Abbott Elementary goes for broke against charter schools

Abbott Elementary ABC has turned charter schools into its bogeyman.

The popular comedy series, in its sophomore year, wraps up a storyline in which an award-winning institution, a chaotic but quirky high school in downtown Philadelphia, is up against a big, bad charter company down the same street, Legendary Schools, which actively seeks to turn it on.

“They don’t even require all their teachers to be certified,” one of the Abbott teachers lamented his rival in an episode aired earlier this month.

“And yet they take our funding, not to mention private money from wealthy donors with ulterior motives,” replies another.

Later in the same episode, a former Abbott student returns after being expelled from Legendary Charter, apparently for dragging down his test scores.

“They don’t see the students, they see the grades,” Abbott’s teacher says.

Biden’s Education Minister Miguel Cardona, for example, sounds like a fan. Speaking to The Hill on Sunday, Cardona said that while he doesn’t have a “special statement about charter schools,” he emphasized, “I love what Abbott Elementary has done.”

“I think I want to watch an episode about how some states are trying to privatize schools. This is the episode that I would like to be – let them hone, because I think this is an issue that we really should be worried about, ”said Cardona.

And the storyline has not gone unnoticed by education advocates and the general public, including brilliant essay in The New Yorker on Thursday, who called it “an artful, lengthy and hilarious polemic against the privatization of public schools,” though the story also drew significant rebuff from supporters of the charter movement.

“Obviously, we don’t like it when charter schools denigrate or misrepresent their characteristics, and nobody likes it when they are denigrated or misrepresented,” Debbie Veney, senior vice president of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, told The Hill. “However, we try to take it with a grain of salt because it’s a comedy and there’s hyperbole and exaggeration built into the satirical device.”

Veni added that “one thing that really stood out to me and kind of made me feel a little better” was the show’s portrayal of how the head of Legendary Schools, played by Leslie Odom Jr., was “inspired by a great education”. he received as a child, including from one Abbott teacher who particularly touched him.

“He was inspired by her in how she loved and cared for him and taught him to go back to his hometown and create schools that would really reflect the type of experience he had and he wouldn’t settle for things that give kids less opportunities than they deserve,” she said.

However, not all advocates of charter schools take this storyline lightly.

“It’s a pity that less than 20% of Philadelphia students can even read, write, or spell at grade level that there’s a show on TV that has the audacity to criticize successful schools and the people who help them.” – Gene Allen, Founder and Director General of the Center for Education Reforms, tweeted earlier this month.

“It says TEACHER UNION all over the place,” she added, prompting the Philadelphia Teachers Federation to answer that it “not involved in writing or producing the incredible @AbbottElemABC.”

In another tweet last week, Allen said that Quinta Brunson, creator and star of Abbott Elementary, “is from West Philadelphia and has attended charter schools for her entire education.”

“She reportedly enjoyed it at the time, she praised it. A long time ago. Guess it’s money, Allen said.

Brunson responded on twitter Allen is “wrong and bad at research”.

“I only attended a charter high school. My public elementary school was converted to a charter school more than ten years after I left. I loved my high school. Now this school is closed, which often happens with charters, ”she said.

ABC turned down several requests for comment from The Hill.

For the series, it all came to a head in the most recent episode, in which a group of Abbott faculty, along with a festival and a petition, defended their turf, rallying parents and the rest of the community to keep the school out of Legendary’s hands. . With three episodes left this season, it remains to be seen if Legendary has been completely defeated or will rear his head again.

“Abbot Elementary School” resonates with educators and parents across the country because it accurately and humorously portrays the reality of American public schools, said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.

“It discusses the real problems our public schools are facing, including lack of funding and resources, and how commercial charters and vouchers are diverting funding from our public schools,” Pringle added.

Robert Thompson, director of the Blayer Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says that since the 1970s, television “comedies have touched on big political issues,” but what makes “Abbott” interesting is that “you have this popular show”. essentially serves as an “information delivery system” on a topic that many people know little about.

“However, we can’t expect him to talk about this episode in all its nuances, just like you’re not going to watch Grey’s Anatomy if you want to know… how to do emergency surgery,” Thompson said.

But, in his opinion, “the work on this topic has been done quite noblely”, albeit from a very specific point of view.

Thompson said Abbott Elementary is “so earnest and sincere that even for those who disagree, the show is a lot harder to hate.”

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Venei of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools may or may not agree with this, but she doesn’t seem to have lost her sense of humor about it. After all, she points out, it’s just a TV show.

“There is satire, there is ridicule. And I think it’s bad for us to always take ourselves too seriously,” she said.

Judy Kurtz contributed.

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