Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Confluence Is a Cure: A Reply to 'Edison Is the Symptom, NCLB Is the Disease'

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Confluence Is a Cure: A Reply to 'Edison Is the Symptom, NCLB Is the Disease'

Article excerpt

Mr. Chubb challenges Mr. Campbell's impressions of Confluence Academy. He suggests that Mr. Campbell didn't spend enough time in the school to gain an accurate picture, and he refutes the specific charges leveled against Confluence and the Edison Schools model.


ON THE morning of 15 June 2006, as I drove through the dilapidated neighborhoods of north St. Louis, I was depressed by the signs of hopelessness all around--houses boarded up, adults apparently unemployed idling on door stoops, kids on corners with seemingly nothing to do. All of this is a sadly familiar sight in urban America and one that I see all too often working in urban schools throughout the United States. My mood brightened, however, as I approached Confluence Academy.

Children were running, cheering, and laughing as they competed in relay races and played kickball on the Old North campus of Confluence. I couldn't help but think it a shame that the children I had just passed on street corners couldn't be doing the same things: the regular public schools of St. Louis had closed for the summer. Confluence, a public charter school, had elected to provide a school year of 200 days--four weeks longer than the local norm--and not send children home for the summer until the end of June. The kids at Confluence, disadvantaged like the other children in this tough urban neighborhood, have more days to learn and fewer days, in otherwise long and often unstimulating summers, to forget.

As chief education officer of Edison Schools, the educational management organization that provides Confluence its education program and supports its operations, I visit all of our schools annually--roughly 100 in nearly 20 states. I observe classrooms, meet with leadership teams, offer guidance to principals and local Edison support teams, and almost always learn something about how Edison can be a more effective partner.

I have had the privilege of working with nearly 200 schools since Edison began its school partnership program in 1995, and I can say with assurance that the best ideas for providing kids a great education come from the teachers, administrators, and community leaders who work with kids every day. Before joining Edison as one of its founders in 1992, I had been a full-time education scholar, first at Stanford University and then at the Brookings Institution. I knew what scientific research had to say about what most affects school performance and student achievement. While I continue my scholarly work part time, I have come to understand that it is a strong mixture of practical experience and scientific discipline that makes for the most successful reforms of education. (1)

I had visited Confluence in October of 2005. I was particularly interested in the Old North campus. It had expanded from grades K-4 in 2003 to K-7 in 2005 and had just moved into its newly renovated upper-elementary and middle school wing. Many new students had to be assimilated into the existing student population, and many new teachers had to get comfortable with the program and routines of the school. During my October visit I had been satisfied that the school was handling its expansion effectively, though lots of improvement would still be necessary.

But as I approached Old North in June 2006 I was not only planning to assess progress, I was looking to take stock more fundamentally. I had just been sent the scathing evaluation of Old North by Peter Campbell--a critique that portrayed the school as an exploitative environment, a veritable plantation subjugating poor minority children through mind-numbing, compliance-inducing drills. In all my years of scholarly debate--and I have been involved in many heated ones--I had never encountered such vicious charges.

The charges are false.


As I entered the Old North school in mid-June, I was struck immediately by the richness and optimism of the learning environment. …

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