Accountability Harlem Success Academy Racism

A Response to Diana Senechal Regarding Robert Pondiscio

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Alex Zimmerman wrote an article about Black teachers at Success Academy charter schools questioning what some regarded as racist treatment of children and parents at the charters. After reviewing their complaints, Zimmerman asked Robert Pondiscio his view of the controversy. Pondiscio wrote a book about the chain after spending a year observing it.You can read the article here. I summarized the article here.

Robert Pondiscio took to Twitter to denounce me as “shameful” for not making clear that he found the practices described in the article to be “repellent.” But he didn’t say that to Alex Zimmerman of Chalkbeat. I responded on Twitter, inviting Robert to write a post on my blog. He did not answer.

I heard today from Diana Senechal, who brilliantly edited my book “The Death and Life of the Great American School system: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” Robert Pondiscio was an early reader of the book, and I think I introduced them. She wrote a comment today that defended Robert at length.

It was nice to hear from Diana, but still no word from Robert himself.

You can find Diana’s long commentary in the responses to the article.

I wonder why Robert doesn’t write me directly, offline or offline. If I got anything wrong, I would quickly correct it. I once again extend an invitation to Robert Pondiscio to write a post here about the disciplinary policies at Success Academy charter schools and the reactions to them by Black teachers. Are they “repellent” or are they a necessary element in producing high test scores? Or neither?

Here is my response to Diana Senechal.

Diana,

I was not writing a review of Robert Pondiscio’s book. I was writing about an article in Chalkbeat whose main point was that Black teachers and other staff were complaining about racism at Success Academy charters. Their complaints began because Eva Moskowitz was silent for four days after the murder of George Floyd. Her prolonged silence prompted them to complain about other practices at Success Academy that they consider racist, such as calling 911 when children behave badly or monitoring black hair styles or suspending disproportionate numbers of black boys or young white teachers hectoring Black parents.

Chalkbeat contacted Pondiscio to ask him about the complaints of racism. His response was:

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a significant appetite among low-income parents for exactly the flavor of education that Eva Moskowitz offers,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the conservative-learning Fordham Institute who spent a year observing a Success elementary school in the South Bronx and wrote a book about it. “It just does violence to reality to pretend that this is some kind of pedagogy that’s being imposed on families of color.”

“At the same time, he isn’t surprised that some employees may be increasingly uncomfortable with the responsibility of enforcing strict behavior expectations on students of color, even if they are designed to foster student achievement.

“A lot of those techniques — rightly or wrongly — may feel oppressive to a new generation of young people, and I think that’s a vulnerability for high-performing charter schools,” Pondiscio said.”

I wish he had said that it is wrong to call 911 (the cops) when a child acts out. I wish he had said that it is wrong to punish children for their hair style. I wish he had said it is wrong to suspend disproportionate numbers of Black boys as a disciplinary tool. But he didn’t. His response was an “eye of the beholder” defense of these racist tactics.

Furthermore, instead of writing to me directly—he has my personal email, as do you—he went to Twitter to denounce me as shameful. I twice invited him on Twitter to write for this blog to clarify any misunderstanding, and he did not answer or accept my invitation.

Did he ask you to defend him?

Why doesn’t he come out himself and say he deplores the disparate and harsh treatment of Black boys in Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools? If it’s repellent to him, as he claimed on Twitter, why doesn’t he say so to Chalkbeat or here?

The Black teachers at the SA chain risked their jobs by speaking out against racist treatment of Black children and their parents. Why doesn’t he speak out too? He has nothing to lose.

Diane

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