Selected readings on US charter schools
Earns top ranking for second straight year
Instead of wishing you a merry Christmas, students sing, “We’re gonna fill in all the little bubbles …,” learning the process of taking the annual Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams.
“Everything we do supports academic progress,” said Head of School Kathy Egmont.
When not singing test-prep tunes, students in music classes sometimes sing their multiplication tables, Egmont said. Art classes teach them about lines and measurement.
The school’s scores on the 2013 MCAS are an indication this approach is paying off, school officials say.
Facing the threat of being shut down by the state in 2010, Lowell Community Charter Public School is now ranked for the second year in a row as a Level 1 school, the highest category in a state accountability system based on MCAS performance and growth.
The level is assigned based on a formula that evaluates how close students come to scoring proficient or advanced and how they improve over a four-year period,
At Lowell Community Charter, which serves kindergarten through sixth grade, students met or exceeded the achievement goals across the board, including a subgroup of students characterized as “high-needs” — those from low-income families, learning English as a second language, or in special-education programs.
Ninety-one percent of Lowell Community Charter’s 640 students are considered high-needs, Egmont said. Almost 70 percent are from families that don’t speak English at home and 84 percent come from low-income backgrounds.
“Sometimes in inner-city schools, you hear people say, ‘We can’t do it because …’ or ‘These students can’t, because … ‘ ” Egmont said, adding that her school celebrates its students diversity and focuses on working harder and smarter to show them what they can accomplish.
A new mission statement adopted last year labels the diversity of the students, staff, families and overall community as “a source of strength and opportunity.”
“Our student progress is a testament to the fact that inner-city kids are achievers,” Egmont said.
Of the 53 charter schools statewide that received an accountability rating this year, 32, or 60 percent, were Level 1, a designation that means a school is meeting its goals to narrow the achievement gap.
Charter advocates point to this year’s high performance of students at urban charter schools that serve mostly low-income and minority kids in support for lifting the cap on the number of charters issued by the state.
“The state’s own data and independent analysis confirms that charter public schools are closing race- and income-based achievement gaps that have robbed generations of children from reaching their full potential,” said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.
Lowell joins cities including Fitchburg, Lawrence, Somerville, Everett and Salem that have room for one more charter under state law, according to the association. Boston, Holyoke and Chelsea have hit their limit already.
The Mill City has three charter schools currently. Lowell Collegiate Charter School, which takes students from kindergarten through grade 5, opened this fall and so does not yet have MCAS results. Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter, a high school, is not assigned an accountability level by the state.
Comparison to state average scores shows there’s still work to be done at Lowell Community Charter, with students at all grade levels falling below the average in English-language arts and science and technology/engineering. On the mathematics portion of the exam, more third- and sixth-graders at the school scored “proficient” or “advanced” than the state average. High-needs students throughout the school met or topped the state averages for their subgroup in all subjects.
Egmont said higher numbers of sixth-graders earning scores of proficient or higher show the progress the school is able to make with students it has for a long time, teaching English-language learners in particular first to hear the language, then to speak it, read it and finally write it, moving them up over time “to be within striking distance of the state average.”
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association spokesman Dominic Slowey attributes the successes of urban charter schools in narrowing achievement gaps to cultures of achievement created within those institutions.
“They reinforce to the kids in many ways that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can succeed,” Slowey said. “They begin to make kids believe in themselves, that they have bright futures and that they can do the work that they’re asked to do.”
Slowey said charter schools also have more leeway to adjust things like curriculum, scheduling, school hours and hiring practices, without a central district office in charge.
Traditional district schools are also seeking new tactics to help all students achieve, said Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has conducted separate studies on ways to close the achievement gap and whether MCAS scores at Boston charter schools indicate success.
Strategies include expanded learning time, a focus on collaboration and more training on teaching English-language learners, especially in urban areas, he said.
“We really need to focus on the individual needs of the kids and build programs around them,” Toner said.
Egmont, who sees her school as part of the larger Lowell educational and civic community, said both district and charter schools try to reach the same academic goals with the same children.
“You can do a school a lot of different ways if everyone is focused on the same goal and rowing in the same direction to get there,” she said.
Source: Lowell Sun – by Katie Lannan