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A Russian emigre’s charter school is attracting students in Marlborough, Massachusetts, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Advanced Math and Science Academy students in sixth and seventh grade read The Iliad and The Odyssey and start studying algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry.

“”By this age, the brain is ready to absorb highly abstract information,” (Julia Sigalovsky) says. “If kids can play Dungeons and Dragons, if they can understand the universe of Lord of the Rings, where the world is created from a few rules, then they can comprehend physics, where everything is based on three of Newton’s laws, or Euclidean geometry, where everything is based on five basic axioms.

Critics say the school draws students from too wide an area, not just from its nearby districts, and that it’s too rigorous for low achievers.

Several nearby towns have sued to overturn the state Board of Education’s approval of the academy’s charter. The case is scheduled to be heard by the state Supreme Court next fall.

Essentially, alleges Sheldon Berman, superintendent of schools in neighboring Hudson, “This is an elite, private school operating at taxpayers’ expense…. By our review, it’s a school that functionally discriminates.”

“Functionally discriminates” means that the school hasn’t lowered expectations for low achievers. Anyone can enroll.

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  1. “Essentially, alleges Sheldon Berman, superintendent of schools in neighboring Hudson, “This is an elite, private school operating at taxpayers’ expense…. By our review, it’s a school that functionally discriminates.”

    By the logic of the Sheldons in edland (and they are everywhere), a high-standards school can never be possible because there will always be low-ability students who can’t hack it. Does it occur to the Sheldons that mediocre schools “discriminate” against high-ability students?

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Essentially, alleges Sheldon Berman, superintendent of schools in neighboring Hudson, “This is an elite, private school operating at taxpayers’ expense…. By our review, it’s a school that functionally discriminates.”

    I guess Mr. Berman would rather have the schools produce functional illiterates. When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s we had SP classes in Junior High School where students completed the three years of Junior High School in two. We also had schools like the Bronx High School of Science. In both cases you had to take an exam to get into these programs and no one complained that they were elitist.

  3. David Baltimore, the out-going head of CalTech, approached the Pasadena Unified school district with the same idea–a math/science magnet. He’d get another recruiting tool to attract top faculty and the district would get a decent school. They turned him down flat–too elitist.
    And Pasadena Unified continues to be dreadful, and parents with any sort of savvy send their kids to private school.

  4. “Educator”….a person who dislikes and resents education.

  5. I feel terrible because the elitist public “art, dance, and drama” type magnet schools wouldn’t let me in — even if I have no discernable talent whatsoever! (Hey, at least this charter school lets anyone in — then they have to prove themselves.)

    Gee, let’s not cater to anyone’s strengths, let’s just make everyone the same so we are assured no future scientific breakthroughs come from the United States!

  6. Even closer to Marlborough, Mass, take a look at the Boston Latin and Boston Latin Academy high schools. Both are very definitely elitist and the equivalent of private and elite schools. In fact, some of the critics of elite exam public schools think that the requirements to enter these high schools should be lowered because they make it too difficult to get in.

    Think of our losing Leonard Bernstein because of not having Boston Latin, just as an example. The problem is that the other schools should have the same requirements. If you look at the old McGuffey readers and the material they covered in the elementary grades the teachers would run screaming. They probably could not even pass the exams for grade school let alone high school.

  7. Tom West says:

    I think you’re being a little bit unfair here. The charges are essentially true – the difficulty of the curriculum *is* such that it effectively acts as a streaming mechanism for the most talented and hard-working children.

    So, if the mandate of the board is that streaming is not acceptable, then the charter should be opposed.

    If one is going to fairly examine streaming as a whole, then one must look at *all* parts of it. Not only does it allow those talented individuals to excel, it also has a history of condemning those who are expected to fail into a stream in which there is no social pressure to do better because we have already recognized (by streaming them) that they cannot.

    In a case like this, it is easy to support streaming because we see only the best parts lost. To debate it properly, we must recognize the cost that acceptance of the principle behind the charter will cost students throughout the system.

    (I am, in general, a supporter of streaming. However, it’s not my children that are in danger of being dead-ended simply because of appearance, socio-economic status, etc. And truly, that’s what’s historically happened with streaming time and time again.)

  8. There’s an unspoken (written?) assumption in what you wrote, Tom: education is a zero-sum game.

    If the smart, ambitious, energetic kids are pushed to their limits then the kids who aren’t as smart, aren’t as ambitious and aren’t as energetic will get what’s left over, i.e. the dregs. But it’s a false assumption. I don’t know less about gravity because Steven Hawking knows more and a smart kid learning more doesn’t doesn’t cause a less smart kid to learn less.

    In the public education system, as it’s largely constituted now, it’s an understandable error. Inputs – budget, head-count, supplies, classrooms – are all measured and accounted for. But outputs aren’t. The assumption in this case is that if all the precursors are in place then education has to happen. Since education, the outcome, isn’t measured, there’s no way to adjust inputs in a timely manner to effect the outcome. Eventually the number of illiterate, innumerate, geographically and historically “challenged” graduates reachs some critical number but that’s a pretty poor replacement for institutional measures of outcomes.

    But since it’s inputs that are measured so closely, any deviation from past practice requires additional resources – inputs. That leads to the conclusion that streaming, because it differentiates students, is a zero-sum game and no one wants that so more inputs – resources – are necessary.

  9. The issue of “streaming”, “tracking”, and “grouping” interests me. There is a general perception in this country (based on one very popular book about 15 years ago) that any type of grouping is detrimental to students,esp the lower-achieving students.However,the educational research does not validate that stance.In fact,many lower-achieving kids will “check out” if put in classes with much higher-achieving kids.You know the routine: “Well, leave those questions to the smart ones…I don’t fit in that category”.Thus having the “smart” ones in the group DOES NOT benefit the slower learners at all.It’s like playing tennis…you want to be with players at your own level and then just above. If you are with players who are all lower you will lower your level of play and if you are with much higher players you will give up. The research is there, but in our nation educational research does not inform educational policy (that would be too radical an idea).