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February 26, 2016

success academy: heeling it up

There's a follow-up story from the NYT detailing how Success Academy, prior to the release of a damning video showing a Success instructor basically emotionally abusing a student, pressured the student's mother to object to the release of the video. This is not a surprise, given the track record of Success Academy in NYC. Last year a Success school was discovered to have a purge list for students, confirming suspicions of critics that Success was boosting test scores by cherry-picking students. Sensitive to the criticisms, Success attracted notice by switching public relations firms, which is the kind of thing that is not an admission of guilt but certainly the act of a business that has the spare money to worry about public perception.

But back to the student (or as Success jargons them, "scholars," with par for the icky course) in question. When it became evident that the Times was going to run the story, successively more important Success executives urged the parent to not cooperate, which efforts were apparently scuttled when Moscowitz talked over the mother at a public meeting when she detailed her concerns. Here's the part that makes you take a small break from reading the story, in which to weep:

"She [the student] used to tell me: 'I'm never going to get it. I just don't know. I'm not as smart as the other kids,'" Ms. Miranda [the mother] said. "I would hear that from her, and I'd be like, 'Where are you getting this from?'"

When she saw the video, Ms. Miranda said, she understood her daughter's dejection.

It is also revealed that the student and her family were at the time living in a shelter, which, again, is not a smoking gun, but Occam's Razor isn't just a river in Egypt.

Success, and charter schools in general, have an image problem. For example, the fact that Success has long relied on the support of students and parents is a luxury not afforded public schools. Sure, teachers unions have had public demonstrations (and struck!) but have they ever given the student body the day off with the proviso that they be bused up to Albany to be a backdrop for an imperious Gov. Cuomo? No doubt many of these families earnestly support the cause of Success, but it is impossible to escape the impression that they are being compelled to do so. And that's the kind of tactic that the product of free-market think-tanks do without compunction — charter schools don't have the same ethical imperative that public education has. Public education is there to educate the public. Charter schools are there to divert the flow of money earmarked for public education and slice a big chunk off the top to give to Moscowitz and the hedge funds that are capitalizing these ventures. Doing something dodgy like using the kids for photo-ops is absolutely fine so long as it is advancing the cause.

Not only will the free market not solve everything, some things, like education, should not be a business, because business only care about results to the extent that it affects profit, and if profit can be achieved without results, it will be.

For the record, Moscowitz apologized, sorta kinda.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:46 AM

February 25, 2016

media suck: isn't it ironic (don't you think)

The sky is falling. Of course it is! Remember, we are strict adherents to the concept of the Slow Degradation of All Things, and you certainly don't even have to be a lifelong student of reality TV to realize that we might be losing the word "Slow" from that sooner rather than later. From the environment to NYC skyline to the primary season we are in the middle of, there is an awful lot of suck out there and not a lot to ameliorate. And the way that we would hear about this slide into idiocy and chaos, our news media, be they legacy or digital, are by no means immune to the same maelstrom of irrelevancy.

By way of reference check this essay by Chris Lehmann, chronicling the rancid soup that is the digital news venture in this day and age, and the bad habits they have innovated themselves into:

The polite euphemism for such rampant self-prostitution in our brave new digital media world is "sponsored content" -- i.e., writing that's made to look, feel and read like actual journalism while promoting a paid-for commercial agenda. It's true that traditional print publications also engage in their own version of this subterfuge, but it's very difficult to mistake a plainly marked special advertising supplement in your daily paper that is overstuffed with propaganda ginned up by the Chinese or Russian government for real news. Meanwhile, blandly corrupt listicles and feature pieces gleefully swamp actual journalistic offerings in all manner of online news portals, from Buzzfeed to The Atlantic.

I would be happy to report that if this "sponsored content" beast could be rounded up and put back in the corral then we might have half a fighting chance, but even outside the rarefied air of these highly-financed outfits, the ones that need tens of millions of bucks of revenue because some well-meaning doof capitalized them for an amount north of that, in the places where the motives are pure enough to think of a sponsored content as questionable (or at least no fun to read), it's not much better. In fact, it's getting downright dull, as more and more writers decide that what the news really needs is yet another autobiography or another rote exercise in contrarianism. And that's the interesting stuff! Elsewhere entire zip codes of the Internet are automated curation zones, gardens full of headlines in the form of a question looking for a couple hundred words of copy. Oh the inanity.

And the appropriate irony, noted by Lehmann, is that the publisher of this very vital bit of gimlet-eyed observation is Al Jazeera America, which was a little venture to bring a little more journalism onto our screens that failed miserably and quickly to boot. Just another victim. So: Lehmann's piece is good, but trapped in a metaphor of the circling of the drain by our news providers. (And also note that this certain provider decided to slam its own fingers in the door on the way out.)

Posted by mrbrent at 3:39 PM