Selected readings on US charter schools
In Massachusetts, we proudly hold up our public schools as some of the best in the nation. But even here, too many of our urban schools continue to struggle – including many of those in Springfield and Holyoke.
In many places, the gap between the suburban “haves” and the urban “have nots” is widening – a fact that should trouble us all, if we believe as public education founder Horace Mann did, that education is “the great equalizer.”
That’s why support is growing for “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap,” a bill that continues and expands many of the elements contained in the historic “Act to Eliminate the Achievement Gap” of three years ago.
Among the 2010 reform law’s many successes are provisions that provide greater flexibility over time, staffing and curriculum to schools that most urgently need it – those schools declared by the state to be Level 4 or “failing.”
Thirty-four “turnaround schools” were designated in the first year of the bill and empowered, like charter schools, with new freedoms to improve their student achievement outcomes. Turnaround status empowered teachers and administrators who work with students every day to implement a series of innovative reforms – such as hiring new staff, lengthening the school day, and bringing in new value-added partners and programs.
But many of these innovations – and their results – will be reversed if this legislation is not passed. Said simply, if we do nothing, we will fall behind.
Currently, more than 25 percent of students in Springfield are enrolled in “turnaround” schools, and 16 percent of students in Holyoke attend one. The results – in less than three years – have been overwhelmingly positive for many of these schools. Springfield and Holyoke, like dozens of cities around the state, are making significant and verifiable improvements.
For example, the William J. Dean Technical High School in Holyoke, and Springfield’s Homer Street Elementary, Alfred G. Zanetti Magnet School, and Gerena Magnet School have experienced two consecutive years of improvement in English Language Arts (ELA). In math, similar gains were reported – with many schools reporting that the number of students scoring proficient in ELA and math has doubled, tripled or even quadrupled.
But to deliver what every single child in Massachusetts rightly deserves – an excellent school – it is important to acknowledge that improving a few dozen schools isn’t enough.
There are nearly 300 other Massachusetts schools that have been declared Level 3, and the new bill would provide the lowest 20 percent of them with turnaround tools now, rather than wait until they are designated as having “failed.”
There are 25 Level 3 schools in Springfield – they serve 61 percent of the city’s public school students. Nearly 7 in 10 Holyoke students attend one of the city’s seven Level 3 schools. More than 80 percent of these students are low-income. This legislation is designed precisely for those children and families, who want and deserve better than that –providing many of those schools opportunities for significant innovation and reform.
In addition, this bill also would open the door to thousands of students currently being denied a place in one of Massachusetts’ most remarkable success stories – public charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, overseen by state education officials who ensure schools with autonomy deliver results – and act if they fall short.
Today, urban charters regularly top MCAS score lists, and the best charter schools are consistently proving that they can narrow or even close the achievement gap for black and Latino students, particularly those in poverty.
This track record of success has drawn thousands of families to seek charter school seats, but in too many districts, including Holyoke, public charters are blocked from expanding by an artificial “cap” that prevents new or expanded charters – leaving thousands of students seeking quality educations left to a lottery to determine the few available seats.
In Holyoke, that cap means just two charter schools are allowed in the district. Students who can’t get in join a waiting list, and hope. The thousands of students waiting for charters, the tens of thousands trapped in schools on the cusp of failure, and the thousands in schools finally making headway – all deserve the opportunity to be in schools that are unequivocally succeeding. Quite literally, they pay with their futures if we fail to offer them a quality education.
The 2010 “Act Relative to the Achievement Gap” has worked for the children and families of Springfield and Holyoke. Now we need to take what we have learned over the past three years and refine that law to make good on the promise of providing every Massachusetts student with an excellent education. We believe “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap” gives schools and families the tools that it will take to get us there.
Source: Masslive.com – by Paul S. Grogan (President and CEO of The Boston Foundation) and John H. Davis (Trustee of The Davis Foundation in Springfield)