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Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

For reasons unclear to us, the Projo often seems to find that pitting one neighborhood against another makes for good news.

The Projo editorial staff came out today in favor of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy Charter application.

The article can be found at the following link:

http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODE/ProJo/LandingPage/LandingPage.aspx?href=VFBKLzIwMTIvMDEvMTU.&pageno=MjI.&entity=QXIwMjIwMA..&view=ZW50aXR5

In the editorial they state “Some in the richer neighborhoods worry that their schools could suffer if some of the city’s education resources go to new charter schools”.

Here is the link to ESPEC’s statement, found on this blog:

https://espec.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/espec-statement-letter-on-the-achievement-first-mayoral-academy-charter-school-application/

We certainly don’t make that assertion anywhere.

And FYI: Who were among the first to oppose the AF application? Parents living in poorer neighborhoods of the city:

http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODE/ProJo/LandingPage/LandingPage.aspx?href=VFBKLzIwMTEvMTIvMDY.&pageno=NQ..&entity=QXIwMDUwMQ..&view=ZW50aXR5

http://www.wecanri.org/

Parents THROUGHOUT the city are concerned that their schools may suffer if some of the city’s education resources go to new charter schools… get it?

And we agree with the Projo editorialists, the bottom line should be increasing educational opportunities for ALL students, in ALL neighborhoods, via addressing the barriers to meaningful change, posted in our letter/blog.

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East Side Public Education Coalition

                                                                                    January 8, 2012

Board of Regents

Rhode Island Department of Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

To Whom It May Concern:

The application submitted by Achievement First to the Rhode Island Department of Education to open two Mayoral Academy charter schools has provided community members from Providence and beyond with an opportunity to participate in a discussion about the programs and structures that will allow all children in public schools to receive the support and challenge they need to succeed in school and life. Both Achievement First’s proposed program and achievements and successes happening now in Providence’s public schools have informed our understanding of what is required to create and sustain such schools and the system that supports them.

We believe we must find ways to do what we know works to improve the public system. Rhode Island public school students trail the nation in measures of academic achievement and face an appalling racial and socioeconomic achievement gap. As we address these challenges, we must find the political will to face barriers to the institution of meaningful changes, which include:

–       a longer school day and school year

–       accessible high quality early childhood education

–       providing wraparound support services

–       community partnerships that allow for expanded learning opportunities and more time for learning

–       high quality curriculum matched to the needs of the learner

–       school-based decision-making by principal, teachers and parents on budget allocation, hiring and personnel management

–       meaningful professional development which meets both national standards and local needs

–       an assistant principal in every school with 400 or more students

We support strategic planning and investments that leverage these strategies for the benefit of as many children as possible.

Given the district’s dwindling finances and stagnant population, the establishment of Achievement First charter schools at the scale proposed by the charter application could have the effect of closing at least one district school and pulling resources away from Providence Schools at the time they are most needed. Given that the district has a high number of schools that struggle to support their students, including those schools identified as Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) schools for which closure is an option, we understand the urgent need for alternatives and choices. However, Providence has chosen to keep these schools open and invest in their staff members, students, and structures in order to improve student achievement. We need to focus on improvements that can be made in the existing public schools, learning from and keeping what works and changing what does not. We are concerned that if RIDE were to approve this charter application, it would divert scarce resources from our existing public schools and decrease the possibility that all children in Providence public schools would have the opportunity to attend high performing schools.

Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Lusi have stated that they wish to learn from Achievement First’s successes in other states to bring better practices to the Providence Public Schools. It is important to note that while there already are numerous “bright lights” in the Providence Schools, as acknowledged in the Education Opportunity Working Group’s November 2011 “Educate Providence” report, the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) does not have a system in place to identify, acknowledge, celebrate, and disseminate best practices already in existence. We contend that PPSD should use its resources to study and disseminate best practices already in our system before bringing in an outside organization to run our schools. Without the habits of sharing knowledge within the district, there’s no clear way for a newly introduced organization to share its practices.
Though Achievement First would present an option that could appeal to a number of PPSD families, the prospect of opening a new school will cause a level of disruption that our district can’t sustain. Choices about the schools offering educational options to the students in our district should align with the mission and vision of the district. However, the district’s vision isn’t at all clear at this time. We believe that the plans from the Mayor’s office and the Superintendent’s office need to be aligned and clarified, with appropriate and meaningful public input, before we make such potentially impactful decisions about introducing new schools into PPSD.

