“The secret of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy” in the New York Post tells the story of a charter school system in New York. It tells how the school has inner city kids performing well on standardized tests and grades.
Success Academy breeds success: Its inner-city students outperformed every other school district in the state in the 2017 exams. And one big secret to that success has been the application of the kinds of tactics and strategies that helped bring the city back from the brink more than once — this time, applied to education.
Both “broken windows” policing and Success Academy schooling target minor infractions that create a culture of chaos.
Writing about dealing with disruptive students in 2006-07, Success Academy’s first year, Moskowitz notes that when teachers are unable to stop even one student’s incessant misbehavior, it “can have a domino effect . . . and soon the teacher is playing whack-a-mole rather than teaching.”
That meant imposing “cultural expectations” on the classroom, which soon developed into a barometer Moskowitz calls “culture data.” Standardized test scores can only tell you so much so quickly. But monitoring “latenesses, absences, uniform infractions, missing homework, incomplete reading logs, and whether our teachers were calling parents about these problems” can serve as a “canary in a coal mine.”
It also manifested in instruction styles that required the kids to pay attention in class — such as randomly calling on students to respond to other students’ answers during a lesson — rather than just hoping they absorbed the information and then testing them to find out.
Consistent standards are also key. Unlike union-dominated schools, Moskowitz’s charters could fire bad teachers and administrators, ensuring those standards are applied evenly.
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She explains: “Excellence is the accumulation of hundreds of minute decisions; it is execution at the most granular level. Once you accept the idea that you should give in to things that make no sense because other people do those things and you want to appear reasonable, you are on a path towards mediocrity.”
In scouting, we are not trying to be data hounds or playing BigBrother to make sure all is well with our scouts. But even laying aside the data, there are insights we can learn from this story.
If a scout regularly misses campouts, what does that tell us about the scout’s experience in scouting? What is that scout’s absence on his fellow scouts? Is it reasonable for a scout to miss a campout because he doesn’t “find it interesting”? If a parent accepts this complaint from the scout, what should the Cubmaster or Scoutmaster do in response?
These details matter. Not every scout can participate in every event, meeting, or outing. The Guide to Advancement makes clear that a scout can be considered “active” in his unit without attending anything for months on end.
But there is huge difference between having a conflicting schedule or homework load that prevents regular attendance and a scout who does not want to go on the outing or come to a meeting because he would rather play video games that weekend.
Part of the solution is setting the expectation with parents about what the benefits of participating are and how they should handle a scout who wants to skip certain trips. A well-trained parent understands that the scout has an obligation to his patrol and to his troop even in his absence. He needs to make sure that he is getting his scout duties done. Missing the outing should not be treated as an excuse to skip scouting duties. If he is a patrol leader, he still has responsibilities to his patrol to be organized for the trip and to assure his proxy is prepared for the outing. He needs to assure that the patrol scribe is communicating with his patrol regularly and accurately.
In some respects holding scouts accountable for their duties when they don’t attend outings or events is one of the biggest life lessons we can offer in scouting. (The same can be said for adult leaders, too.)
A similar one is the expectation that membership means participation in events that may not be anticipated to light their fire. Packs and troops should set high expectation that membership means participation when no scheduling or homework conflicts exist.
Set high standards for your unit. Then look forward to being delighted with the results.