Secrets of a Successful Charter School

             
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One of the top education stories of 2014 revolved around New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempt to shut down several Success Academy Charter Schools. People across the nation – including New York’s governor – spoke out against the move, particularly since many schools of the Success Academy brand were enabling minority, under-privileged children to attain top achievement scores in the state of New York.

Success Academy Charters were founded by Eva Moskowitz in 2006 and seek to bring academic rigor, logical thinking, and joy to the classroom. Moskowitz recently gave a presentation on the educational philosophies of Success Academy Charter Schools. The following quotes give an insightful glimpse into a successful education approach which might be helpful in closing the Minnesota achievement gap (emphasis added).

On academic rigor:

“I have always believed that there is a difference between intelligence and height, and I seem to be in the minority. Just because the kids are short, does not mean they are stupid. We have to lift the level of expectation. One of the sins of American public education is to intellectually underestimate children. They are incredibly smart, their minds are incredibly nimble, much more so than ours, frankly. And so we have to engage their minds and we have to test the ceiling. We have to understand not what is developmentally appropriate … let's test the ceiling of kids and see what they can do!

"I think we have gotten away from struggle in this country. Struggle is bad. We don't want kids to struggle. We [at Success Academy Charter Schools] take the opposite attitude. We don't want them to struggle to the point of frustration, but how puzzling over something worthwhile is incredibly productive for children - and by the way, they enjoy it a lot. They don't like easy. It's boring."

Despite the demand for rigor, Moskowitz seems to subscribe to the old adage that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy”:

"We believe in recess. All the way through 8th grade our kids get recess every single day. … We need unstructured time for children."

On reading:

There's a difference between lousy books and great books. It takes a lot of time and effort to select really great books. We do. We take the time to ensure that our kids read more than at any school in America that I know of. But they're not reading lousy books. They are reading great children's literature."

On the importance of parents:

“We believe in parental involvement. We think it's absolutely critical for parents to be involved in the academic and social and emotional development of their children. And we don't believe that poor parents are apathetic, we believe that schools are frankly fairly unwelcoming places to poorer parents and that you have to make the involvement convenient and accessible and easy - frankly that cuts across class lines …actually district schools are quite unwelcoming … you are not allowed to go into your kid's school and sit in the back of the classroom. We have an open door policy where any parent without an appointment can come to our school and sit in the back of the classroom for a half an hour. Anytime. … We want to be a really transparent place where parents can come and see what is going on."

When asked whether or not parents really care about what happens in schools, Moskowitz responded:

"I think people have misconstrued the level of - they've mistaken a lack of supply with apathy. There is plenty of concern and interest in a high quality education, there's just not enough supply, which is why we had 16,000 parents applying to our lotteries when there are only 2,700 spots."

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