We are concerned about the unacknowledged cost impact that proposed Achievement First schools may pose. When Providence closed several schools last year, a leading rationale was transportation cost reduction. However, because they are not neighborhood schools, the Achievement First charter schools will increase transportation costs significantly due to the need to bring children from four different communities to the schools.

We are also concerned that the Achievement First schools may exacerbate rather than ameliorate the district’s equity issues. For example, an advantage of charter schools is that they have the potential for more flexibility than in-district public schools. Achievement First uses that flexibility to offer a significantly longer school day that allows educators to create a more effective learning environment. However, the length of the Achievement First school day stands in stark contrast to that of the Providence Public Schools’ standard school day. It seems inequitable that if this application were approved, some Providence children would have an 8.50 hour day and 190 -195 day school year, while others would have only a 6.08 hour day and 180 day school year. We want to know how the district can use its resources to pursue expanded and extended learning for all students.

We support choices and welcome innovation in our school district. We are not opposed to charter schools. However, we are not convinced that this is the right choice, and note that because the deadline for prospective charter schools to apply to RIDE is March 1, 2012, it is likely that additional charter applications, such as that of the Meeting Street School, will be submitted that offer both options to Providence students as well as potential threats to the district’s finances. We therefore suggest that the Board of Regents at the very least delay making a decision about the Achievement First application until we have a fuller picture of the charter options for the 2013 school year.

While the individual members of ESPEC hold diverse views, we agree that it is not clear that bringing these particular Achievement First charter schools to Providence at the currently proposed scale is the best decision. We therefore oppose the charter application as it currently stands. We agree with the concerns raised by other community groups about the financial costs, the failure to serve the whole student population, and the loss of public accountability inherent in the Achievement First application. We have observed that the public process to date has been divisive and unhelpful to parents who are genuinely seeking information. We believe strongly that concerned parents and community groups should pull together so that energy currently devoted toward and against Achievement First is instead directed toward identifying the assets of the schools we currently have in Providence and working systematically and swiftly toward their improvement.

As Mayor Taveras and Providence Public Schools administrators implement improvements that improve the learning experience and outcomes of all our children in all our schools, we must manage our scarce resources as wisely as possible both to encourage innovation and to preserve and invest in existing schools. We are aware of how challenging this is, and in that light want to question whether establishing Achievement First Schools in Providence via the Mayoral Academy charter school structure is the best move we can make now for long-run success.

Sincerely,

Jill Davidson

Michael Kenney

Bill Mott

Harlan Rich

Kim Rohm

Karina Wood

on behalf of the ESPEC Steering Committee

cc:        Governor Lincoln Chaffee

Mayor Angel Taveras

Superintendent Susan Lusi

Julie Tremaine, Executive Editor, East Side Monthly

Linda Borg, Education Reporter, Providence Journal

 

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Aaron Regunberg writes in GoLocalProv today about a letter sent to Governor Chafee, in opposition to Achievement First’s application to manage Mayoral Academies in Providence.

http://www.golocalprov.com/news/11665/

We were asked to sign on to the letter. Many members of our steering committee wanted to sign. A few did not. Ultimately, we missed our chance to be signatories to this letter.

I’m okay with that.

The letter spells out a number of very solid reasons why a network of Achievement First schools in Providence might have a negative effect on our schools and school children. We agree with most if not all of them.

We’ve asked why the Superintendent of Schools and School Board supported the AF application. We were told that students needed as many good opportunities as they could get, and that perhaps Providence could glean some “best practices” from being able to observe AF managing schools up close.

It makes you wonder though… If the school department sees many of the practices of Achievement First as desirable, or perhaps even something to emulate, why not introduce those practices to the Providence Public schools? And if you do bring in AF, don’t you establish two “classes” of education, where the AF kids get additional resources, longer school days, more flexible educational practices, and so on, relative to the kids in Providence Public Schools?

Aaron goes on to state that the letter is summed up by the last paragraph, which states:

“Our repudiation of Achievement First is not an affirmation of the status quo nor is it a condemnation of all charter schools. The persistent achievement gaps that exist in our schools must be addressed, but no organization or methodology should claim to close those gaps while posting mixed academic results and undermining democratic processes. We implore your help in creating education policies, developed in conjunction with parents, teachers, students, and other local stakeholders, that help all young people enrolled in our public schools.”

