Icahn Charter Schools build background knowledge to drive learning


Icahn Charter Schools build background knowledge to drive learning
Student achievement places Icahn among NYC’s top performing charter networks

June 2, 2016—This year, more than 22,000 students applied for 252 seats at Icahn charter schools in the South Bronx. In a new article for Education Next, Charles Sahm of the Manhattan Institute reports that so many families are vying for spots in Icahn’s seven schools because the network’s content-rich curriculum is producing results for over 2,000 students in grades K-8. On New York’s Common Core-aligned exams, Icahn charters are among the best-performing charter schools in the city.

In 2015, 45 percent of Icahn students in grades 3–8 scored proficient in English, while 61 percent scored proficient in math, surpassing the city’s overall proficiency scores of 30 and 35 percent, respectively. These results far outpace the two South Bronx school districts where most Icahn schools are located: District 9 (13 percent proficient in English, 17 percent in math) and District 11 (21 percent and 26 percent).

Key to the network’s success is its Core Knowledge curriculum, developed by E.D. Hirsch. All grades receive instruction in history, science, geography, literature, and the arts five days a week. Major subjects, such as math and English, are taught in 90-minute blocks. Students engage in group and project-based learning, as well as monthly essay projects and class presentations. The year culminates in an “Education Super Bowl” and a “Core Knowledge Assembly Program” during which students showcase a wide array of content knowledge.

Icahn’s approach differs in some respects from other New York City charters. Teachers tend to be experienced and all are certified before they begin teaching. Class size at Icahn is capped at 18 students, in contrast to the district average of 25–27 students per class. Notably, Icahn operates without philanthropic support, relying on the $14,000 per student that the district provides (about 75 percent of what district schools get). The network saves a significant amount of money by eliminating assistant principals and other middle management positions.

Icahn’s eighth-grade graduates go on to apply to and attend selective New York City high schools, but network superintendent Jeff Litt notes that the ultimate goal is “putting kids on the path to fulfilling, product lives.” He says, “People talk about critical thinking. You cannot think critically if you don’t have something to think about; knowledge matters.”

To receive an embargoed copy of “The Bronx is Learning: Content-rich curriculum drives achievement at Icahn Charter Schools” or to speak with Charles Sahm, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at jackie@alessicommunication.com. The article will be available Tuesday, June 7 on www.educationnext.org and will appear in the Fall 2016 issue of Education Next, available in print on August 29, 2016.

About the Author: Charles Sahm is education policy director at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit www.educationnext.org.

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