A Fool’s Errand Finds Takers in Charlottesville

by James C. Sherlock

As an experiment, I went to the UVa Ed School research page and searched “all topics” for “Charter Schools.” The response: “No research items found matching your search.”

So, I expanded the search to “Charter” and got the same response.

I then investigated what should have proven a promising lead.

The Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA-PLE) is a unique joint venture between the highly ranked University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and School of Education and Human Development.

Darden is involved, so it must be professional, businesslike, right? It certainly claims so.

UVA-PLE combines the most innovative leadership advancement, practical expertise, and proven methodologies from both business and education to demonstrably improve educational and life outcomes for our nation’s students.

“Proven methodologies” it says.

Now take a look at “UVA Partnership for Leaders in Education – Exploring New Frontiers for K-12 Systems Transformation” published by UVA-PLE in February of this year.

It is a 28-page word salad unblemished by any assessment of the pedagogy of charter schools, especially the most prominent and successful K-12 public school operation in the United States, Success Academy in New York City.

Read about those schools.

Success Academy, whose 47 schools are part of the New York City Public School system, in a typical year hosted 94% minority students, 80% in poverty, including 8% homeless kids.

Those kids have for more than a decade produced higher scores on the New York State Regents Exam than any school district in the state. There are thousands of poor minority kids on the waiting list.

There have been headline-making political struggles between NYC parents wanting expansion or elimination of charter school caps so their kids can get in and politicians beholden to teachers unions refusing to do it.

The controversy has been in the papers in Darden’s lobby. Unless they are boycotting The Wall Street Journal.

Eva Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Steven M. Galbraith. Richard Pzena is on the Board. So is Richard Barrera. Joel Greenblatt. Cindy Finkelman. People like that.

Darden’s board will be familiar with them. Probably have lunch with many of them.

For Darden and the Ed School to ignore Success Academy in a work called “Exploring New Frontiers for K-12 Systems Transformation” took an iron will and systematic shielding of eyes from the elephant in the room.

The authors could have disagreed with the pedagogy of Success Academy, but no intellectually honest 28-page work of that title could ignore it.

By contrast, look at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research portfolio. See Safeguarding the Mental Health of Teachers for a reference on the excellence of Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz and her schools in the “high-performing charter space.” That was one of 37 articles brought forward by a search of that portfolio for “charter schools”.

I note that UVa’s President Ryan was Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education before taking the helm at Virginia. He might want to take a hard look at the research at his own school of education in Charlottesville.

Because for UVa’s School of Education, there is no “high-performing charter space.” They are not embarrassed. Embarrassment requires acknowledgement of error. Ideology does not permit it.

The search for truth, when circumscribed by ideology, is a fool’s errand.

Fools should be harder to find in academia than they apparently are in Charlottesville.

Updated June 4 at 17:45 with the references to Harvard Graduate School of Education