Best Schools 2010: These Roxbury Prep Kids Can Kick Your Kids MCAS!
Charter school advocates think they know how to save our students. With charters like Roxbury Prep set to expand dramatically, we’re about to find out if they’re right.
WITH THE CAP NOW LIFTED, there’s fresh energy. And Rudall, coming full circle, may have the chance to prove that his kind of school can work on an ever-expanding scale. Charter schools are often aligned in so-called networks, with franchises, essentially, in different cities. Now, for the first time, Roxbury Prep will be aligned with one of these groups. Over the summer, Rudall’s Uncommon Schools network expanded to Boston, absorbing the school.
The home office in New York will provide support with fundraising, facilities, and teacher recruitment — basically handling the complex operational aspects of running a school, and doing it with the benefits of scale. For instance, Uncommon has nine recruiters fanned out across the country looking for talented teachers, according to Rudall. As long as Roxbury Prep’s academic performance remains solid, he says, there will be no interference from New York.
Rudall hired Dana Lehman, who until this past summer was Roxbury Prep’s codirector, to oversee expansion efforts as Uncommon Schools’ managing director for Boston. “You can make kids wear ties, you can make them stand in line, you can have nice pep rallies. But if they’re not learning, it just doesn’t matter,” Lehman says, adding that Roxbury Prep’s students ultimately excel largely because of their teachers. “They work at least 60 hours a week, typically to prepare their curriculum and get everything ready every day,” she says. “And they’re not just blindly following a textbook that somebody handed down to them.”
That kind of workload has drawn plenty of critics’ ire, though. The teacher unions point out that if you want their members to work 60 hours a week, you’d better be ready to pay them for 60 hours a week (and good luck with those three weeks of prep time in August). There’s a reason, they say, so many charter school teachers burn out quickly and retreat to the security of the tenure and pensions that unions ensure.
As the charters expand they’ll have to confront those and other old criticisms, including the fact that charters attract fewer special-needs students and English language learners. Only about 2 percent of last year’s students at Roxbury Prep were classified as “limited English proficient,” compared with about 20 percent districtwide. Another complaint: More than half the students who enter a Boston charter high school leave before graduation, a 2009 study by the Massachusetts Teachers Association found. Most end up finishing in district schools. “The idea ought to be to find out what works and do it well, not just skim off kids that are easier to teach,” says Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union. He contends that Roxbury Prep isn’t necessarily better than other Boston schools, but that its students are less challenging and have more support at home. (Uninterested parents, after all, aren’t likely to put their kids in the lottery.)