In City Journal, Ryan Sager profiles Amistad Academy, a high-achieving charter school for low-income minority students in New Haven, Connecticut.
At bottom, the reasons for Amistad’s breathtaking success are pretty simple. For starters, it boasts a rigorous academic program. The Amistad curriculum is highly traditional, based on research-based methods. For reading, it’s phonics, phonics, phonics, supplemented with literature when the kids are ready for it. The school uses the old-fashioned — and proven to work — Saxon Math program to teach arithmetic. And Amistad bases its history, science, and arts instruction on E.D. Hirsch’s content-rich Core Knowledge program. What students need to know at every grade level, moreover, isn’t flexible. Every six weeks the school assesses the kids, with the evaluations then used to figure out which students need help in what subjects. With an extended school day, mandatory summer school, and tutoring before and after school, there’s time for students to catch up.
At the morning circle time, Amistad students “must ask forgiveness from the school community for misbehavior: disrupting class, talking back to teachers, failing to do homework.” They’re also praised by teachers for successes, however small.
This practice of communal praising and shaming—all but unthinkable in regular public schools, with their self-esteem fixation and “child-centered” classrooms—tells students that their actions have meaningful consequences.
KIPP schools also require students who misbehave to apologize to their “team mates,” teachers and parents.
Amistad will be opening two new charter schools in New York City in the fall.