In every high school I’ve been in this semester, charter or not, the phrase “our best students!” has been used, with enthusiasm and a smile. One student’s name brings smiles to teachers, staff, assistant principal, everyone. This student is being actively, repeatedly encouraged to apply to Harvard to take advantage of their no-tuition-for-low-and-middle-income-households deal. I heard all the highest praise about this student. But this student was quick to lose work, to flub/fake a way through assignments, and make semi-plausible excuses. Then I found this student has a 2.4 GPA. And the adults warning this student not to lose/crinkle/dirty the multiple applications. This student will accept information or materials only from “premier universities” though this student doesn’t have premier grades, a premier GPA or anything close to premier academic habits. I don’t count a glassy look or reddened eyes as “premier” academic habits.
“Our best students!” have not been best or, much of the time, students. I’ve encountered charter school honor roll students who only care about assignments because of the effect it will have on their honor roll status and privileges. If you ask them what something means, or to evaluate, or compare and contrast, you get a blank look or a meek smile and a shrug and no attempts to ask or answer questions. I’ve had honor roll students who did less work and were far less engaged than students not called “our best.” I’ve seen “our best students!” doing other subject assignments in class, passing notes, grinning at people in the back of the room, getting hostile when told to stop talking and then saying with absolute conviction that they were NOT talking at all [and then ranting about this for another 1-4 minutes of class time], storm out of a room because they were told to curb their disruptive behavior, and flat-out argue with instructors over whether to do assignments or class activities, look around to see who is watching before they act out, or slam books on the floor and fold their arms with a kindergartner pout. These “best students” are often supposed to be signs of a new charter’s success or the rightness of their methods or the source of the praise that will soon pour all over them. Oops.
So is what’s happening just labels, names, or are we to expect different results than OPSB? And why exactly? Because certain students are not in the pool? Because parents ___ and/or ___? Because of one-time start-up money that has already or will soon run out? Grants and “support” from the Gates Foundation, Walton Foundation, New Schools for New Orleans, Cowen Institute, etc.? Or are they grappling similar problems that solutions to or best practices for still haven’t been widely discussed to benefit as many of our students as possible? Or is it counterproductive to use some labels for certain kids, like “smart” or “best”? Is it all growing pains? Have I seen the worst of the best students? From what I’ve seen this semester, I really wonder.