The Bronx is Learning, writes Charles Sahm in Education Next. In New York City’s poorest borough, three charter networks are thriving. The common factor is a coherent, content-rich curriculum.
Next to the controversial Success Academy and South Bronx Classical, Icahn is the city’s top-scoring charter school network.
Icahn’s superintendent, Jeff Litt, is a fan of the Core Knowledge approach. All his K-8 students study history, science, geography, literature and the arts, writes Sahm. “I toured one art class where students were learning the finer points of drawing the human face from an artist. In another, students were practicing ballroom dancing.”
About half of Icahn’s English language arts curriculum is based on the Core Knowledge sequence; the other half is developed by teachers and principals. Decoding skills are emphasized in early grades, but as early as kindergarten, students are simultaneously exposed to lively collections of stories, poetry, and fables. English instruction comprises guided reading, read-aloud, shared text, and independent reading.
. . . In one 3rd-grade class I visited at Icahn 3, the teacher was reading the Roald Dahl novel Matilda (an above-grade-level text) aloud while students followed along with their own copies of the book. The class read a chapter together each day, discussed the book, answered comprehension questions, and practiced writing from the viewpoint of various characters in the novel. The teacher hung a new poster in the classroom daily, containing vocabulary from that day’s chapter, words like “diabolical” and “indelible.” At semester’s end, students were rewarded with a trip to see the musical Matilda on Broadway.
Icahn tends to hire more experienced teachers than other charters, writes Sahm. Class size is limited to 18 students. The attrition and suspension rate is much lower than in district-run schools and the atmosphere is “warm.”