Probably the worst part about being an opponent of bad education reform is when I have to ‘debunk’ a potential ‘miracle school.’ A ‘miracle’ school is one that gets extremely high test scores despite having the same types of students as the nearby failing school. The miracle school, if it exists, would prove that poverty does not, in fact, matter. All you need is harder working teachers.
Debunking schools is not bad because it is difficult. Finding the incriminating data usually takes less than an hour. What’s bad about it is that I know some people will misunderstand my intentions. The reason I need to debunk miracle schools is because lawmakers use them as examples of why it is good education reform practice to close down failing schools and fire their teachers. My purpose is to show that the good test scores, if they really have them, come at an even greater cost. The more I can show that the ‘miracle’ schools aren’t any better than the failing schools, maybe people will be more outraged when ‘failing’ schools are shut down.
The latest ‘miracle’ school getting a lot of attention is Harlem Village Academy Charter School. The founder of the school, Deborah Kenny, recently published a book about her experience, called ‘Born To Rise.’ The school was featured on NBC with Brian Williams.
So he sees a massive turnover rate and reached out to a former teacher:
I’m really glad you’re dedicated to exposing the truth behind the whole TFA/charter school charade. It is very much a charade, an elaborate, expensive smoke & mirrors. HVA, as I knew it, was one of the worst offenders of creating and sustaining the myth that teachers can solve everything. Waiting for Superman infuriated me because just like HVA – just like Deborah Kenny – it sent the message that good teachers should be martyrs, not people with lives and passions of their own that happen to also be talented and passionate about educating children. I am not a martyr, and as I titled my op-ed, I am also not superman. But yet many would say I am a very good teacher. In Deborah Kenny’s world, that would be impossible.
During the 2006-2007 school year at HVA, I taught huge classes of 5th graders who were poorly behaved. The administration was weak and ineffective. Everyone, including the principal and the dean, was so stressed out that there were often medical problems. I used to take the bus up to Harlem with my co-teacher and best friend at the school, Johanna Fishbein, and we would often cry on our way to work.
The working conditions at the school were plainly unreasonable. They took advantage of young, idealistic, competent teachers; they squeezed and squeezed until there was nothing left to give, even our dignity. Deborah Kenny is LARGELY to blame for this, as we were all desperately trying to play our parts in the Deborah Kenny play – one where she produced and directed but never wrote or starred in the productions. I have zero respect for that woman. The only time she actually came into the trenches is when she was preparing the kids for some dignitary’s visit. At that time, she would talk to them like they were slow kindergarteners, and when she left, they would all ask me who she was. That’s how connected she is to the school. Yet when President Bush came to laud our teachers’ efforts for earning the highest math test scores in the city, it was Deborah who schmoozed and gave the tour, Deborah who took the credit.
Deborah Kenny and her Village Academies take advantage of budding teachers, often crushing their spirits in the process. Though we barely made more than NYC public school teachers while working seven weeks over the summer, teaching on multiple Saturdays, and averaging 12-hour work days during the week, Deborah pays herself the HIGHEST SALARY out of any charter school executive in NYC (that stat was recently published in The New York Post). She makes almost nine times as much as her teachers who are doing all the real work, the hard work, that lands her in the press so often and helps her send her own kids to tony private schools. Her “vision” is a bunch of bullshit – basically, work your teachers to death, and you’ll see results. Sure, and you’ll also see a lot of unhappy teachers, and a lot of people leaving your school and vowing to never come back.
The year I left, my entire fifth grade team left with me. Deborah refused to write letters of recommendation for any of us. Contrary to what she preaches, teachers are her lowest priority and she never has their best interests at heart.
No school with a 60% teacher turnover rate should be praised in the press as the model for other schools to follow. Now that I’ve taught in a relatively stable independent school for four years, I see that a school’s real success comes from its sense of community. When teachers are leaving left and right because they’re being asked to perform superhuman feats for little compensation, the idea of “community” essentially vanishes. All that holds Village Academies together is Deborah Kenny’s unrelenting ambition and greed.