A life-changing lottery

With six applicants for every space, Democracy Prep‘s lottery is a life changer for Harlem children, writes Marcus A. Winters in City Journal. Winners attend the highest-scoring middle school in Harlem, ranked eighth citywide. Most losers are zoned to attend the Academy of Collaborative Education, the city’s worst middle school based on test scores and school safety. ACE, labeled “persistently dangerous,” is across the street from Democracy Prep.

In the New York City Department of Education’s annual survey last year, when asked to evaluate the statement “I feel safe in my school,” 79 percent of ACE’s teachers “strongly disagreed,” while the remaining 21 percent just plain disagreed.

All of Democracy Prep’s teachers said they felt safe at school.

About half of ACE’s students entered the Democracy Prep lottery and lost, estimates the charter’s founder, Seth Andrew.

Lottery winners typically start sixth grade at the charter school reading at the fifth-grade level and finish the year at the eighth-grade level, according to an outside test the school administered.

Democracy Prep doesn’t boast a special curriculum, fancy classroom-management techniques, or smaller-than-average class sizes. Its success—like that of many good charter schools—has three primary ingredients: efficient use of funds, a culture of high expectations, and a “no excuses” approach to school discipline.

The charter doesn’t spend any more money per student, but is able to pay its young teachers 10 percent more than the district’s pay scale and add a variety of enrichment activities.

. . . great teachers often jump at the chance to work in a school that pushes excellence. Last year, 4,000 teachers applied for about 20 openings at Democracy Prep.

The school enforces a strict discipline policy, teach students to sit at their desks and concentrate on their work.

On the day I visited Democracy Prep, the school took the uncommon step of requiring the sixth-graders to eat lunch in absolute silence because they had been “mean” to one another recently.

The United Federation of Teachers, which wants the city shut down low-performing charter schools, filed a lawsuit to keep the district from closing ACE and 18 other low-performing district-run schools.

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Comments

  1. The charter school has a great advantage over the the other school: the door.

    As in, they can send kids back to the (wretched) public school across the street.

  2. It’s time to bring back what used to be called “reform school” for dangerous kids – of any age -and ( no-fun) alternative placements for chronic lower-level discipline problems. Rules need to be changed so that such kids are identified and removed from regular schools. Also, change the drop-out age to 14. Kids who are dangerous, chronically disruptive or completely uninterested should NEVER be allowed to disrupt the education of the willing.

  3. Marshall — I strongly disagree…the zone er default schools have every ability to enforce their disciplinary codes which are generally very good. Why teachers and administrators lose every bit of spine in these schools is beyond me…the good schools have high expectations and enforce their code of conduct…the weak ones do not…it is that simple…you have tenure if a teacher and are protect from lawsuits so do the right thing for the kids…enforce the rules…then raise your expectations for the kids and watch miracles happen…overnight? no as trust that was never given or earned by the adults has to be built…once done…wow!

    the mind set of charters having the door is built on pure jealousy…enforce the code of conduct, give real grades, expect great things from the kids, treat them the way you want to be treated, respect them and they will learn to respect you but you have to earn it first…come on…miracles will happen…

  4. momof4 — i am fine with reform schools and boot camp and getting the most disruptive kids out of the building…however with educators not enforcing their own code of conduct from the day the kids set foot in the door at whatever age I cannot help but wonder how much of this mess they have brought on themselves — unintentional or not…I watched it happen year in and year out in government schools…kids know when they are in charge…

  5. What consequence does a student face if they mouth off to a teacher or completely disrupt class in these districts? Detention? Skipped. Suspension? Vacation. Expulsion? Didn’t want to be there anyway.
    Students know that the schools only derive their power from their parents. As a teacher I cannot punish a student without the unspoken acknowledgement that their parents back me up… and I have run into a few cases where I received no support at all from parents. Guess what? Whose were my most disruptive students.
    The best thing that districts can do is to segregate those who will succeed in school from those determined to fail. Some districts try to do so, but because of the threat of lawsuits and government oversight, the schools use so much of their resources on a bunch of lost causes.

  6. Life is a lottery.

    Marshall, even if that were the only causal effect, its still an argument for _more_ charters (with more doors), not less.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Image if all public schools adopted school choice. In every school year, in very move of a family, in very advanced to a different school, kids will go through a lottery and there will be winners and losers.

    Image what will happen in the U.S if getting into kindergarten was the same as getting into college.

  8. …the zone er default schools have every ability to enforce their disciplinary codes which are generally very good.

    I teach in California, and the pressure NOT to send kids out of the room is tremendous.

  9. Oh, come on, you all know WHY administrators are afraid to discipline – they are afraid of the dreaded “high number of minority referrals” stats. Never mind that they have only a handful of non-Black students, so the numbers SHOULD be virtually 100%. They fear that they will be labeled racist. Also, many of these admins are uber-Liberal, and devoutly believe that students just need to be understood, which will magically cause a change in their behavior.

    It all starts with the underlying belief that minorities can’t control their behavior – which they darn well can. Ask their families, who DO discipline them for wrong actions. That tolerance of poor behavior leads to a chaotic school. Once a school reaches a tipping point, the better-behaved students leave, skewing the behavior even further in the wrong direction. To keep from being victims, students band together, and now you’ve got gang situations.

    I’ve been at schools where discipline is enforced, and I’ve been at schools where it’s not – same student demographics, different results. Academic improvement STARTS with effective discipline.

  10. [i]Image if all public schools adopted school choice. [/i]

    It’s a terrifying prospect but what the heck, let’s give it a whirl.

    It’s not as if treating kids as if they’re the unpleasant necessity that provides the justification for the public education system’s working out so well.

  11. “Democracy Prep doesn’t boast a special curriculum, fancy classroom-management techniques, or smaller-than-average class sizes. Its success—like that of many good charter schools—has three primary ingredients: efficient use of funds, a culture of high expectations, and a “no excuses” approach to school discipline.”

    A friend of mine is a 2nd grade teacher. Last week I mentioned the poor test scores of our county and her comment back was, “You know the population we teach.” Yes I do and I know that what our county is missing are efficient use of funds, a culture of high expectations, and a “no excuses” approach to school discipline.