Joyful Learning

Eva Moskowitz

by James C. Sherlock

Many of our readers have expressed dismay about the future of Virginia’s schools, some coming to the conclusion that there is no hope. Some others contend that because poor kids haven’t learned over the past three decades, that they can’t learn. Or that some poor kids can learn, just not poor black kids. Or whatever.

Education “leaders” in Virginia contend we must lower the standards to meet the kids, not raise those kids to meet the standards.

Virginia’s Secretary of Education’s stated position is that we must do away with achievement tests to mask deficiency in actual learning and rely instead on aptitude tests, which he admits are not available, to find talented children of color.

Secretary Atif Qarni then insists we put them in advanced classes and schools such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology regardless of their inability to demonstrate that they have mastered the preparation necessary to succeed there.

Critical race theory, much admired by the Governor and Secretary Qarni, insists on the necessity of cleansing America in general and American education in particular of the core principles, history and structures of Western Civilization for black people to succeed and their children to learn.

The critical race theorist worldview

Daniel Bergeney wrote a great piece in the New York Times on September 3, 2014 titled The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio. From that piece:

“Fewer than one-fifth of black students in the city can read or do math at grade level, to take just one grim statistic. … Most students are black and Latino and poor enough to qualify for federally subsidized lunch — the kinds of children the city’s regular public-school system seems all but incapable of educating. Fewer than one-fifth of black students in the city can read or do math at grade level, to take just one grim statistic.”

That describes pretty succinctly the baseline for the viewpoints of BLM, Critical Race theorists and Mr. Qarni – in no particular order.

Success Academy and the 2019 New York State Exams

All of that, in addition to representing the most racist attitude imaginable, is proven false by the statewide dominance of New York City Success Academy schools in the New York State Department of Education New York State Testing Program (NYSTP). From the NYSTP website

“The Office of State Assessment (OSA) is responsible for the coordination, development, and implementation of the Grade 3-8 tests, Regents Examinations, Alternate Assessments and English Language Proficiency assessments that comprise the New York State Testing Program (NYSTP). These examinations are administered to students in Kindergarten through Grade 12 enrolled in public, nonpublic, and charter schools throughout the State.”… tests that are aligned with the New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum, are consistent with State and federal mandates, are statistically and psychometrically sound, and yield valuable information that enables the State Education Department to hold schools accountable for the education of all students.

Success Academy is the size of the state’s seventh-largest school district, serving 17,000 students across 45 schools. Of 7,405 students taking exams, 99% passed math, with 86% scoring at the highest level of 4, and 90% passed ELA, with 41% scoring a 4. 

These school results ranked in the top 1% of all schools in New York, regardless of family income or racial mix. See the spreadsheet for the top 5.


Success Academy Test takers were 55% black, 29% Hispanic, 4% Asian, 4% multiracial 8% white. Test takers included 19% students with IEPs, 3% English learners and 6% homeless students.

The 2019 test results, typical of previous years, demonstrated that children across all demographics — racial and economic, as well as those who have IEPs, are English Language Learners, or are experiencing homelessness — can achieve outstanding academic results. In all subgroups, Success Academy scholars outperformed their peers.

How Does Success Academy Do it?

I just spent some very instructional time on the Success Academy website. If you have any interest in K-12 education, I recommend you create a free account to get full access. In an overview of their approach:

At Success Academy, we want our scholars to fall in love with learning — and joyful rigor is our formula for achieving off-the-charts engagement. We capture our scholars’ imaginations by introducing them to fascinating subject matter and pressing them to do the intellectual heavy lifting, constantly asking them “why?” “how can you prove that?” and “what is the evidence?” We want our scholars to recognize and embrace the power of their own ideas, so teachers limit direct instruction and focus on encouraging independent thinking and problem solving in their classrooms. Our scholars spend most of their day exploring, analyzing, discussing, and executing their way through powerful texts, complex math problems, intriguing science experiments, winning chess strategies, and inspiring works of art.

The site explains in great detail how each class is conducted at every grade level. It is astonishing. You can drill down to the lesson guides if you wish.

The lesson guides show the classes to be very fact oriented, using a lot of primary sources, and highly participatory. They treat slavery and Jim Crow and the founding and the civil war accurately and unhesitatingly in every respect.

Unlike the nonsense adrift in the Virginia Department of Education, however, it is professional and the way they teach the kids is amazing.

You will never, ever, hear the term “joyful learning” at VDOE.

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13 responses to “Joyful Learning

  1. I once had admiration for KIPP Charter Schools. Their national slogan was “Work hard. Be nice”. Perhaps not the most creative slogan but a solid, simple set of thoughts for young people. KIPP has recently decided to “retire” that national slogan without another slogan ready to go. Why? According to their website, many reasons.

