Finally found some time to catch up with last week’s New Yorker magazine–the one with the Barry Blitt cover of Spiderward–five hospitalized Spideys in various stages of recovery. The cover art made no sense to me when it arrived on January 6. I am neither a follower of Spiderman or of Broadway shows. Now, I get it.
[I love New Yorker cover art. I love the cartoons. I love Barry Blitt—creator of the Obama fist-bump and bowing to Santa covers.]
Anyway. One of The Talk of the Town pieces–a segment I always peruse, after first checking out all of the cartoons (the primary reason I subscribe to this wonderful magazine)—is about the demise of a NY charter school. You see, community public schools are not the only schools having difficulty educating today’s students. I read and reread the piece.
The New Yorker is a long-time, revered literary magazine. However, it has also become an outstanding source of NEWS. The New Yorker has scooped several major stories. Additionally, the New Yorker often contributes depth and breadth to contemporary news and issues. When I have the time, I read as many of the articles as I can.
The Talk of the Town is the first section of “news” immediately past the larger ads and the sections on what to do if one is out and about in the city. TTotT usually focuses on local (to NYC) people, places, and things. It usually consists of three to five short pieces—made all the more interesting by their intimacy and brevity.
Here is the gist of the Ross Global Academy piece, entitled Spiralling.
First the good news: Hometown wealthy girl, Courtney Sale Ross (widow of Steve Ross, former CEO of Time Warner–backstory on level of wealth), makes good five years ago on much ballyhooed K-8 charter school in East Village, that features spiral curriculum based on history of civilization across all cultures (plus all-organic foods and YOGA!) Now, the bad news: five years later, Ross Global Academy (RGA) gets WORST progress report of any charter school in the city, with 75% of students failing English and 70% failing math.
Additional data pertinent to story: six principals in five years, three different locations of school, turnover of staff—3/4’s of staff left in just the last year, AND the school’s charter is up for renewal this month. Dum-de-dum-dum,…
Is it any wonder then that last month Ms. Ross received a phone call from Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg to inform her that the Department of Education was recommending that the charter NOT be renewed? Mr. Sternberg also communicated the department’s respect for Ms. Ross and that they “really needed people like (her).” To quote Ms. Ross, who was apparently astonished by this entire message, “It was the most extraordinary thing. You’ve got to be kidding me—you’re going to close the school, and you need people like me?”
I think that I understand Ross’s wonderment at the irony of Sternberg’s words, but, I find it hard to sympathize with her various responses to the closing. She has led a fight to keep the school open—requesting a meeting with former Chancellor Klein, filing a legal petition against the DoE’s “arbitrary and capricious” and the hasty school closing, and proposing to petition the State Board of Regents to overturn the decision and grant her school a reprieve. “We will fight it in the courts. We will fight it as far as we can fight it.” Man the barricades!
[Don’t get me wrong. I do not relish the closing of any school. There are children involved, and it hurts. It must be incredibly disappointing to the students, anxiety-causing for parents, worrisome to the staff, and a crushing blow to all of the folks who worked long and hard to try to make the venture a success. I am not in any way trying to gloat over this school failure. However, Ms. Ross needs a serious reality check.]
Now to be truthful, she has a lot to lose here. She has sunk a great deal into this school endeavor. She and the board have put in $8M of their own money to try to keep the school on track. But, Courtney, honey, the handwriting has been on this wall for a long time and in my estimation, it is writ in bright, blinking neon red.
Look at the facts. There is something wrong in the East Village and it appears systemic in nature. There can be no other valid explanation for: (1) incredible turn over of school leaders (same board, same head of school—a.k.a. Courtney Ross—six different principals), (2) huge turnovers of staff, (3) only 25% of students passing English; only 30% passing math. How much more data does anyone need? The school is not working. The students are not succeeding.
There are about 400 students at RGA this year. This means that about 100 out of 400 students passed (probably some just barely passed) the English tests, and 120 out of 400 passed the math testing. Flip side: 300 students failed English and 260 failed math. Do you think that this is a problem? How do these failure rates stack up against our own charter school and community public school test results here in good old Delaware?
Obviously, stability is one of the main problems here. Leadership might be cited as another failure. According to the article, Ms. Ross “acknowledged that her academy had not achieved all that she has hoped.”
HOWEVER: Here’s the kicker, and the part of the story that riveted my attention. Ms. Ross suggests, and the legal petition does as well, that the “decision to close the school was a political move, made to appease the teacher’s union.” Oh, yeah. That’s right. That must be it.
The World According to Ross: The school is not being closed because there is every indication that it may have turned out to be a complete failure. It is closing because that damnable teachers union wants it closed. T.G.F.U.
Says Ross: “I can only surmise, but regular public schools are unionized, and charter schools don’t have to be unionized.” She went on to imply that “the DoE, which aims to open two dozen new charter schools this year, might have its eye on the RGA’s space which she and other donors recently renovated, at a cost of over $3M,…”
Maybe Courtney’s right. Maybe it is all the fault of the big, bad NYC teacher’s union colluding with Chancellor Klein and his staff to close down this poor little well-meaning school. After all, everyone knows that Klein and the AFT get along sooooo well. Why he would do anything for them. All they have to do is ask. And, Holy Cow, the AFT is probably desperate to pick up the 25-30 staff people who may have worked as teachers at RGA. That must be it!
So, to wrap things up here: Poor little Ross Global Academy (“an innovative New York City Public Charter School which serves students in grades K-8; committed to providing a holistic education to enable students to develop a global worldview and the skills necessary for success in the 21st century. RGA prepares students to think critically and creatively, understand and respect different cultures, become leaders, use technology, live healthy lives and develop a passion for learning”) has been told that they have to close down.
After five years of utilizing the public monies that follow students when they move from community public schools to public-supported charter schools, plus pretty substantial infusions of additional private money, plus a curriculum touted on their own website as world-class, fails to cut the mustard of education reform.
It’s just not fair.