Visits to two charter schools in Boston, MATCH and Roxbury Prep
I was in Boston for two days last week and visited two highly successful schools (something I always try to do when I'm visiting another city -- I always learn a ton and get even more inspired!), the MATCH Charter School and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School.
a) MATCH (www.matchschool.org) is the first charter high school I've visited -- every other charter school I've visited has been a middle school or earlier. There's a reason for this: by the time young boys and girls reach 9th grade, having attended in most cases truly awful schools for NINE YEARS, the students are so far behind and their behavior patterns are so hard to change that one has to question whether the effort required isn't better channeled to helping children at a younger age.
Indeed, this is the very issue that the MATCH school faces: on average, their entering 9th graders are reading at a FIFTH GRADE level and doing math at the SIXTH GRADE level (3-4 years below grade level, whereas entering KIPP 5th graders are "only" approximately two years behind grade level; also, there's another four years after the students leave KIPP to prepare them for college).
I'm not writing this to knock MATCH, which is an incredible program that is achieving miracles, especially given the even higher mountain they have to climb. In fact, according to the latest MCAS scores, MATCH is the #1 charter public school in Massachusetts (and the #14 highest performing district out of more than 280+ regular public school districts statewide) in the percentage of kids who scored the top level -- advanced -- in the grade 10 mathematics last year.
So how is it possible to catch up students who are so far behind in so little time such that they can almost all go to four-year colleges (which is what MATCH is doing)? By being very innovative in setting up an extraordinarily intensive program. For 200 or so students, there are 80 teachers (!), but it's not quite what you think, as 50 of them are Match Corps members: recent college grads who are selected in a highly competitive process (there are 500 applicants) to teach for one year, basically doing one-on-one (or, at most, one-on-two) tutoring with the MATCH students for up to five hours per day. They're given a room (MATCH built out the top floor of its building into a dorm) and are paid only $600/month. In this way, MATCH is able to keep the cost down, such that it only spends a couple of thousand dollars per year more than the city average.
b) I also visited Roxbury Prep (www.roxburyprep.org), which is very similar to KIPP and Uncommon Schools (in fact, the two founders of Roxbury Prep, Evan Rudall and John King, both now work for Uncommon Schools). It has a bit over 200 students in grades 6-8 (not 5-8 like most charter middle schools) and -- SURPRISE! -- is the highest performing urban middle school in Massachusetts. Great leadership, culture, teachers, discipline, respect -- and results! What more is there to say?