Education

An Alt School in Steel City

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When Randy Bartlett decided to open a new school for Pittsburghers who wanted an alternative to the city's public system, he knew it couldn't be a charter school.

"I worked 12 years in charter schools, and I have nothing against those schools," he says. "But if they were initially created to serve as the research and development wing of the public education system, they are not really fulfilling that function. Pennsylvania's regulatory burden is too heavy."

Opening a charter school in Pittsburgh is incredibly difficult, thanks to staunch opposition by the board of directors for Pittsburgh Public Schools. In February, the body rejected a bid from Imani Christian Academy, which wanted to become a secular charter school. It also attempted to stop Catalyst Academy, a proposed college preparatory K–8 institution, but lost at the state's Charter School Appeal Board.

"Obviously there needs to be rigorous review of applications, and not anyone should just be opening a school. But the process can be so onerous that the state's charter school law is rendered moot," says Catalyst CEO Brad Smith.

Instead of going up against the education bureaucracy, Bartlett decided to launch an "alternative school," called City of Bridges High School. Alt schools can come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally encourage self-guided learning and democratic processes.

After applying for incorporation and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, Bartlett's team still had to clear the city's zoning hurdles, then deal with occupancy and facilities regulations. But the process was still easier than trying for a charter. "Filing with the Pennsylvania State Department of Education is not difficult," he explains. "Just time consuming."

When City of Bridges opens in fall 2019, kids will be able to arrive as early as 8 a.m. to work on projects, but the day will not officially start until 9:30, when they'll join with faculty for "Morning Circle," an opportunity for meditating, singing, and announcements. Pupils will study math and foreign languages, pursue self-guided projects, and participate in rotating courses on architecture, theater, and other topics that don't fit neatly into standard state-issued curricula.

Bartlett has enrolled 10 students and hopes to start the year with a freshman class of 25. The goal, he says, is to help the kids develop skills to solve problems, be resilient in the face of failure, and collaborate with their peers and practitioners.

Oh, and they'll also have to clean up at the end of every day. "We recognize that some boundaries and structure are good for development," he says. Not to mention, learning to keep things neat and tidy is a useful life skill for any teenager.

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13 responses to “An Alt School in Steel City

  1. These guys better hope the dems don’t win 20202. or they will be arrested for crimes against humanity.

    1. If there still alive that is. 20202 is a REALLY long way off… just sayin.

  2. Are they studying any science? Or is this playtime for theater majors?

    1. Well they do make them clean up at the end of the day. So if they don’t get into Juilliard, they should be well prepared for a career in the custodial arts.

    2. No science, just math and architecture. So obviously nothing useful.

      1. Math?… Architecture?… Both male-dominated disciplines. Sounds kinda sexist to me.

        “School choice extremists brain-washing children to be bigots”

        1. The Left: “We can’t send students into Math or Architecture, they’re male-dominated!”
          Math and Architecture: Continues to be male-dominated due to lack of new entrants.

  3. Oh, and they’ll also have to clean up at the end of every day. “We recognize that some boundaries and structure are good for development,” he says. Not to mention, learning to keep things neat and tidy is a useful life skill for any teenager.

    Oooh, a good collective activity, where kids can learn how to dodge and weave and look busy while someone else, less gifted in such social skills, takes on the irksome chores.

  4. Public education has a self-interest lock on education. So they try to keep all competition to a minimum thus gives the politicians more power by harnessing the teacher unions to vote for them.
    Instead of keeping all competition to a minimum open up the schooling of these children to competition and may the best prevail. But that would mean that the politicians involved in school politics would have to be more innovative and produce a better product which is an educated high school graduate more ready to take on life’s challenges.
    But this is wishful think and will never take hold in this political reality we have.

  5. Best of luck to them. I see that tuition is about $15k per year, despite some involvement with the Heinz Trust. But, laboratory of democracy and all that.

    For the record, there is strong evidence that minimal guidance during instruction doesn’t work.

    http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf

    But I am sure it works for some kids. I have no objection to someone trying it.

  6. The “Blob,” as I call the American public education does not brook competition from outsiders which explains the low test scores America kids score every year.
    If Obama, Clinton, the Bushes and all the other ruling elitist turds can send their kids to the schools they choose, why shouldn’t the average citizen be afforded the same luxury.
    Or better yet, just have the parents pay for their kids’ education instead of the taxpayers.

  7. Public education has a self-interest lock on education. So they try to keep all competition to a minimum thus gives the politicians more power by harnessing the teacher unions to vote for them.
    Instead of keeping all competition to a minimum open up the schooling of these children to competition and may the best prevail. But that would mean that the politicians involved in school politics would have to be more innovative and produce a better product which is an educated high school graduate more ready to take on life’s challenges.
    But this is wishful think and will never take hold in this political reality we have.

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  8. “Obviously there needs to be rigorous review of applications, and not anyone should just be opening a school.”

    And why not? That’s pretty much how schools used to get started back when the literacy rate was higher. The Kinkaid School in Houston was started in the dining room of the home of Margaret Kinkaid. It was just how it worked before government and government money got involved.

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