One of the most prominent and praised charter schools recently had a teacher/tutor recruitment fair. At the recruitment fair we were given brochures gushing about the amazing qualities of this amazing charter school. We were reminded that this charter school even had a movie made about it, and there were glowing quotes from the New York Times and Oprah about this uber-school.
The actual job fair, however, left a lot to be desired if you were a middle or high school teacher. Nearly all the openings were for elementary school teaching positions, and that is because the vast majority of the students are in elementary grades. The high school 10th grade cohort currently has 62 kids. This charter school prides itself on a cradle to college approach, but I guess many kids accepted while they are in the cradle don’t ever make it to the charter schools’s upper grades. What happened to them?
It didn’t seem to matter to the principal, who told me, “We have a 100% graduation rate and 100% college acceptance rate.” Well I guess that’s easy if you’ve dwindled your 10th grade class to 62 kids. The principal also awkwardly explained that the school had graduated a senior class, but then there was a “gap” so they now only have 10th graders. I later learned that this “gap” was because an entire cohort had been expelled.
I was called back for another interview. This interviewer was actually a nice guy. He said, “You know, this school isn’t like this utopia. Just because we had a movie made about us and our leader was on Oprah, doesn’t mean it’s easy every day. Our kids have a lot of issues that have to be handled.” The DOE statistics seemed to back up this interview, as test scores for this charter school have proved unimpressive, despite all the acclaim and praise. In fact, the school’s test scores were worse than the average public school’s test scores.
The charter school is in a big, new building with a plaque at the doorway that said it was a generous donation by Michael Bloomberg. Indeed, the building looked very nice. No moldy trailers, no windows that never really close. Shiny floors. However, a quick walk around the school was surprising. The brochures showed angelic looking kids with neatly tucked uniforms. The reality was a lot grittier. I saw, however, that many kids had altered their uniforms. The red vests became do-rags for the boys, or belly-baring shirts for the girls. The girls’ bathroom was filthy, with strewn paper towels and tampons. When I went in I covered my nose from the stench and then I was alarmed when I realized the group of girls hanging out by the sinks were breaking into a fight. I walked out, put on my teacher face, and said, “Chill out and go to class.” The girls looked up at me, and left the bathroom. But I saw that they just moved their fight to the hallway. It was extremely loud and I was surprised that there were no security guards walking the hallways. I walked by the cafeteria and saw some food flying around.
Charter schools always tout the fact that their strict discipline, structure, and ability to fire teachers at will creates a stronger learning environment. However what I witnessed in this charter school looked very much like a “troubled” NYC public school, with its fair share of hallway wanderers, fights, and general lack of discipline.
I mostly saw elementary age children in my visit to the school. My guess is that most of them will never make the “elite 62."