All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

Are no-excuses charter schools setting kids up to struggle later by pushing academic skills too hard, too soon? 

By Emily Kaplan
backpack-schoolThe very youngest children at the charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I AM A…SCHOLAR,” the two hundred children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

I HAVE THE POWER TO DETERMINE WHO I AM, WHO I WILL BECOME, AND WHAT I DO IN LIFE. They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. I WILL STAY FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE. 

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

I WILL MAKE SMART CHOICES BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT MYSELF, MY TEAMMATES, AND MY COMMUNITY. 

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: TODAY IS A STEP ON MY PATH TOWARD SUCCESS! On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.” Continue reading →

Control Experiment

What is it that urban charter schools actually do?

Reader: if you happened to read this recent New York Times piece on urban Graph-going-upcharter success, you know that the upshot is that Boston charters are *crushing* the achievement gap and sending loads of kids to college. Close reader that I am, though, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. Like any description at all of what makes schools like Match Charter Public School, which gets a special NYT shout out, so different from, say, schools in the suburbs where, based on the contents of my mail bag, the NYT article and the research it cites has been greeted with great enthusiasm. Which gave me a wild idea: why not interview a student who attends Match and ask her to describe what her school is like? Continue reading →

You Should Hear What I’ve Been Hearing

Which is why I’m launching a podcast series!

bandwcartoon

That’s my new microphone!

I’ve spent the last two years visiting cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia that are on the front lines of the often bitter battle over the future of public schools in the US. And what I’ve heard along the way is far more interesting, encouraging and honest than the talking points and stale exchanges that dominate the discussions about our schools. That’s why I’m launching a podcast series so that you can listen in and hear what I’ve been hearing.

Continue reading →

The Education You Deserve

An open letter to my students at a “no excuses” charter school in Boston

By Barrett Smith
Last month I resigned from my position as a tutor and teaching assistant at a “No-Excuses” Charter School in Boston. What follows is an open letter to my students.

First, I need to get something off my chest. I came to your middle school for some selfish reasons. I wanted to tutor you not only to help you but also to help myself. I came to Boston temporarily and as an outsider, looking for a year of training in skills that I could take with me to my future home, and to benefit my future students. Continue reading →