Early every morning, Akili Academy's teachers gather for a daily bonding ritual.
Clutching caffeinated beverages, they offer praise to one another for achievements large and small: calming down an upset student, teaching an outstanding lesson on "realistic fiction" to kindergarteners, sorting out unspecified "bathroom issues."
For the finale, the charter school's staff pulls in closer for a quick huddle, like a sports team preparing to take the field. "Who are we proud to be?" one teacher asks. "Akili Academy of New Orleans!" they shout in unison, sending their arms flying. They then head to class before the students arrive.
But this is no casual competition or recreational game. It lasts at least 10 hours every weekday, often spills over into the weekends, and, at times, consumes the lives of the mostly young Akili staff.
"I'm totally tired, and if I'm still working this many hours next year, I maybe wouldn't work a fourth year," said Francis Giesler, an Akili teacher. Giesler, 24, a 2008 graduate of Loyola University, grew up in St. Louis.
While Giesler praises Akili for its supportive work environment, she gives voice to a nagging concern of school reformers and charter leaders across the city and the country. How can a movement predicated in part on superhuman exertions of time and effort sustain itself and grow in the long term?
As Giesler puts it: "How good a school are you if you have really strong results, but can't take that model anywhere else because it was solely reliant on the bodies in the building, and kills people after two years?"
Giesler asks a good question.
How good is either a school system or economic system that requires people to work 50, 60, 70, or 80 hours a week, most weekends, burns them out in a few years and then tosses them on the trash heap and brings in the next batch of rookie McTeachers, replicating the process ad nauseum.
Eduwanker Andrew Rotherham thinks it's fine:
A growing group of educators and policy wonks say they are not particularly concerned about chronic teacher turnover in urban schools, as long as there's a pipeline of bright workaholics to fill the vacancies.
"I don't think turnover is inherently bad," said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. "Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine."
That's capitalism in emblematic form - use 'em up, spit 'em out, bring in more, use 'em up, spit 'em out, etc.
And this is the system Barack Obama and Arne Duncan point to as the future of American education.
Barack Obama really is building a bridge back to the 19th century.
Or maybe even the 14th century.