There’s an old joke about a man who goes to synagogue week after week, beseeching God to let him win the lottery. Weeks go by, years go by, decades go by, and the man dutifully asks for one thing only: please, let him win the lottery. Well into his 90s, the man falls on his knees one day, begging God to do one thing for him before he dies, let me win the lottery! A little voice suddenly calls out to him from above in response: “So, meet me halfway and buy a ticket?”
Yes, it’s a silly (and incredibly old) joke, but I’m going to get serious. I am a solidly middle class, educated parent. I participate in my kids’ education (my daughter finished college last spring, and my son is in a public high school.) Yet day after day, I log onto the TeachersPayTeachers website (which is where I sell materials related to the teaching of mathematics) and what do I encounter each time? This!
Because if you’re looking for a random distribution of kids whose parents would enter a lottery to send their kids to the Success Academy Charter School, where else would you look? On a website that has lots of teachers! And we know that the children of teachers are the hardest to teach, right? Look, we may have very low salaries, but do we really have the “impoverished” children that Success Academy brags it can reach?
This is not an isolated incident, by the way: when I see advertisements for Success Academy, I usually find them in places where the public schools are perfectly good. Park Slope, which is where my children went to elementary school, has some of the best schools in the city, yet where do we see ads begging parents to apply to Success Academy? Yes!
By contrast, I work in the Tremont section of the Bronx once a week: as I look out the window of the subway car, I never see an ad from Success Academy. I walk along Grand Concourse in this impoverished neighborhood: do I see any ads for Success Academy? Um, noooooo. But walk along 7th Avenue in Park Slope, where there is a very high probability of finding a high-scoring “easy to teach” middle to upper class kid, and it’s a different story.
This is what galls me most about charters like Success Academy stating that they have better “success” than public schools. Yes, it’s easy to get success when you filter out the most challenging kids, and a lottery is only “fair” to those who enter it. Success Academy has a terrible reputation for working with learning disabled students and those with limited English proficiency. Do you really believe that these parents are going to waste their time entering a lottery for a school that won’t serve their children’s needs?
This is not even to touch the subject of children whose parents are undocumented, who we know are among the poorest of the poor. So fearful are they of revealing their status, they wouldn’t go near entering a charter school lottery. They do know enough that the public schools are forbidden by law for checking on a child’s immigration status, so they enroll them there, knowing that it will be a “safe” place for their children.
Look, if Success Academy wants to stack the deck in their favor in all sorts of ways, so be it, but aren’t these the sort of rules that a 6 year old lives by? When will “little Eva” grow up?