Amistad, which runs from fifth grade to eighth grade, has a student body that is typical of many inner-city schools. The average student enters two grade levels behind where he or she should be. Eighty-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and about 97 percent are black or Hispanic.
So, what’s the secret? For one thing, the students work long hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., sitting in classes that often last for more than an hour. All stay for after-school activities. In a regular New York City public school, the teachers’ contract limits the length of classes, but most charter schools are not subject to the contract.
The curriculum emphasizes basic skills and uses tests every six weeks to determine which students need extra drills. When students are lagging, teachers give them extra help or get their parents involved. If they talk back to a teacher or start a fight, they have to sit at the back of the classroom and are not allowed to speak with other students until their punishment has been served.
In New Haven, “where 31 percent of eighth graders achieved mastery on the state reading test in 2003, 81 percent of Amistad’s did. In math, 75 percent of Amistad’s eighth graders achieved mastery, compared with 19 percent citywide.”
The Brooklyn charters eventually will be K-12 schools.