A Video of a Teacher Tearing Up a First-Grader’s Paper Captures an Important Part of the Charter-School Debate

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One important facet of the fierce debate over charter schools has to do with discipline. Many of the charter schools that boast high test scores also take a stricter, more regimented approach to discipline and academic performance than their public-school counterparts. When they’re criticized for it, these schools’ administrators often argue that they are working with underprivileged kids who don’t have any of the advantages of wealthier, often whiter students — therefore, through no fault of their own, they need to play “catch up,” and a different approach to discipline and performance is required.

Kate Taylor of the New York Times has been all over this debate, and her article from last year, “At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics,” made waves by describing some of the tactics that network uses — the lowlight probably being when “Former staff members described students in third grade and above wetting themselves during practice tests, either because teachers did not allow them to go to the restroom … or because the students themselves felt so much pressure that they did not want to lose time on the test.”

Today she has an article pegged to a leaked video from inside a Success Academy classroom, and it shows a pretty disturbing-seeming scene involving a first-grader: 

Taylor sums it up:

In the video, a first-grade class sits cross-legged in a circle on a brightly colored rug. One of the girls has been asked to explain to the class how she solved a math problem, but she has gotten confused.

She begins to count: “One… two…” Then she pauses and looks at the teacher.

The teacher takes the girl’s paper and rips it in half. “Go to the calm-down chair and sit,” she orders the girl, her voice rising sharply.

There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” she says, as the girl retreats.

Taylor reports that the teacher has been suspended, but that’s obviously not going to prevent this from sparking another round of fierce controversy about charter schools. Make sure you read the full article — this is a really interesting and important debate.

A Teacher Tears Up a First-Grader’s Paper