Icahn Charter School 6
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Small class size; a rich social studies curriculum
Sharing space with two schools
Like the other five schools supported by the billionaire financier Carl Icahn, Icahn Charter 6 has a long school day, small class size, frequent tests and lots of lessons in history and geography starting at a young age.
Icahn schools are known for promoting staff within their own network, so it is not surprising that Principal Brian Geelan worked first as a teacher at the original Icahn school and then as a staff developer. He has been mentored by Jeffrey Litt, who is responsible for developing the model upon which all Icahn schools are based.
Lessons follow on the work of Professor E.D. Hirsch who wrote a series of popular books listing “core knowledge” he felt every well-educated person needs to know. Beginning in the early grades children learn about ancient Greece, ancient Rome, exploration, colonialism, the continents and more.
Icahn schools always have lots of artsy projects on display. On our visit we saw student-made clay cuneiform writing tablets next to written reports as part of a second grade unit on Mesopotamia. After reading Charlotte’s Web, each child had to pick an adjective to describe herself and make a spider’s web with string threaded through a paper plate.
Icahn leaders do not dictate the way a teacher should teach but they closely monitor test scores and want staff to draw from the “core knowledge” curriculum. A first grade teacher said she sets aside time every day starting in April for her students to prepare for the Iowa test, which is administered in October and June. Children take teacher-made tests throughout the year.
The quality and quantity of the writing reflects the school’s high expectations, but we also saw a math class in which every child was on the same workbook page and “cookie cutter” art that lacked individuality. All classes were calm and orderly on our visit.
The building is shared with PS/MS 4 and a small high school called the Leadership Institute. Icahn kids are required to buddy-up to go to the bathrooms as a safety measure. The schools share the auditorium, gym and cafeteria.
The school day lasts until 4 p.m. In pleasant weather children play outside twice a day, otherwise teachers try to make sure they move around in the big “blue room” downstairs. A few times a week a teaching artist from LeAp (Learning through an Expanded Arts Program) leads activities that often incorporate movement like yoga or dance.
Special education: Icahn schools have had good success in mixing children as much as possible with their general education peers and in de-classifying children who have special needs through their “targeted assistance” program, a practice in which children are pulled out for 45 minutes of extra help in the areas where they have shown weakness on tests.
Admissions: Admissions is by lottery. When the school opened in 2012 the waiting list had approximately 800 names for 108 seats (Lydie Raschka, May 2013).