Conservative media watchers and Republican politicians would take profound exception to Success Academy founder Eva S. Moskowitz’s evaluation of a certain American institution: “This is the tenth time that the New York Times has written with profound bias,” said the educator at a press conference Friday.
Is that all?
Of course, Moskowitz was speaking only of how the New York Times has treated her organization, a network of 34 charter schools serving 11,000 students in New York City. That’s a lot of schools and a lot of children — so many that Success Academy has been a frequent subject of investigative educational journalism. PBS, for instance, went deep on Success Academy’s suspension policies, running a nine-minute exposé on the issue in October. This exposé was then exposed by Success Academy, which noted that PBS didn’t give the network a chance to deliver its rebuttal to the story of a family in the piece. PBS apologized for that omission.
Friday’s presser regarding the New York Times was, likewise, an exercise in muscular post-publication objection. “We have great respect for the press, the fourth estate. . . . But I can’t stand by as the New York Times uses selective video, anonymous sources and gotcha tactics to tear down any teacher,” said Moskowitz. “Any teacher,” in this instance, is Charlotte Dial of a Success Academy school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. In a story with a headline that could issue only from the confines of the New York Times — “At Success Academy School, a Stumble in Math and a Teacher’s Anger on Video” — Dial is shown on a video berating a first-grade student over a slip-up on math. “There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” scolds Dial, who rips up the paper.
The duration of the video is 1:16, or the perfect length for virality, social media impact and utter disgrace — hence Success Academy’s pushback press conference.
How did the paper get this footage? That question is answered in the very text: “The video was recorded surreptitiously in the fall of 2014 by an assistant teacher who was concerned by what she described as Ms. Dial’s daily harsh treatment of the children. The assistant teacher, who insisted on anonymity because she feared endangering future job prospects, shared the video with The New York Times after she left Success in November,” writes reporter Kate Taylor. The rest of the story mounts a painstaking effort to explore whether such teacher behavior is common, a dive that’s based on interviews with 20 current and former Success Academy teachers. Moskowitz told the New York Times that the incident was isolated: “This video proves utterly nothing but that a teacher in one of our 700 classrooms, on a day more than a year ago, got frustrated and spoke harshly to her students,” she wrote to the New York Times in an email. Dial apologized, received a reprimand and additional training but returned to her job.
Success Academy defenders cite an outpouring of testimony by parents defending Dial, which can be found here. “If the paper of record is really interested in offering a balanced view, then they should listen to parents and come clean,” said Moskowitz at the press conference. “We are here to call on the New York to demand that the New York Times stop bashing teachers and tell the truth. They must tell the truth. They must tell the story of parents’ direct, immediate experience of Success Academy.”
Wendell Jamieson, the New York Times’s Metro editor, isn’t in a ground-yielding mood. “I reject Eva Moskowitz’s criticism of our coverage,” he says in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. In October, Taylor stung Success with a story about a “Got to Go” list of students one of the schools. According to the story, “school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.”
Nor does the school’s talk of anomalies and bad days impress Jamieson. “It seems impossible to me that the one time she did it there was a video camera there,” he says. Speaking of the students assembled in the classroom, Jamieson continued, “You can see a sort of in their body language an accepting that this is the way they are treated.” Even if it is an exception: “These are first graders. You can’t have a bad day like that with a 1st grader — I don’t care,” says the Metro editor. As the father of an elementary school girl, the Erik Wemple Blog endorses the no-abusive-eruptions-ever school of pedagogy.
Kiah Hufane, a Success Academy principal, said this at the press conference: “As a human, who does incredibly hard work, I do believe that what was published was a clip of a teacher at her absolute worst moment. Just think about that. This woman had her worst moment recorded and published for the world to see,” she said. Much more video would be required to ascertain that Dial was having her “absolute worst moment.”
Video rules accountability journalism in a way that all the interviews in the world with “current and former staffers” will never manage to. Success Academy defenders may take issue with the emphases of the New York Times story, its presentation, its thrust, its language, whatever — but they cannot refute that videotape. Nor did they try: Moskowitz made clear at the press conference that neither she nor Dial condoned the teacher’s classroom behavior. Though thus busted, she and other Success proponents found plenty of reasons to bash the outlet. Asked about the academy’s record of media refutation, Jamieson responds, “They make it a bigger story every time they do it.”