ESPEC provided the first sentence to that paragraph. And while we completely agree with the statements in the rest of that paragraph, some of us wanted to push the paragraph in a different direction.

Aaron states that “much of the pro-AF rhetoric I’ve heard lately has attempted to frame all opposition to Achievement First as coming from the teachers union and as being against educational change in general”.  Some of us wanted the last paragraph to state that positive change in our schools was not going to come given the union’s intransigence, or as a result of adherence to current contractual imperatives. Some felt that these statements would detract from the letter, and ultimately the group signing the letter (which includes union representation) did not want those statements included.

Our contribution was an attempt to honestly state the obvious. Unions are important. Unions provide protections to our students and our teachers. Unions though should not guide educational policy. A significant resistance to substantive change in how our schools are run comes from the union. Why do we still have ineffective teachers in some of our students’ classrooms? How many years has it taken to put a teacher evaluation protocol in place? How difficult was it to gain the concession to add 5″ to the school day (less than 1″ per period), still leaving Providence with one of the shortest school days in the State? Why, in order to have parent teacher conferences, do our children need to stay home two days in the middle of a school week? Why did the City sign on to a contract essentially guaranteeing all teachers their jobs for the next three years (in the face of the designation of PLA schools, a shrinking student body [which would shrink more if AF started competing for students], etc.)? How could Providence even begin to emulate some of the positive elements of a Charter school, given contractual constraints?

The most wonderful thing about this group’s letter is also perhaps the most distressing. What a large, diverse group of concerned citizens who signed on to this letter! And yet, this group came together to essentially say “no”. Yes, they make a plea in the last paragraph for the involvement of multiple stakeholders in developing policies to help all young people in our public schools, but who will operationalize this?

Hopefully, this group will continue to work together, and with the City, parents, and students, now and in the future, in an open, honest, and transparent fashion, to promote, support, and develop positive change in our schools, focusing on the needs of our students first and always. That’s something we’d sign onto in a heartbeat.

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Without rehashing all of the painful details of the PPSD/PTU collective bargaining agreement approved this past week by the City Council, let us summarize:

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The collective bargaining agreement:

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Eliminates site-based management
Effectively makes a sham of criterion-based hiring
Inserted a clause which prevents firing of teachers for cases of financial exigency

This essentially has the effect of making it nearly impossible to fire teachers

We are facing the identification of up to 14 Persistently Low Achieving Schools, which may, through various turn-around models, lead to the need to release teachers (who can’t be released).

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Ultimately, the City may be facing new lawsuits to deal with a pool of teachers who can’t teach, but also can’t be fired.

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Parents are already grumbling about sub-par teachers… some of these are individuals who slipped in through a variety of cracks, including a match system that makes you rank even the teachers you don’t want, and the forced placement of displaced teachers. We’d be very interested to get feedback from parents throughout the city.

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Our School Board was recently stripped of its ability to participate in or vote on collective bargaining agreements by Senator Jabbour and the General Assembly. We are pleased to see then that they stood up to the Superintendent, the Mayor, and the City Council, and passed a resolution stating that the contract is in no way binding upon the School Board.

http://www.projo.com/education/content/school_board_resolution_09-28-11_9OQKHFD_v11.78bc1.html

http://newsblog.projo.com/2011/09/school-board-doesnt-recognize.html

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This is ultimately important, because as we all know, the School Board WILL be left holding the bag when things start to go south.

And just so everyone is clear, this is an appointed school board that is standing up to the Mayor’s office, and voting its conscience.

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As mother nature prepares to come crashing down upon our heads, it is becoming evident that something is rotten in the city of Providence.

