Amistad Charter School Shows the Way

Amistad Charter School Shows the Way
October 1, 2004

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)

When measured against the academic performance of the average white student in Connecticut, the results achieved by the eighth-graders at Amistad Academy in New Haven are, well, just average.

But since 98 percent of Amistad students are black or Latino and predominantly urban low-income, those achievement levels mean the charter school has succeeded in closing the black-white achievement gap and boosted the performance of its students well above state averages.

Black eighth-graders in Connecticut lag far behind their white peers in the percentage that achieve mastery on Connecticut Mastery Tests. In the 2003 reading tests, 81 percent of white students achieved mastery, compared to only 39 percent of black students. In math, 68 percent of white students, but only 22 percent of black students, achieved mastery. In writing, 69 percent of white students and just 37 percent of black students achieved mastery.

By contrast, mastery achievement by black students at Amistad was at approximately the same level as their white peers: 70 percent in reading, 64 percent in math, and 91 percent in writing.

The 2004 mastery achievement percentages are even better. For Amistad eighth-graders as a group, 80 percent achieved mastery in reading, 75 percent in math, and 85 percent in writing--compared to overall state averages of 67, 56, and 62 percent respectively.

When students enter Amistad in fifth grade, their average performance is more than two years below grade level. But the school they enter has high expectations for every student, with teaching and learning techniques modeled on those used by a small private school in Calgary, Canada. Now Amistad Academy itself is the model, with school administrators planning to open five K-12 schools in New York over the next two years at the request of the city's chancellor of schools, Joel Klein.

"You had the New Haven kids basically scoring as well as kids in Greenwich, in some of the wealthiest suburbs in the state," said New Haven Register education reporter Natalie Missakian. "I think that it makes it more difficult for educators to sort of say that 'it's out of our hands and that we can't do more than we're doing.' I think Amistad proves that it can happen ... it can be done."

Performance on 2004

Amistad Academy is a charter school of about 250 students in grades five through eight. Selected by lottery from a pool of applicants from other New Haven public schools, Amistad's students are about 66 percent black, 33 percent Latino, and 2 percent white. Almost nine out of 10 students qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.

The school's strategy is to encourage high achievement and model good behavior through positive reinforcement and strict discipline. Students wear a school uniform--a blue collared shirt or sweater and khaki pants or skirt. Each morning, all students refresh their commitment to the Amistad REACH motto by reciting it in unison:
R - respect!
E - enthusiasm!
A - achievement!
C - citizenship!
H - hard work!

The Amistad Academy story is told by the Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Clarence Page, in Closing the Achievement Gap, a new 60-minute video documentary from the Corporation for Educational Radio and Television. The program was produced and directed by Zach Richter.


George A. Clowes (clowes@heartland.org) is managing editor of School Reform News.


For more information ...

Further details about the video documentary, Closing the Achievement Gap, including purchasing information, is available from the Web site of the Corporation for Educational Radio and Television at http://www.pbs.org/closingtheachievementgap.

Amistad Academy's Web site is at http://www.amistadacademy.org.

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)