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Making Money Off the Poor: A Firsthand Look at a Charter School

By Adam Culver


Adam Culver

I recently found myself with the opportunity to speak to a former charter school teacher who was more than eager to share her story.  Elizabeth is a Pittsburgh native with West Virginia roots.  She taught for several years in Academy Charter School in Pittsburgh.  


According to Schooldigger.com and UsNews.com, the school has been open for ten years or more without showing any record of improving student performance.   


So why does Pittsburgh keep pumping money into The Academy Schools company?


Elizabeth took a few minutes to describe her experiences with their charter program.  


What is the “mission” of your charter?  

The mission from their site is "The mission of New Academy Charter School, based on the belief that all students can learn, is to produce citizens able to think critically and function successfully, with integrity, in a rapidly changing, highly competitive world."We accept the responsibility to prepare students for life-long learning by providing a quality education through varied learning experiences in partnership with our community."


Was your school what is described as a “public charter” where tax dollars fund the majority if not all of the school? 

It is described as a public charter, with majority, likely all of the funding coming from the state. 


Did your school provide transportation for students to and from school?

Transportation was provided.  It was one of the MAIN selling points.  Door to door service.  Teacher[s] either picked up or dropped off students at their houses, driving 9 passenger vans. 


How accessible were special education services at your school? 

Most of our students had IEPs but our special edu dept was very small.  There was HIGH turnover rate for our students, CONSTANTLY, Everyday, getting new students, and they had a very difficult time keeping up.


How did the pay and benefits at your charter compare to public education jobs? 

What qualifications were required for a teacher to be hired at your school? 

They were always short staffed, so we rarely get a prep period and are required to eat lunch with the students.  Starting salary is 36,000, compared to first year at Pittsburgh public, 45,000+.


To be hired, a teaching degree was required, but they often hired teachers to teach other subjects they were not necessarily qualified for.  I am a social studies teacher, and my first 3 months was a full time bio teacher...

There are no raises.


Please describe your general experience as an educator in a charter school.  (Class size, curriculum, testing, school culture, supports, etc) 

During my time there, the a climate and culture team was developed, which I was apart of.  But many things were unable to be implemented. The administration was very divided, and not supportive and became hostile in the way that staff did not feel safe voicing concerns.

Class sizes were advertised as small, 1 to 10-12 ratio, but that was generally not the case.  I attempted to develop my own curriculum, using texts that were purchased without much thought for our students needs.  Many of our students were court ordered to the Academy. many had IEPs,


There was no homework, students were provided with all materials, which stayed at school.  The student body largely had behavioral issues-cursing, explicit language, defiant behavior, truancy.  On top of that, our school average reading and writing  levels were at a fourth grade level.  Our students were in grades 8-12.


So the school was used as a dumping ground, basically?

Do you know if that was part of the original plan that got the charter approved?

It is a dumping ground.  They have a close relationship with the Pittsburgh Public Schools as a "last resort" school.  I do believe that was part of the original plan that got the charter approved.


In more recent years, they have been advertising it as a more "personalized" structured school, which is just not true. 


So why does Pittsburgh keep pumping money into this charter? To hold the kids they don’t want at their other schools, while still not fully providing the services those students need.  We cannot play a shell game with our students and just hide the ones who hurt our test scores.  We will not sweep West Virginia’s children under the rug.


Image From: Swept Under the Rug: The Danger of the Dust by Stephanie R Josie

Adam Culver is an English teacher in Cabell County and Vice-President of the Cabell County Educators Association as well as a member of The WV United Caucus.  He is also a sometimes comedian, and a lifelong Mountaineer currently displaced in Ohio. 

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