    1. Working hard and being nice is not going to dismantle systemic racism. For example, in the words of student performers at KIPP School Summit: “I’ve been told I should just work hard and be nice. That it’ll pay off in the end. I’ve worked hard and I’ve been nice but the nice guys finish last.”

    2. It suggests being compliant and submissive. For example, in the words of an alum: “Asking us to ‘be nice’ puts the onus on kids to be quiet, be compliant, be controlled. It doesn’t actively challenge us to disrupt the systems that are trying to control us.”

    3. It supports the illusion of meritocracy. For example, in the words of Orpheus Williams who leads the Foundation’s equity programming: “The slogan passively supports ongoing efforts to pacify and control Black and Brown bodies in order to better condition them to be compliant and further reproduce current social norms that center whiteness and meritocracy as normal.”

    Meritocracy shouldn’t be normal?

    There are so many problems with this spew of rhetorical diarrhea it’s hard to know where to start. How about this – if meritocracy is just an illusion then why go to school at all?

    New motto suggestion: KIPP Schools – Sleepwalk through life. Act like an asshat.

    • “Work hard. Be nice”

      Hmmm, a combination of Ellen Degeneres and, uh, hmm, lemme see, some group that supports work as a moral imperative…. Maybe “Work makes nice” would be better?

    • It’s not about abandoning meritocracy, it’s about acknowledging that meritocracy in this country is flawed deeply by race and family economic advantage. It is arguably an illusion that makes us white folks with privilege feel better about ourselves.

      A kid from the top academic quintile and the bottom economic one in this country will on average get the same life outcomes as one from the bottom academic quintile and the top economic one. Is that a meritocracy?

      Also, if you haven’t, read up on the history of black education in the US and you’ll recognize that work hard and be nice fit historical views on education of blacks to be compliant farm and factory workers. KIPP wants more for their students than that.

      Work Hard, Be Nice worked for a long time, but I’m looking forward to what KIPP comes up with as a replacement.

  2. Eva Moskowitz long ago declared the teachings of E. D. Hirsch to be an important cornerstone to the development the Success Academy’s Curriculum and the building of the Academy’s teaching methods.

  3. I saw it in the lesson plans. It the optimistic approach to teaching and learning that is missing in most discussions of education. It also happens to be the most successful.

  4. We’re self-reliant, remember? It was on the official list. Us Whiteys are self-reliant. That means the true education of our children and grandchildren is in our own hands, if we are willing to take on the task. Relying on the schools for the big stuff is the first and biggest mistake. A great teacher can make the difference with reading, math, grammar….but patriotism, an understanding of our Constitution, compassion, faith, freedom and duty, those are not concepts we can leave to the schools.

    The boys might be getting to the point I can take them to Arlington and introduce them to their great-grandfather and his mates. That might be the place to start.

    • Yes, yes. Self-reliant. Not only on the list, but many times in the GOP platform in the section defining the ideal family unit as two-parent opposite sex. That was on the list too.

      Is his statue still there?

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Mr. Haner I have been thinking a lot about this very topic.

      ” patriotism, an understanding of our Constitution, compassion, faith, freedom and duty, those are not concepts we can leave to the schools.”

      My 4th and 5th grade teachers were so good at this and I never missed a day of school both years. I couldn’t wait to get back to school to be in a class that made you feel proud to be an American. Mr. Bullock could have passed for Clark Kent’s twin brother. We loved him more than words can tell.

    • Well, Notre Dame has done what Regent could only dare to dream, super majority over the laws of man. Last time that happened was called “The Dark Ages”.

      • It was called The Curia. 🙂 Hadn’t thought about if, but it we can break the Yale-Harvard roadblock, that’s a bad thing?

        • Dunno. How do feel about mackerel?

          • Mackerel species typically have vertical stripes on their backs and deeply forked tails. Many are restricted in their distribution ranges and live in separate populations or fish stocks based on geography. Some stocks migrate in large schools along the coast to suitable spawning grounds, where they spawn in fairly shallow waters. After spawning they return the way they came in smaller schools to suitable feeding grounds, often near an area of upwelling. From there they may move offshore into deeper waters and spend the winter in relative inactivity. Mackerel flesh is high in omega-3 oils.

            The term “mackerel” is derived from Old French and may have originally meant either “marked, spotted” or “pimp, procurer”.

            Large schools restricted in their distribution ranges along the coast, spawn in shallow waters, spend the winter in relative inactivity, “pimp, procurer”

            Pretty much exactly like progressives. Except for the Omega 3 part.

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