A great deal has happened over the past few months. All of our teachers were fired, and then many were rehired. We reported in February that Superintendent Brady assured parents that teacher reassignments would be made according to the criterion-based interview hiring process. See:

https://espec.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/statement-from-the-providence-east-side-public-education-coalition-espec-on-the-providence-teacher-dismissals/

We reported in May that the Providence School Board would rehire teachers following a process which utilized a Matching event followed by Criterion based hiring (CBH). See:

https://espec.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/providence-announces-plan-to-rescind-teacher-dismissals/

This appeared to be a step in the right direction. While CBH has imperfections, it would have eliminated seniority as the overriding factor in appointing teachers, and would have also eliminated the now annual, pernicious, bumping process which often led to the loss of excellent junior teachers. CBH was also a response to Commissioner Gist’s order to eliminate seniority as the sole determinant (coupled with appropriate certification) of deciding which teacher might receive a given position. Note that no one believes that seniority is unimportant. We all value our excellent senior teachers, and do believe that seniority should be taken into consideration as part of a placement process. We are dismayed though by the ongoing retention of ineffective tenured and senior teachers in our school system.

We have since lost one Superintendent and gained another.

http://www.projo.com/education/content/brady_says_goodbye_07-16-11_K3P6GMJ_v39.47a5b.html

http://www.projo.com/education/content/sue_lusi_arrives_07-24-11_FIP9PRF_v18.599c8.html

In July, a back-room, last minute bill submitted by Paul Jabour essentially stripped the Providence School Board of its power to ratify labor contracts. See:

http://www.projo.com/education/content/providence_board_loses_07-02-11_NIOV6BT_v9.3f31f.html

Shortly after, our School Board president, Kathleen Crain, resigned. See:

http://www.projo.com/news/content/providence_school_board_07-12-11_1AP4PR1_v13.37989.html

Her resignation reflected her disappointment over the direction the Mayor was taking PTU contract negotiations, and his decision to effectively exclude the School Board from discussions about the collective bargaining agreement.

Our Mayor negotiated a contract which was ratified by the union 2 weeks ago:

http://www.projo.com/education/content/providence_teachers_vote_08-10-11_67PLHSM_v9.4fae3.html

That contract guaranteed that every fired teacher would be returned to this district. This comes after 5 schools were closed, and teachers were fired, purportedly to deal with declining enrollment, inefficient utilization of school buildings, and to help our ailing economy.

So what else have we learned?

First, that the Providence School Board (now being loaded with new Mayoral appointees who did not participate in the usual community vetting/public question and answer sessions), just voted to endorse the proposal to open up to 5 new Mayoral Academies (Charter Schools):

http://www.projo.com/education/content/PROVIDENCE_MAYORAL_ACADEMY_08-23-11_J9PT9TD_v24.3f6a4.html

The West Side Public Education Coalition (WSPEC), representing the community most adversely impacted by the school closings, has publicly denounced this decision, and notes that supporting Charter Schools could mean as much as $12.5 million less would be available to children attending Providence Public schools.

http://wspec.org/news/press-release-wspec-opposes-proposed-charter-schools

Second, we just learned that the Mayor’s office, while touting the savings engendered by all of the new municipal workers’ contracts, failed to mention that the new teacher’s contract contained 2 three percent raises in later years:

http://www.projo.com/ri/providence/content/NEWS_RELEASE_OMISSIONS_08-26-11_BMPUDTR_v48.43cdd.html

The Mayor’s office also touted the fact that the school day was to be lengthened, and common planning time is no longer to come out of the school day. The school day lengthening only amounts to an increase of 5″ per day per year! While we welcome the “fix” to the common planning time fiasco, we have yet to learn when common planning time will occur.

Third, we have heard from reliable sources that teachers have been assigned (force-placed) in positions at Vartan Gregorian, Martin Luther King, and Nathan Bishop Middle School around and outside of the Criterion Based Hiring process. Some of the placements may have occurred even after a teacher was identified via CBH. This would appear to violate the Commissioner’s order and RIDE’s BEP.

In our February post, we supported Mayor Taveras’ concept of transformational reform. Reform was supposed to right-size schools, provide the best teacher and the right teacher for every classroom, and help deal with our “category 5” financial crisis. What we are seeing now looks like something taken from Mayor Cianci’s “Politics and Pasta”: back-room deals, fiscal decisions made for political expediency, the needs and desires of the PTU put before those of our children.

Now as we are all facing a true, hopefully no more than, category 1 storm, we call upon the Mayor, his aides, the Providence School Board, and the Providence Teacher’s Union to re-earn our trust. Decisions need to be made in a transparent fashion. Decisions need to be made in the best interests of our students, first and foremost. Letters are being written. Protests are being organized. We will not allow the needs of our students to be sacrificed.

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