A secretly recorded video emerged Friday of a first-grade Success Academy teacher berating a student who couldn’t answer a maths question correctly and ripping up the girl’s paper.
A teacher’s assistant leaked the video to The New York Times, and Success Academy — the city’s largest charter school network — held a press conference Friday to fire back at the paper and accuse it of “gotcha tactics” to tear down the school.
“I read the story in the morning and I thought it was not only unfair, it was insulting,” said Youssef Senhaji, a father of three Success Academy students.
He was one of dozens of parents and teachers who joined the Success Academy press conference to voice their anger at the newspaper for supposedly selling a false narrative about the schools.
Many parents at the press conference seemed upset by what they perceived as The Times’ paternalistic lecturing to minority parents. Success Academy serves 11,000 students in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Its website indicates that 93% of their students are children of colour, and 76% are from low-income households.
“I’m keeping it civilized, because when I read this thing this morning and was home alone, you don’t want to hear what I was saying,” Senhaji added, before arguing The Times was overstepping its bounds by implying parents are “blind” to what’s going on their kids’ schools.
Natasha Shannon, a mother with three daughters at Success Academy, echoed this sentiment.
“I don’t understand why the New York Times thinks it has to educate me as a parent about the school that I choose to send my children to,” she said.
“I’m not some poor, uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what’s available in New York City schools,” she added. “I chose Success. I made that choice because it’s the best choice for my daughters.”
The press conference was punctuated by raucous applause, and shouts of “that’s right” and “say it again” when the teachers and parents agreed with what one of the speakers had to say about their schools.
“We can’t get a fair shake from the so-called paper of record,” Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said at Friday’s event.
One of the most boisterous rounds of applause came after Success Academy teacher Candice Seagrave spoke.
“The most heartbreaking part of all of this is the feeling that you don’t believe that black and brown kids can be successful,” she said.
For its part, The Times told Business Insider that it rejects Moskowitz’s criticism of their coverage.
“We would have done this story if that video were filmed in a traditional public school, a Catholic school or an independent school, and we would have explored the question of whether or not it represents larger problems within those institutions,” The Times said in a statement.
Students in the Success Academy far outperform students in traditional public schools (TPS) in New York City on standardised tests — even students in wealthy zip codes, as Reason has pointed out.
Seagrave, the Success Academy teacher, questioned the motives behind The Time’s decision to run the 60-second video, claiming the only way the paper can believe SA students are able to attain stellar achievement levels is through improper or abusive teaching methods.
Still, this is not the first time the school has come under fire, particularly by people interviewed in The Times, for questionable practices at their schools.
Last year, a New York Times report included interviews claiming students in the third grade and above were wetting themselves in classrooms because they felt so stressed out and didn’t want to lose time during standardised tests. The same article described the public shaming of students for poor grades.
On Friday, the press conference about the most recent video ended with a brief time allotted for questions from the media.
“Is the girl who was scolded in the video still a student at Success Academy Cobble Hill?” Kate Taylor, The New York Times reporter who wrote the story about the video, asked.
Moskowitz was unable to provide an answer. “I would have to confirm that,” she said.
When the video was published, Moskowitz said the incident was an anomaly. The teacher in the video called it a “lapse in emotional control,” according to The Times. It is still disturbing to watch, especially since The Times’ interviews with 20 current and former Success Academy teachers suggested her actions were extreme but not uncommon.
View the full video below.