Laura Zornosa: Why Abbott Elementary’s Charter Schools Episode Hit Home for Teachers
If you haven’t been w2atching Abbott Elementary, you’ve missed a season arc talking about charter schools and charterization. Jeanne Allen of the choice-loving Center for Education Reform sat quietly through the criticism of charters until Abbott dared to take a swipe at rich people pushing charters. The she came after Quinta Brunson on Twitter–and got schooled. The story has rippled through the media including all the way to Time magazine, where reporter Laura Zornosa wrote this piece.
For teachers around the U.S., charter schools are a constant concern, beyond an episode of television. They find relief, both comic and real, in Abbott—as well as tangible education and information.
“There’s this myth that charter schools provide more opportunity or their graduation rates are better, but that’s just because they exclude kids,” says Brooklyn public school teacher Frank Marino, who formerly worked at a charter school. Watching Abbott “felt so cathartic, because I was like, yes, it was a public platform where those myths are being busted by parents.”
In this week’s episode, Abbott is hosting Ava Fest—ostensibly not named after Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James)—to collect signatures from the community in support of staying public. There’s a dunk tank, step dance routines, somehow soupy and solid macaroni and cheese—and then there’s Draemond. The charter school magnate upstages the evening’s entertainment—aspiring rapper Tariq (Zack Fox)—appealing to the parents of Abbott Elementary. Abbott, he says, is holding their kids back. Addington and Legendary Schools offer a better, fresher alternative. But Abbott’s parents aren’t quite convinced.
“My kid went to Addington, and you kicked him out,” says one outraged mom.
“No, we don’t—we don’t kick kids out,” Draemond says. “We encourage a small few to explore other educational opportunities.”
Slowly, but surely, the parents challenge and debunk his claims. Draemond says Legendary Schools will hire the best and brightest teachers. “What about the teachers we have here now?” counters a mom. A dad discovers that his kid, who already attends Abbott, might not get to continue at the same school because Legendary Schools would implement a lottery system.
“Hold on, hold on, hold on, I play the lottery every single day, and I never win,” Tariq interjects. “This man is playing the Powerball with our kids!”
That was not the only episode to deal with charters this season.
A few episodes ago, at the fictional Pennsylvania Educational Conference for the South East Area (PECSA), Jacob (Chris Perfetti)—a well-meaning history teacher—is hanging out with a group of teachers from Addington Elementary. One of them, Summer (Carolyn Gilroy), tries to convince him to switch schools, telling him, “We’re all about focusing on the kids who have the best chance of making it out.”
“Out?” Jacob asks. “Out of what?”
And this one.
Earlier in Abbott’s second season, an upset mother bursts into the school and asks the principal if her son can re-enroll—he was just kicked out of Addington. Incredulous, she reads aloud the letter Addington sent her: “We regret to inform you that Joshua Richardson no longer reaches the standards required for our educational nourishment.”
“That’s just BS-speak for he brought down their test scores,” says second-grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter). Between this scene and Ava Fest, Marino tells TIME he felt like the show understood him. The episode, he says, is accurate in the way it represents “the lack of certification or expertise that those students will be getting in a lot of these networks, and the ways that charter schools that are these big networks will funnel resources into marketing to create this perception that they’re better, they’re newer, they’re shinier. And inherently putting public schools as this second tier or lower tier experience while hiding these large charter school networks’ role in creating those conditions.”