AMERICAN GRADUATE -- February 4, 2013 at 3:44 PM ET
Improving Achievement With Focus on Scholarly Expectations
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- It is oddly quiet at the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle School, or AFBA for short. During class changes. During class. Even during lunchtime the din isn't at all what you might expect with children this age. Here, the quiet is part of the culture.
"We're trying to create a culture that's positive, achievement oriented, disciplined, where it's cool to be smart," said Dacia Toll, President and CEO of the Achievement First charter network, to which AFBA belongs. "That means when it's time to learn it can be very quiet."
The network's schools, as the name suggests, focus on achievement and preparing all students for college. And as a charter school network, Achievement First has leeway in deciding how to run its schools. But, like traditional public schools, Achievement First institutions are still accountable to the states in which they operate.
"Charter schools are public schools so they are held to the same accountability regulations that any school system is held to," said Rachel Curtis, an education consultant who evaluated Achievement First for the Aspen Institute. "Frankly, because charter schools are [a] political issue, their performance on those tests their bread and butter. They live and die on people's perception that they do better, the same, or less well than the schools that they are replacing so that's a very high stakes assessment for them."
AFBA serves a population where 83 percent of children are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Many schools in Bridgeport have traditionally been on the low end of the achievement gap in Connecticut. So Achievement First has brought its commitment to high expectations to AFBA, according to Principal Morgan Barth.
"Paying attention in class and showing that you are part of a team by wearing your uniform and being highly respectful of the grownups around you and the teachers and most importantly each other, doing your homework and working really hard," said Barth.
And when the students follow those rules, the result is order and hushed tones throughout the campus. Sixth grader A.J. Montgomery finds the quiet and controlled atmosphere very helpful, and quite a contrast to his last school.
"I can focus as much as I need to," said Montgomery. "My old school, there was always something going, there was always whispering."
AFBA has been making academic strides -- with many students catching up or surpassing their counterparts in wealthier districts. But for charter schools overall across the country, research has been mixed about whether they are more effective than traditional public schools. Some research and links to additional studies can be found on The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) website.
American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to the dropout crisis.