Welcome to Our World
"Welcome to my world," said the traditional public school to the charter.
Reformers who get mugged by reality can sound an awful lot like the dreaded "establishment." Take, for example, the story of the Opportunity Charter School in Harlem. Started by ardent reformers, the school now faces closure if it can't raise students' scores by next year. The reformers are crying foul.
Their arguments sound familiar and reasonable. The school takes the city's lowest achievers, half of them with learning disabilities, so it has a tougher road to travel. The state's tests can't measure the kinds of progress the school has made with those students. And the one-year deadline is unreasonable.
The reformers are on shakier ground when they seek to distance themselves from traditional public schools. The charter's assistant principal claims that the state can't "expect the school to be accountable for a system that has failed [students] for six or seven years." But it's not clear that the charter has dramatically improved "the system's" track record.
It has moved its lowest performers from "Level 1" to "Level 2" in math and reading. But an enterprising blogger revealed some time ago that students could reach "Level 2" by guessing on every test question. A recent review of the school's higher performers is even more troubling: "[Most] students who regularly score in the top two thirds of the school did not make one year's worth of progress and, in some cases, slid back." If anything, the school risks extending the legacy of failure.
Still, I'm not sure that the state should close the school next year. The school has taken on the city's most vulnerable students and vowed to make them stars. Few, if any, other charters can match this particular commitment. The school's teachers and administrators seem to care passionately about their students. And the charter's founder claims that the school will beat the city's graduation rate. In a few more years, the Opportunity Charter School may be able to tell a much more uplifting story. And let's not forget an important question: Where will Opportunity's students go if the school closes its doors?
So I don't envy New York's Education Department. They have a tough choice ahead of them. But I do think the story of a struggling charter school might awaken reform advocates to real-life challenges and tradeoffs. It has been far too easy to dismiss traditional public school educators as whiners.
The reformers and the "establishment" are in the same boat, so let's start rowing--hard--in the same direction.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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