Change a School’s Structure, Change the World: An Exchange

In which Empower School’s Brett Alessi and I go back and forth about whether the Springfield Empowerment Zone is *all that*… 

Image result for unicornEditor’s note: I recently wrote about the much-hyped Springfield Empowerment Zone, arguing that there isn’t enough *there there* to merit its coronation as the next big thing, and that the zone’s eye-popping suspension numbers are a serious red flag. Brett Alessi, head of Empower Schools, the nonprofit that is helping to empower the Empowerment Zone, responded and asked if he might respond to my piece, giving readers a fuller account of what’s happening in Springfield than my *negative Nancy* portrayal. (My description, not his). I eagerly obliged but requested that Alessi focus on the two specific issues I raised: the high student suspension numbers in the Zone’s schools, and whether the push to *scale up* the Zone is warranted given that the Zone has yet to do what its architects claimed that it would do. Alessi’s response is below, and my response to his response is below that… Continue reading →

Set Up to Fail

A former teacher says an acclaimed college-prep charter school in New Orleans is setting students up for failure…

By Jake Guth
sci1There’s an old adage that if something seems too good to be true, then it likely is. Sci Academy, one of New Orleans’ top-rated charter schools, exemplifies that adage. As a success story/victim of New Orleans Public Schools, depending on which way you want to view it, I approached my job interview at Sci Academy with a big grain of salt. The Craigslist ad for a coach described an academically-driven school that was attempting to start an athletics program.

I still remember how blown away I was by my first visit to the school—how it was unlike any *public* school I’d ever seen: the polite kids I interacted with, the noticeable absence of discipline problems. The red flags should have gone up right away. Like the fact that I had no experience coaching. Or that I was given the keys to a room that was used as the school storage closet and told to clear it for a weight room. Or that there was no budget and the equipment was all donated, meaning that the helmets were well past the three-year certification usage limit and many of the pads were moldy. None of it mattered. I was 24 years old, a minority from New Orleans, and I’d landed what seemed like a dream job. Continue reading →

Broken Windows Schooling

Suspending huge numbers of minority students is bad—unless it’s done in the name of *college prep*

Suspending huge numbers of minority students is bad, bad, bad, as we learned this week from Obama administration officials. Which brings us to today’s high-stakes question: when is it fine, fine, fine for schools to have sky-high suspension rates? Answer: when said schools are academies of excellence and innovation that are *preparing students for college.* Ready the carabiner, reader—we’re about to scale the walls of Double Standards gulch. Continue reading →