The high profile and controversial Success Academy Charter Schools network is now making portions of its English/language arts curriculum available on the web for educators to use for free.
The New York City-based chain has more than 40 schools serving mostly low-income students and students of color. It boasts some of New York’s top student achievement results—the network, in fact, recently won the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools that have helped close achievement gaps. But Success Academy has also come under scrutiny for what critics allege are strict discipline practices and for pushing out underperforming students.
Announcing its new Success Academy Education Institute, the name of the online repository, the network’s fiery founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz wrote in The Huffington Post that a rich curricula is one of the building blocks of her schools’ success.
“Creating schools of this caliber starts with creating a rich, challenging, and engaging curriculum,” she wrote. “From the earliest age, students must read and study the highest quality books that draw them in with the beauty of their writing and allure of their illustrations, and the complexity and resonance of their ideas, themes, and arguments. They must grapple with interesting, multidimensional mathematical problems. And they must be given opportunities throughout the day to think deeply about what they’re learning and to share their insights with peers and teachers.”
But teachers must be helped to turn that into powerful instruction, she added. That’s why the curriculum includes resources, such as videos, showing how teachers should deliver it.
For now, the portal is limited to Success Academy’s K-4 curriculum. It’s broken into a series of units, each subdivided into lessons; for example, Unit 4 for Grade 3 is on folklore. The lessons build on one another, beginning with readers recognizing common features and concluding with readers becoming able to explain how the characters in folklore teach wisdom about life. Many units specify core texts, including Aesop’s fables and other traditional folk stories, and the goals that students should master at the end of the unit.
Now that online curricular resources are everywhere, it’s important to note that Success Academy’s content is proprietary. The terms and conditions of the Education Institute make it clear that users are not to “copy, record, publish, or share any portion” of the materials. That makes it different from portals offering so-called open educational resources. Generally, OER materials can be modified, remixed, combined, and shared in new ways, though not for commercial gain.
One interesting note is that the Success Academy curriculum also includes not only what should be taught and how, but also expectations for student behaviors. Here’s a tidbit on independent reading, highlighted by education professor Emily Hodge:
Fascinating: “Set the expectation that scholars have 2 eyes reading, 2 hands on the book, and 2 feet on the floor during Indep. Reading.”
— Emily Hodge (@theemilyhodge) June 16, 2017
Popular teacher commentator and Education Week Teacher opinion blogger Larry Ferlazzo wondered whether some of the curriculum’s utility might be limited, since the units often refer to other books that would have to be purchased, rather than downloadable texts from the website. (There is plenty of debate in literacy circles about whether reading comprehension is best built using short texts, as in traditional basal readers; whole-class novels; or allowing students to have a choice of material.)
In my quick review,it seems 2have few or no actual downloadable texts 2 go w/ lesson plans. That doesn’t seem 2 make it very useful 2 tchrs
— Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) June 15, 2017
Success Academies isn’t the first charter group to make some of its resources available to others. The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, network of charter schools also offers online resources for free.
Photo: Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, attends a charter school rally outside the New York state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., in 2015. —Mike Groll/AP-File
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.