At the 2000 Republican National Convention, the country got one of its first glimpses of a new type of public charter school. The claim was that with enough rigor, devotion, and "no excuses" discipline, such schools could close the achievement gap between poor minorities and their wealthy white counterparts. The shining example was the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP. Skeptics pointed out that the families showing up at KIPP and other no-excuses charters were self-selected.
In 2006, a combative former New York City council member named Eva Moskowitz co-founded a new charter school network with the same approach. Success Academy was KIPP on steroids, trouncing many public schools in wealthy neighborhoods on the annual state exams.
Enter the education writer and former public school teacher Robert Pondiscio, who spent a year embedded at a Success Academy in an effort to figure out just how these schools do it. In his widely praised new book, How The Other Half Learns, Pondiscio reports that the critics were right: Not only is the very act of applying to the lottery self-selecting, but Success Academy makes such rigorous demands on parents that it disproportionately retains only the most highly motivated families.
The result is that an applicant's chances of winning a seat at a Success school in its annual high stakes lottery aren't as competitive as many had claimed. Pondiscio found that there are about six applicants for every spot. However, because so many families drop out, the chances of getting offered a spot are actually closer to 50 percent.
But for those that make the commitment, the impact is absolutely transformative. And he argues that these kids deserve the same access to excellent public schools that upper-middle-class parents finagle for their children, even if it means leaving the rest of their communities behind.
Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Pondiscio to discuss why he believes motivated families deserve the opportunity to exit their traditional district public schools—which a New York Times reviewer called "a morally disturbing conclusion" to his "unsparingly honest book"—and his challenge to both supporters and detractors of the school reform movement.
Audio production by Ian Keyser.
In yet another Back to School Extra, Mike sits down with journalist, author, and teacher, Robert Pondiscio to discuss his provocative new book, How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice.Robert shares his experiences from spending a year embedded in the Bronx 1 school in the Success Academy charter system. We touch on the discipline and commitment required of students, parents, and teachers to gain access and to stay in a Success Academy school. And we also explore challenging questions of fairness and equity that arise when some families gain access to programs like Success Academy while others do not. We wind up raising more questions than answers about this complex set of issues and look forward to continuing to examine what is the impact to those in these programs as well as those who don’t get in or get bounced for various issues. And with dedicated families exiting public schools for programs like Success Academy, what are the implications for public schools who must provide education to all students and families?Listen in and let us know what you think!
Today’s episode is co-hosted by my colleague, Sloan fellow and education expert Joe Ballou. Our guest today is Robert Pondiscio, on the line from New York.Robert Pondiscio is senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He is also a senior advisor to Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools based in Harlem, New York. He writes and speaks extensively on education and education-reform issues, with an emphasis on literacy, curriculum, teaching, and urban education. After twenty years in journalism, including senior positions at TIME and BusinessWeek, Robert became a fifth-grade teacher at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. He subsequently served as vice president for the Core Knowledge Foundation.
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