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TIME Magazine Can Do Better Than This…


TIME Magazine today came-out with a big story today titled A Quick Fix for Bad Schools. It perpetuates the myth that private charter schools often come in, takeover a challenging school and, then with the same students, quickly turn everything around.

The story leads off with a recounting of a school takeover in Philadelphia by charter operators Mastery Schools:

In fall 2006, the School District of Philadelphia gave the building over to Mastery, a local operator of charter schools–that is, ones that are publicly funded but privately managed. The adults left, the kids remained, and the once failing school has been turned around.

There’s one thing wrong with this story: Mastery Schools in Philadelphia have a huge student attrition rate.

Of course, this myth of private charter turnarounds is being promulgated by the Obama administration, too.

To TIME’s credit, though, they do at least mention that the strategies being pushed by Secretary Duncan don’t have evidence behind them to show they really work:

In 2008, the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research arm, published a guide to turning around low-performing schools that noted that “the research base on effective strategies … is sparse.” In other words, taxpayers are betting billions of dollars on what essentially remains a crapshoot.

I just wish so much of the media wouldn’t buy-into these, as TIME puts it, “Keep the Kids; Bring In New Adults” stories…

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. It’s interesting that every intervention undertaken by public schools must be “researched-based” and deemed “best practice” when the proposed solutions that will be imposed if a school “fails” throw most of those rules out the window. I completely agree with Gerald Tirozzi’s recent article, ‘Untie My Hands’: A Principal’s Plea. If the rulemakers would let schools operate in the manner they will let the “takeover” managers operate, we might have better hope of making progress.

  2. Wow. I have to thank Patrick Larkin for sending me over to your post, Larry. I work in a school that is on the list for possible Renaissance Schools in Philadelphia and Mastery Charter, who took over the local Middle School 2 years ago, has had parent meetings and has done a ton of outreach to parents and the community about taking over my school should it become a Renaissance School.

    Not only does it have a huge attrition rate, but they break the rules when it comes to charters. They require test scores and academic records to apply to the school (much like KIPP does) and don’t accept students who don’t fit their profile. Many of our 6th graders have gone on to Mastery and done wonderfully, but many have been kicked out or didn’t bother to apply and are now at the overcrowded and under-served K-8 school down the street.

    For more on the topic and what’s been going on in Philadelphia: and

    Thanks for this post! It really is a scary time to be an urban teacher!

  3. Larry, you hit the nail on the head. That Time Magazine article is typical. We could just as well find schools that turned around without a big change in staff–and other schools that recycled staff but didn’t turn around.

    The title itself is unbelievable–“quick fix” generally isn’t used without irony anymore, but they managed to do it. What a pain in the neck.

    And this sentence really got to me: “‘But,’ he adds, in a succinct assessment of the crisis in U.S. public education today, ‘it’s not like we were learning anything in class anyway.'” Read that sentence, and you’ll conclude that no students learn anything in any U.S. classroom. This is not to deny the huge challenges in many urban schools, but the above sentence is being applied to public schools in general.

  4. Wow, I agree completely with MaryBeth. I work in a comprehensive high school in Philadelphia. We get the students that don’t get into or get kicked out of Mastery Charter Schools. They are NOT operating with the same students! Charter schools are not the answer to fixing our public schools. They just take away resources that could help our neighborhood schools.

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