In this email, Emily Kennedy recounts what happened at the Brooklyn Ascend's abusive testing sweatshop during what was supposed to be Spring Break, 2011:
Spring Break Academy
In the months leading up to the state exam, we began to hear about the need to target our “bubble kids.” In New York State, a child needs to score a 3 on the state exam in order to be considered “proficient.” The “bubble kids” were those who had demonstrated that they were close to achieving proficient scores, or had indeed scored 3’s on mock exams (which we gave out each month) but not by enough points that we could feel confident they would pass the real test in May. These were the kids, we were told, that we really needed to “zero in on.”
And so the school came up with a plan to have these kids come in over their spring vacation for “Spring Break Academy,” so that they wouldn’t “slip” during this time. To me, the idea sounded cruel. After asking them to sit day after day in “STAR” (hands folded in front of them, backs firmly against the back of their seat, and eyes on the teacher at all times) from 7:30 to 4:30, while we forced endless test prep down their throats, and then asking most of them to stay an extra hour after school for tutoring, and then demanding that they also complete an hour of homework each night, we were then requesting to take away their vacation time to have them practice even more of the same inane test-prep memorization? How was any of this supposed to lead to any real, meaningful learning for these kids? And how could any of my colleagues believe that this was honestly part of a mission to give these kids an education that was actually of any value?What killed me, however, was that when our school director put out a request to have teachers work at Spring Break Academy, it was couched in this language of "making a monumental difference in our scholars lives" and "putting them on the path to college." I still don't know whether or not our school director, who is a Teach for America grad, honestly believes he is acting in the best interest of the children, or if his desire for Brooklyn Ascend (and himself, too, I would imagine) to appear successful (with bar graphs to proving that our school is "closing the achievement gap") is so great that he simply has to remain in denial about what he is actually demanding of these kids.
At any rate, despite being offered a fairly sizable compensation for working at Spring Break Academy, I declined to take the job.
(By the way, the “bubble kids” did get to spend half an hour each day of Spring Break Academy doing artwork. When we returned from Spring Break, it was all over the walls – murals covered in phrases like “Ace the Test!” and pictures of kids saying, “Yay! I passed!”)