 9)
Then we became convinced class size was the problem. We cut class size from 25-1 to 16-1. The focus now is to get more teachers into the classroom as quickly as possible. According to Career Jockey, to combat this issue, many colleges and universities are offering accelerated teaching degrees to students that already possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a variety of fields. Once they’ve completed the courses and passed their state’s teaching license exam, the student is considered a full-fledged teacher and able to look for work without having to student teach.

I am certainly no expert, but after reading Mission Possible, I have to believe teachers should be required to have more education and training not less.

If you would like to learn more about Eva Moskowitz or Mission Possible you can find Eva at:

I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Giveaway:
I have an extra copy of Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia's book Mission Possible to give away. This book is not just for teachers or charter school operators it is for anyone with an interest in improving teaching and learning in our schools.  The book includes a companion DVD providing clips and interviews.

To be eligible for the giveaway:
1. Leave a comment below
2. Include your email address

The drawing entry will close August 5, 2012

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  1. This looks like a really interesting book! I work in schools and am always interested in success stories and how they work.


  2. Sarah,
    I am excited to announce you are the winner of the "Mission Possible" giveaway. Since you work in schools I would love it if you would stop back in after you read the book and let us know your thoughts.