February 12, 2013

Give Brockton students a choice

By Jim Stergios
Executive Director
Jim Stergios
Pioneer Institute

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s vote later this month on a new set of charter school proposals is an opportunity to give thousands of Massachusetts kids access to a great school. The list of proposed charters includes the following schools in cities outside of Greater Boston:
  • Argosy Collegiate Charter School in Fall River
  • the replication of Boston's successful City on a Hill Charter Public School in New Bedford
  • the replication of Springfield and Holyoke's successful SABIS charter model in Brockton (the International Charter School of Brockton)
  • the replication of Chelsea's successful Phoenix Charter Academy in Springfield, and
  • YouthBuild Charter Academy in Lawrence
In the Greater Boston area, there are also two charter proposals, replications of the Pioneer Charter School of Science to serve Saugus-Peabody-Lynn-Danvers-Salem and to serve Woburn-Stoneham-Medford-Melrose-Wakefield.

Several other charters are also asking for increases in grade levels served. Most of these charter applications come as a result of the 2010 education reform law that increased the percentage of students within poorly performing districts that can attend charters from 9 to 18 percent.

Over the next few days, I'd like to share a few videos of the charter proponents explaining the reason they are seeking to create new schools. Today's video is of Jose Afonso of SABIS International explaining the genesis of the application to create a K-12 school in Brockton.

The International Charter School of Brockton is to be operated by SABIS, an educational management company that runs highly successful charters in Springfield and Holyoke. Its Springfield school has been rated by both Newsweek and US News & World Report as one of the nation’s top high schools.

Those arguing against the new Brockton school, such as the district administrators, say Brockton doesn’t need a charter school. The fact is, however, that Brockton's MCAS scores rank in the bottom 10 percent statewide. While the city’s high school has seen modest improvement, performance in its elementary and middle schools has actually worsened since 2009.

In addition to dramatically better MCAS scores, the SABIS International School of Springfield’s 2011 graduation rate was over 90 percent; Brockton’s was less than 70 percent. In the 12 years that SABIS Springfield has had a graduating class, every graduate has been accepted to college.

As in Brockton, low-income and minority students make up the majority of SABIS Springfield’s students. Graduation rates for SABIS’ low-income, special needs, and minority students also exceed Brockton’s.

There is another reason for the new Secretary of Education Matt Malone and the Board of Education to approve this application that was cited by the Boston Globe editorial board for "jettisoning SABIS" and in the process
abandon[ing] minority families in more than a dozen communities. SABIS is one of the few educational systems in the state where minority students not only perform on par with white students, but outperform them, as well.

It went on to encourage SABIS "to come back" with another proposal, closing with the statement: "But the proposal should find a home in the Brockton area."

Last year, again, the Globe editorial pages chimed in support of SABIS' (successful) application to create a new charter school in Lowell.

The editorial page is absolutely right. And there is yet an additional reason to approve the SABIS application, besides the possibilities it opens up for Brockton students: It is an opportunity to rehabilitate the severely tarnished charter school approval process.

Massachusetts’ charter approval process, once considered a national model, has in recent years become politicized. A now-famous midnight e-mail from former Education Secretary Paul Reville cited political pressures in asking the state education commissioner to “see his way clear” to approve a Gloucester charter application, even though it didn’t meet the commonwealth’s rigorous criteria.

A Superior Court judge wrote that there was “considerable evidence” “the Board and the Commissioner blatantly ignored and violated state law” by approving the Gloucester charter for political reasons. The commonwealth’s Inspector General called the process by which the school was approved “defective.” Less than three years later, the state is closing the poorly performing school.

Mischief with the charter approval process has also prevented good schools from opening—and that is what the Board of Education can make right this year. In 2008, again because of political pressure, Mr. Reville persuaded the board to reject a proposed charter school in Brockton. It was the first time a charter proposal endorsed by the commissioner had ever been rejected by the board.

SABIS is back with an improved Brockton application, hoping the process will not be rigged this time.

Brockton officials are out in force, and this is a big test for the man who succeeded Secretary Reville last month, Matt Malone. Mr. Malone, until his move to become the new Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth, had been serving as the Brockton school superintendent. And, yes, he was very much involved, up until his departure, in whipping up anti-charter sentiment.

As always, district administrators will raise a hue and cry over money. Funding follows students from district to charter schools, but changes in the commonwealth’s charter funding formula reimburse districts are over a six-year period. Ultimately, districts receive more than double their money for every child selecting a charter school. Districts can no longer make the money argument with a straight face.

As the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education prepares to vote on a new group of charter schools, it should answer one simple question: Why should the options of children in one of the commonwealth’s worst-performing districts be limited to a modestly improving high school and elementary and middle schools whose already poor performance is only getting worse?

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.


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