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Startup (Success Academy): A look into controversial charter schools

The Premise (Apple Podcasts): 

A series about what it's really like to start a business.

Series or standalone:

Series (Part of the larger Startup podcast; this is a 7-part mini-series)

Begin listening to:

The Problem (aired November 9th, 2018)


Investigation with occasional interview snippets woven in


Alex Blumberg & Lisa Chow, staples of the Gimlet network

Sound/production quality: 


Content warning/age suitability: 

This will likely appeal most to adults, specifically those in education. A couple episodes are marked as "explicit," likely due to language.

Approximate length of episodes: 

45 minutes

Curricular ties: 

Not so much for students, but this is a really interesting listen for educators of all types.

Similar recommended pods: 

If you like this format, the other seasons of StartUp are also great; I really enjoyed Church Planting.

The Podcast Librarian’s Review:

For this review, I’m focusing on Success Academy, which is a seven-part series that aired in 2018. The topic is a controversial charter school leader, Eva Moskowitz, and the huge charter school network that she created in a short time. The story starts innocently enough—Eva sees major issues in NYC’s public schools (particularly in lower-income areas), right down to basic things like non-functioning toilets. Facing a great deal of criticism along the way, Eva creates one school, and then many more, that gives parents and their kids another schooling option. Some aspects of the schools seem fantastic—I was shocked by the audio of dead silence as 8-year-old students transitioned from one task to another. That kind of discipline is impressive, but it also leads to other problems. These issues become especially apparent in the final episode when we hear from those who know the Success Academy experience best—the students who have attended for 10 years and are now in SA high school. Ultimately, they are “successful,” but at what cost? This podcast challenged my thinking in some ways as an educator (I am generally anti-charter school, which is a discussion for another day), and I think it’s a fantastic listen for anyone who works in education or who wonders how (if?) charter schools really work.

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