May 10, 2012 15:30 Age: 6 yrs

"These Kids" CAN Learn

Category: Doug McCurry, News, Home

In Connecticut, Achievement First’s 10th grade writing scores were ranked second in the state behind only Simsbury, with 100 percent of our scholars achieving proficiency and 92 percent achieving  at goal. On the New York eighth grade math test, scholars at both Achievement First Bushwick Middle and Achievement First Endeavor Middle outperformed their peers in Rye, NY, one of the wealthiest and highest-performing school districts in the state.

Our student body is 98 percent African-American or Latino and 79 percent of our students receive free/reduced lunch. However, after several years at an Achievement First school, our students’ results in most subjects have topped those of districts like Greenwich, Westport, and Madison – some of Connecticut's most affluent towns. Since Achievement First students are selected by a blind lottery and the network has a higher percentage of poor and minority students than our host districts as a whole, the argument that poor, minority students cannot achieve seems clearly false.

What does this mean for Achievement First? Our measure of success will never be to do just a little bit better or to compare ourselves only to other schools serving poor, minority students. Many schools and districts generate great applause and much back-slapping for raising student achievement from the 27th percentile nationally to the 32nd percentile nationally. While those gains are somewhat admirable (and rarely attained), Achievement First believes such gains are insufficient, for they do not fundamentally alter the life options of students. We are interested in taking students from the 27th percentile to the 72nd percentile and students at the 44th percentile to the 88th percentile. These are life-changing gains that put ALL students on the college-bound path and put some students on the path to go to our nation's most selective colleges and universities.

We are not interested in reducing the achievement gap: we want to close it. Every Achievement First school is expected to raise student achievement to at least the state average within three years. Our internal “AF Report Card” sets goals that every student who has been at the school three or more years earn scores equal to (or better than) the scores in the wealthiest suburbs.  All Achievement First schools are also unapologetically college preparatory. In Greenwich, Westport, Scarsdale, and the Upper East Side, the question is not IF but WHERE the young people will go to college. Our society has changed, and we can no longer accept the fact that one-third to one-half of all youngsters will drop out of school. There was a time when those students would go on to take good, secure, blue-collar, factory jobs. These factory jobs are now in Guatemala, India, or Bangladesh. All Achievement First students know they can and will go to college.

In order to cultivate a college focus, all Achievement First classrooms are named for colleges (instead of asking "Ms. Fernandez's class" to line up, AF teachers will ask "Tufts" to line up). Every AF student will be able to name the year that he or she will graduate from college, and at least one field trip a year for all K-12 students will be to a college campus.