Paul Fucaloro, Director of Pedagogy At Success Academy Charter Schools, on Children as “Little Test-taking Machines”

Since Eva Moskowitz explained in today’s Wall Street Journal that the iron discipline at her school was devised by a veteran teacher named Paul Fucaloro, I decided to google him.

The first thing that popped up was this reference to him in an article about the high test scores of Success Academy charter schools:

Because the state’s exams are predictable, they’re deemed easy to game with test prep. But in contrast to their drill-and-kill competition, Moskowitz says her teachers prepped their third-graders a mere ten minutes per day … plus some added time over winter break, she confides upon reflection, when the children had but two days off: Christmas and New Year’s. But the holiday push wasn’t the only extra step that Success took to succeed last year. After some red-flag internal assessments, Paul Fucaloro kept “the bottom 25 percent” an hour past their normal 4:30 p.m. dismissal—four days a week, six weeks before each test. “The real slow ones,” he says, stayed an additional 30 minutes, till six o’clock: a ten-hour-plus day for 8- and 9-year-olds. Meanwhile, much of the class convened on Saturday mornings from September on. Fourth-grader Ashley Wilder thought this “terrible” at first: “I missed Flapjack on the Cartoon Network. But education is more important than sitting back and eating junk food all day.” By working the children off-hours, Moskowitz could boost her numbers without impinging on curricular “specials” like Ashley’s beloved art class.

The day before the scheduled math test, the city got socked with eight inches of snow. Of 1,499 schools in the city, 1,498 were closed. But at Harlem Success Academy 1, 50-odd third-graders trudged through 35-mile-per-hour gusts for a four-hour session over Subway sandwiches. As Moskowitz told the Times, “I was ready to come in this morning and crank the heating boilers myself if I had to.”

“We have a gap to close, so I want the kids on edge, constantly,” Fucaloro adds. “By the time test day came, they were like little test-taking machines.”

Then came Juan Gonzalez’s article in 2014 describing Eva’s move from Central Harlem to Wall Street offices, where the rent will be $31 million over a 15-year period. We learn too that Paul’s salary as director of pedagogy jumped from $100,000 to $246,000.

Then I read an article about the “miraculous” transformation of an elementary school in Queens, financed by Wall Street hedge fund manager Joel Greenblatt, working with the same Paul Fucaloro; the key to the dramatic rise in test scores was adoption of the scripted Success for All curriculum. That was in 2002. I searched some more and found that on the latest state tests, the same school did not do very well. Despite the hype, it was ranked 20th among 36 schools in the same district in New York City. Virtually 100% of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is struggling. Greenblatt and Fucaloro have moved on to Success Academy charters.

(The original name of the chain, which is a category on the blog, was Harlem Success Academies; the word “Harlem” was dropped as the chain moved into other neighborhoods across the city, like Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, a solid middle-class community.)

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