Opinion
Education Opinion

No Fab Formula for Jalen Rose

By Nancy Flanagan — September 07, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Shortly after I retired from a 31-year stint as a public school teacher, I applied for a part-time job in a Detroit charter school. Why? Because they were seeking a twice-weekly middle school jazz band teacher plus someone to lead professional development for a crew of mostly novice teachers. I was, shall we say, highly qualified. Plus--I had spent nearly my entire career in a “safe"--and wonderful--small town district. I wanted the challenge of teaching in the center of Detroit, part of the “reform” zeitgeist.

At the interview, a few days before the school opened, the superintendent--who was not and never had been an educator--asked me about instructions she’d been given by the school’s founder. He told her to direct all teachers to assign a heavy load of homework on Day One, due on the second day. Students who didn’t complete the work were to be punished swiftly and significantly, demonstrating that there were no excuses. “What do you think?” she said.

I answered honestly. Why would you set a bunch of 12-year olds up to fail, by making the first hurdle one of compliance, rather than intellectual challenge? Nothing wrong with letting the kids know, right out of the gate, that the academic work would be demanding, expectations high, assignments complex. No bias against homework, if it’s meaningful and deepens learning. But why throw down a pointless gauntlet?

I didn’t get the job--not because of anything said in the interview, but because an expected grant for arts-enriched instruction didn’t come through. But I was reminded of this experience--a search for the magic, instant formula to create a high-performance school climate-- after reading a two-part series in the Detroit Free Press about Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter school.

The feature articles--headlined “Fab 5 Star’s Charter a Beacon of Hope”--lead off in full Superman mode, with a mother and her son desperately hoping to win a single lottery-based slot in Rose’s school. And he wins! Yeah! Now (as his mother says) he can be a leader and start his own business. Just like Jalen Rose.

There’s a lot of this happy talk and coded language in the series: “grasping urban schools,” “local powerhouse” foundations who are supplying lots of auxiliary funding for the Academy, a positive thumbs-up to New Orleans as “leader” of the charter movement and Detroit as a “pure marketplace” for “innovation.”

Rose claims that he started the school to get Detroit kids out of the “blue-collar mentality,” completely missing the point that if Detroit kids could look forward to middle-class jobs, wages and benefits, a lot of Detroit’s economic angst would fade--and that Rose made millions as an NBA and media star, not exactly a reasonable aspiration for 98% of the students at his academy. Rose himself did not complete a bachelors degree until he was 32. His contribution to the school’s operation seems to be making monthly photo-op visits, and taking troubled students to McDonald’s for a heart to heart.

The list of academic “innovations” offered by the Academy weren’t particularly original or necessarily effective: More time in school, two-hour ACT prep classes, and a no-homework policy. There was an on-line curriculum. And lots and lots of...basketball.

Problems the Academy wrestled with in its first year were a classic mix of start-up mistakes and a focus on glitz over substance. They ran out of money because they set a 10-student class size limit. There were costly monthly field trips (including one to Olympic basketball camp in Las Vegas). No science labs (students left fetal pig detritus in restroom sinks), no locker rooms, showers or air-conditioning in summer heat. Fights, expulsions and a security guard who had to be fired. A teacher using his own media equipment for instruction took his technological tools and skills with him when he left mid-year. A heavily promoted on-line curriculum couldn’t be accessed, due to broken laptops. Test scores started and remained in the basement.

Here’s the most telling fact, however: there was 100% turnover in teaching staff--not a single teacher returned--and as the school’s second year opens, they’re on their third principal. Changes for fall include sending staff for workshops and training, mandated weekly student assessments, doubling class sizes, and returning to a more traditional curriculum and delivery. So much for new and different.

Here’s my question: What would parents think if all the teachers in a traditional public school quit? If their children had no sinks in the science rooms, but flew to Las Vegas to meet a basketball team? Or if students couldn’t access necessary instructional materials because their laptops didn’t work?

When the Academy (which gets the same per-pupil state funding as all public schools in Detroit) ran out of money in May, they held a private party to make up the shortfall. And in spite of what looks like a poorly managed train wreck of an inaugural year, the article is full of upbeat adults praising Rose’s vision for education.

Why does Jalen Rose get glowing headlines, a financial bailout and lots of second chances? Why do we keep believing in magic formulas for success, when all long-lasting improvement comes from incremental gains, trial and error, and hard work?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP