December 21, 2012

SABIS and founding board members celebrate the approval of International Academy of Camden charter

Camden, NJ: On December 17, 2012, friends, supporters, and founding board members of the recently approved International Academy of Camden joined with staff of SABIS Educational Systems at the Camden Adventure Aquarium to celebrate the charter granting by the NJ Department of Education. The International Academy of Camden was one of two, out forty-nine applicants, to be approved by the Department during the past round of charter approvals. The International Academy intends to open fall 2013.

December 19, 2012

Brockton residents, officials show up to support or oppose charter school

Jenn Pham, a SABIS graduate and freshman at Stonehill College, speaks in support of SABIS

By Alex Bloom
Enterprise Staff Writer

BROCKTON — Many local residents passionately defended the city’s schools as state officials considered both sides of a debate to open a charter school in Brockton.

More than 100 supporters and detractors of a plan to open a 1,200-student charter school turned out for a public hearing to comment on the proposal, which needs the approval of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Brockton High School Senior Lidia DeBarros, 18, was moved to tears defending the high school’s English Language Learner curriculum, which helped her learn English in less than a year-and-a-half after she arrived from Cape Verde.

DeBarros left the program and achieved top scores on MCAS tests, and is now looking at colleges.

“It taught me so much in so little time and these teachers still help me everyday,” DeBarros said.

Mayor Linda Balzotti, chairwoman of the School Committee, spoke passionately against the proposal, saying that it would pull top students out of city schools. She said Brockton is a place where education is a priority and leaders are focused on improving learning at all levels.

“In Brockton, we get it,” Balzotti said. “We know we have challenges to overcome, but we work together to meet those challenges head-on.”

Two board members and the state’s deputy education commissioner listened for two hours to dozens of speakers discussing the charter, which would be managed by the private, for-profit SABIS Educational Systems Inc. Local legislators joined many city councilors and School Committee members at the hearing.

Former Mayor John T. Yunits, who is part of the nine-member board of directors seeking to bring the charter school to Brockton, saw firsthand the achievements of SABIS in its Springfield school. He said the school, which will have students between kindergarten and eighth grade, would serve a population that mirrors the population in city schools.

“They agreed with me that if they came to Brockton it would be a complete lottery,” Yunits said. “There would be no differentiation.”

He had the support of at-large City Councilor Jass Stewart, a two-time mayoral candidate, who talked about his childhood experience in Dallas with mandatory busing that allowed him to get into a talented-and-gifted program.

“Frankly, anytime there is credible choice on the table, I will always be pro-choice,” Stewart said.

In 2008, the state board voted to reject a similar proposal, which also would have been contracted with SABIS.

Jose Afonso, director of U.S. Business Development for SABIS, said that the meeting’s speakers did not accurately describe his company’s record. He said SABIS does good work at schools in Holyoke and Springfield, where at-risk students are learning.

“Closing the achievement gap is an area that we’re very proud of,” Afonso said.

But the majority of speakers spoke out against the charter proposal, including John Condon, the city’s chief financial officer. Condon described how the charter school would impact funding. Condon responded to Afonso, who pointed out that Brockton is the state’s only Gateway City without a traditional charter school.

“I would submit that that is a a credit to the city – not a problem,” Condon said. “The reason it is a credit to the city is I don’t believe a charter school is necessary in Brockton.”

Parent Tammy DeAndrade talked about how the new charter could hurt Cape Verdean students. The city’s schools have recruited staff to specifically help the city’s large Cape Verdean population, she said.

“The services provided by these programs for the Cape Verdean community will not be provided in the SABIS schools,” DeAndrade said.

The board will vote in February on the charter proposal.

The Irrational Fear of For-Profit Education

Opinion, by Frederick M. Hess
Wall Street Journal
December 18, 2012

McGraw-Hill recently announced plans to sell its education publishing division to Apollo Global Management for $2.5 billion. The deal is a reminder that K-12 schooling is a $600 billion-a-year business. In 2008, schools and systems spent $22 billion on transportation, $20 billion on food services and even $1 billion on pencils.

These transactions typically elicit only yawns. Yet angry cries of “privatization” greet the relatively modest number of reform-minded, for-profit providers that offer tutoring or charter-school options to kids trapped in lousy schools. Gallup surveys show that more than 75% of Americans are comfortable with for-profit provision of transportation and facilities. Barely a third are fine with for-profits running schools.

This bias shows up in federal legislation that bans for-profit ventures from competing in the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund. When New York legislators lifted the state’s charter-school cap in 2010, they placated unions by banning for-profit charters. Most recently, the reform-minded group Parent Revolution has pushed for legislation prohibiting parents who have invoked the “parent trigger”—through which they can vote to reconstitute a failing school—from joining with for-profit charter-school operators.

This state of affairs is highly unusual, notes John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now. In areas like health care, clean energy and space exploration, “policymakers do not ask whether they should engage for-profit companies, but how they should.” NASA set aside $6 billion to support the private development of spacecraft. SpaceX built its “Dragon” capsule, capable of transporting humans and cargo into space, for $800 million—less than 10% of the $10 billion NASA had spent trying to build a model.

Critics charge that for-profits are distracted by the demands of investors, while public systems can focus solely on the children. Yet the vast majority of K-12 spending goes to pay employee benefits and salaries. Meanwhile, school boards and superintendents have accepted crippling benefit obligations and dubious policies to placate employees and community interests. In a 2010 national survey by the American Association of School Administrators, 84% of superintendents said that their districts were cash-strapped—but less than one in three said they had considered trimming employee benefits or outsourcing custodial services or maintenance.

The watchful eye of investors can lend for-profits a healthy discipline. The prospect of returns means that promising profit-seeking ventures can offer employees lucrative long-term opportunities and can tap vast sums through the private-equity markets. For-profits have a relentless, selfish imperative to seek out and adopt cost efficiencies.

Nonprofits, by contrast, have little incentive to become “early adopters” of cost-saving tools and techniques such as online instruction. Such shifts upset relationships with vendors and routines for staff. Even enormously successful nonprofits such as Teach for America and the KIPP charter-school network tend to grow far more slowly and show much less interest in squeezing their cost structures than comparable for-profit ventures.

Between 1996 and 2011, the number of for-profit charter schools nationwide increased to 758 (with nearly 400,000 students) from six (with 1,000 students). That’s still less than 1% of the 50 million students enrolled in K-12 schools. In higher education, by comparison, for-profit providers enrolled 2.4 million students in 2010, or more than 10% of total postsecondary enrollment.

The record of private ventures in education, to be sure, is mixed. The incentive to cut costs can translate into a willingness to cut corners. The urge to grow can lead to deceptive marketing. These are legitimate concerns that demand transparency and sensible regulation.

As it happens, McGraw-Hill’s $2.5 billion deal with a deep-pocketed, closely held investor was greeted with cool detachment. That ought to be the norm for the full range of much smaller for-profit ventures in the evolving world of schooling.

What once required a textbook can now be delivered faster, more cheaply and more effectively using new tools and technology. As schools, systems and suppliers respond accordingly, students will be well-served if educators, parents and policy makers recognize that public systems, nonprofits and for-profits all have vital roles to play when it comes to providing great schooling for 50 million children.

Mr. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Cage-Busting Leadership,” out early next year by Harvard Education Press.

December 15, 2012

Dramatic evolution for schools in Lowell

By Kendall Wallace
Lowell Sun
LOWELL -- The new charter school scheduled to open in Lowell this fall will have a dramatic impact on the future of the Lowell public schools as we have known them for more than 100 years.

The city was a leader in securing a good education for all going back to the 1830s. Lowell, as one of the country's first planned industrial cities, has an interesting history in public education.

The city's early school costs were mostly paid for by the mill owners. A major split, however, developed when local community leaders wanted to add a high school to the school system. The mill owners felt an eighth-grade education was adequate for the children of mill workers.

Led by the rector of Saint Anne's Church, who chaired the School Committee, the locals prevailed and voted to move forward with plans for a high school supported by taxpayers.

Thus was born, Lowell High School, an institution that became the first coed and first integrated high school in Massachusetts.

This was a bold step for citizens of that time.

The development of this new charter school, which will be run privately, without a lot of the union and traditional public-school issues that have made change difficult to effect.

The new charter school will open with more than 500 youngsters in grades K-5 and will add a grade each year until it gets to a full high-school level where it will have well over 1,000 students.

The private corporation that will run the school will receive from the state the same per-pupil allocation that the city of Lowell receives. Obviously, as enrollment for the charter school grows, the total funding going to the public schools will decline.

If you read the brochure on the new Lowell Collegiate Charter School, you can't imagine why a parent would not take a serious look at the new facility.

One, its corporate manager, Sabis International, has a proven record of success, particularly in urban areas.

Two, it talks about many of the issues parents care about: college-prep programs, student uniforms, character development, strong math and English focus, longer school days, a strict and clear code of conduct, high expectations/no excuses, parental involvement, before- and after-school programs, a tuition-free public school, run by a board of directors.

I've had the opportunity to know most of the key leaders in public education in Lowell for 50 years. Most have been pretty dedicated folks who have served on a school committee, in the school administration as principals and class-room teachers. I have a sense, however, they don't have a real sense of the dramatic changes about to happen in their lives and in the lives of students and parents in Lowell's public schools.

I also know the local citizens who have spent years looking at this charter-school plan. They, too, are well-meaning people and feel this is the right course to ensure every student has the best possible chance to succeed.

Sabis has worked in nearby Springfield, where last year its 123 graduates earned $9 million in scholarships and all 123 went to college.

With good, well meaning people on both sides of these dramatic changes, I'm not sure why I feel so edgy about the project. Maybe it has come on too fast. Maybe there has not been enough discussion? It certainly sounds like a dream come true for parents looking for an alternative, but where does all this leave the traditional public schools?

Maybe I need to do some more home work.

The Buzz in the Bay State

From Edspresso:

Earlier this week, Edspresso shared how Brockton, MA’s school super is “Trashing Charters on Company Time.” Now Matt Malone is poised to become Massachusetts’ next Ed Chief. Will his opposition to charters continue in his new role, or will he come to see the light as the former Brockton superintendent, Basan “Buzz” Nembirkow did – the man who led the charge against a strong charter application back in 2008?  Check out Buzz’s change of heart on SABIS and for-profit EMOs from a recent Pioneer Institute panel on Oct 8th:

“I think it’s [SABIS] an excellent model for all instruction. We use the word differentiated instruction today, but how can you differentiate instruction if you don’t know where the kids are?”

“Class size is a myth; an absolute myth.”

“When I looked at the SABIS model, the instructional model is sound.”

“It’s a whole lot easier [for districts] to do what has always been done and blame somebody else.”

“SABIS has done a good job of taking what works best and putting it together, dealing with training teachers and administrators so there is a unified system.”

“From my perspective on schools, SABIS is a good model.”

Question from Jim Peyser, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education: “Given the SABIS school in Springfield was a strong school, why wasn’t that good enough for you [Buzz] to support them coming to Brockton [in 2008]”?

Answer from Buzz: “My title was Superintendent of Brockton Public Schools, so right off the bat there’s an enlightened self-interest involved in that…. Basically, the issue was finance and politics. It had nothing to do, or very little to do with the quality of the [SABIS] program.”

“When SABIS came [to Brockton] we saw it as a financial threat. Simply as a financial threat. It took money away from us, which was about $4-5 million. Based upon that, our progress in BPS would have been substantially affected.”

“So my job defending the Brockton Public Schools, as the Superintendent, was to do whatever I could to stop that particular threat at that time, so we mounted a very good political campaign.”

“Almost 90% finances” was the reason Buzz cited for opposing the SABIS school application.

Peyser asked panelist: “So, for profit charter management: who cares or deal-breaker”? Buzz responded: “I have no issues with that.”

Brockton school leaders debate pros and cons of charter school’s effect on funding

BROCKTON — December 13, 2012
By Alex Bloom

Local educators disagree with charter school supporters on the impact a proposed charter school in Brockton would have on public school students.

Residents can tell the state Board of Education how they feel about the proposal at a 4 p.m. hearing on Tuesday at the main branch of the Brockton Public Library on Main Street.

The proposal to create the International Charter School of Brockton – backed by former Mayor John T. Yunits – has the school opening in 2014 with 500 students and expanding to 1,200 over a few years. Its location has not been determined.

If the charter school gets approved, state funds for education will be redirected from the Brockton Public Schools to the charter school for the students it educates.

“The financial impact on the district is always overstated by the district,” said Dominic Slowey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. “The state provides a healthy amount of reimbursement for money that gets transferred to charter.”

School district officials counter that a charter school would peel off Brockton’s top performing regular education students, leaving the district to foot the bill for expensive special education offerings as well as programs for non-English speaking students.

“If we were to have a lottery and they could only get what we gave them, that’s a whole different ball game,” said Aldo Petronio, the school district’s executive director of financial services.

Slowey pointed out that districts do not get money for students who leave for private schools, students who move to other communities, or for students who leave the country.

Brockton spent $12,540 per pupil in 2010-2011, according to the most recent numbers from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. There were no figures immediately available on how much money would be taken from the Brockton public school budget for students who enroll at the proposed charter school.

But by way of comparison, Springfield’s SABIS International Charter, serving kindergarten through 12th grade, has 1,562 Springfield students this year, and receives $15.9 million of the district’s funds.

Here are some issues being debated about the proposal.

Regular education: If a student moves from a school district to a charter school, funding follows the student.

In the first year of the switch, a public school district receives 100 percent reimbursement per student for the money. The district then receives 25 percent reimbursement per student for the following five years.

“For six years the districts are getting money from the state for students they are no longer educating,” Slowey said.

But, Petronio said the slow departure of students to a charter school would not be enough to close an entire public school, meaning there would be less funding to operate the same number of buildings.

Special education: Slowey said that statewide, charters are starting to educate an increased number of special education students. Slowey estimated that about 12-15 percent of the 29,411 charter school students were special education students. Brockton had about 13 percent of its students as part of special education in 2011-2012.

“We’re not that far off from the district,” Slowey said.

Transportation: Depending on the location of the proposed school, Brockton may need to contract buses to transport charter school students. The district contracts buses at about $50,000 per bus.

Reville a hard act to follow in Seceratry of Education post

DECEMBER 14, 2012

EDUCATION secretary Paul Reville, who is stepping down from his cabinet post in the Patrick administration, deftly managed to enlist the state’s largest teachers’ union in pursuit of aggressive education reform, with special attention on upgrading urban schools. Governor Patrick has chosen one of the beneficiaries of Reville’s work — outgoing Brockton school superintendent Matthew Malone — to fill the post. He should be a solid choice, as long as he keeps in mind what made Reville successful.

As an urban superintendent with prior teaching and headmaster experience, Malone should need no tutoring on public-school issues. Most of the education action during Patrick’s final two years in office will take place in urban districts, where the state must do more to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their suburban counterparts. Malone should bring special insights to this challenge.

The job doesn’t stop there, however. The education secretary also guides the administration’s policy in both early childhood and higher education, two areas in which Reville excelled and Malone’s experience appears thin. The administration’s efforts to shift the focus of the state’s 15 community colleges toward courses that align with the needs of local industries wasn’t popular with the presidents of the community colleges. But Reville made a compelling economic case for the strategy. Malone will need to carry that message forward.

Charter school proponents are looking skeptically at the selection of Malone, who has been vocal in his efforts to stop a firm called SABIS from siting a charter school in Brockton. Several large cities, including Boston and Lawrence, are at or near the cap on the number of seats they can offer in charter schools. Raising the cap would keep pressure on district schools to adopt charter school-like reforms, such as the longer school day and more hiring flexibility for school principals. Patrick will have made the wrong choice if Malone obstructs charter school expansion in Massachusetts.
Malone’s experience as a school superintendent in both Swampscott and Brockton could help to break current stalemates at the bargaining table over stricter teacher evaluations. Teachers often say, with some justification, that they are reluctant to put their professional fates in the hands of poor managers. Malone’s selection could point to new policies ensuring that principals and headmasters are wisely chosen and up to the task of running schools.

This is a time of shake-up in the Patrick administration, with four cabinet secretaries announcing their decision to step down midway through the governor’s final term. Some, such as Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, leave behind agencies in flux, after problems as severe as the meningitis outbreak at a state-regulated compounding pharmacy. Malone, however, is not coming in to clean up a mess. His job is to protect and even quicken the reforms and academic improvements that the public has come to expect from the education secretary.

Proposed SABIS charter school faces oposition in Brockton, led by Schools Superintendent Matt Malone

BROCKTON — Opposition to a charter school proposed for this city of 94,000 is heating up as the date to gather public comment nears.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will conduct a hearing on the proposed International Charter School of Brockton on Dec. 18 at the Brockton Public Library.

Opponents, led by local School Superintendent Matthew Malone, plan to tell state officials the charter school would skim off top performers and drain dollars needed to educate the city’s 16,000 students.

In their 200-page application, the proposed school’s founding members say they aim to offer Brockton students “a highly successful and proven college-preparatory K-12 program of choice in a community in which access to such options is extremely limited.”

But Malone called the proposal “a cherry-picking operation” that will take the public school system’s most motivated students.

“I’m going to tell the Board of Education that we believe in charter schools, but not this charter school,” he said. “It’s a bad idea, and one that should end up on the cutting-room floor.”

The International Charter School of Brockton is one of 11 final applications under state review. The school would be overseen by a nine-member board of trustees, consisting of community members and area business leaders, and run by Sabis Educational Systems Inc. The international for-profit company already operates charter schools in Springfield and Holyoke, and is set to manage one in Lowell when it opens next year.

Kimberly Gibson, president of the Brockton teachers’ union, says the school proposed for Brockton is not needed, and said the union intends to fight the plan.

“We believe Brockton is well known for providing a great education for all its students,” she said. “Charter schools were established to offer choice where there is none, and Brockton offers choice.”

Charter schools, created by the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, are tuition-free public schools, open to everyone. The schools operate independent of the local school district but get their funding for student tuitions from the district’s state aid allotments.

The Brockton charter school would open in 2014 with 540 students in grades K–5 and gradually expand to 1,200 students in grades K–12. The school would cost the district about $10,800 per pupil, based on current aid estimates.

“It would strip our limited resources,” Malone said. “We won’t be able to do as much for our children as we do now.”

Former Brockton mayor John T. Yunits, a founding member of the charter school, insisted the proposal is not an attack on local education.

“I have nothing bad to say about the Brockton school system; I think it’s come a long way,” he said. “This would provide an option for parents who want something more for their kids and can’t afford it.”

Yunits said the charter school wouldn’t take money away from educating local students. “It’s transferring money from one school to another, still to be used on education of the kids,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for Brockton to move forward, and it will keep the middle class here.”

Five years ago, a proposal for a Sabis-run charter school to be based in Brockton and serving 13 school districts drew heated opposition from school leaders and was ultimately denied a charter by the state.

“I don’t know why they’re trying again,” Malone said. “This proposal doesn’t offer anything new or innovative that’s better than what we’re doing.”

Jose Afonso, director of US business development for Sabis, said other Massachusetts charter schools run by his company enjoy “tremendous” community support. In Springfield, for example, the charter school has a waiting list of 3,000, he said.

“Charter schools are doing a great job. The fact that we’re still fighting the old fight in Brockton is a paradox to me. It’s like we’re in a time capsule.”

Afonso said he is confident state officials will ultimately approve the Brockton proposal. “I don’t think screaming from those who have a vested interest in the status quo is reason to reject the charter,” he said. “We have a well-established track record in Massachusetts.”

The Dec. 18 hearing, scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m., is simply to gather public reaction.

“Typically, the Board of Education member chairing the hearing makes quick opening remarks, then the public has opportunity to speak,” said J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Ultimately, hearing comments will be considered along with written comments, applicant interviews, and a hefty submission package by Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, Considine said. The commissioner will then give a recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will vote on the charter applications in February.

Christine Legere can be reached at