I have been concerned and will continue to be concerned about the proposal submitted by Cranston’s Mayor Allan Fung to start a group of charter “Mayoral Academies” in Cranston. For some background on charter schools in the US, I recommend this article by Joanne Barkin in Dissent magazine which deftly summarizes some of the salient facts.
Despite all the hoopla, the truth about charter schools is that they are a wave in education reform that has already been debunked. Major funders of education reform such as Bill Gates acknowledge that charter schools show little evidence of being effective. As Barkin’s article explains, the largest study done of charter school effectiveness concluded that 83% of charter schools perform no better or worse than public schools. In the process of setting up and then folding these charter schools all over the country, millions of dollars have been spent, millions of educations have been disrupted and many worsened for students, and school districts have been forced to shuffle and reshuffle their own systems to accommodate the outflow of funds that go with the students who “win the lottery” to get into the charter schools.
Though the national wave to open charter schools should be ebbing, based on the fact that major corporate funders are acknowledging that this may not be the best way to reform education, here in Rhode Island we seem to be just now ready to fully get on board the charter school movement, with the possibility of opening more charter schools approved by our legislature. It appears that the Mayor who is willing to take the reins of this new charge to open charter schools is our Mayor here in Cranston, Allan Fung.
This article in the Cranston Herald describes some of the negative public reception that Mayor Fung’s plan to open the Mayoral Academies has garnered. Important points that parents, teachers and school administrators have made to the Mayor include:
–16 out of the 17 elementary schools in Cranston are high performing schools, despite 10 of them being Title One schools which serve populations of children where more than 50% are receiving free lunch (the elementary school that my older daughter is about to graduate from and that my second daughter is about to enter is one of them). Why do we want to move children out of schools that are performing well, even as they serve underprivileged children?
–Cranston schools have suffered drastic cuts including cutting music programs, sports programs, and gifted programs, all of which negatively impacts the overall quality of our schools, while at the same time the Mayor is proposing the opening of charter schools.
–Management of the charter schools would be given to the Mayor and to an out-of-state nonprofit corporation called Achievement First, a move which would likely change public participation in schools in ways which we do not yet fully understand.
–Charter schools such as the Mayoral Academies are not held to professional standards in terms of placement of qualified teachers in the classroom.
–The Mayoral Academies would serve both Cranston and Providence schools, potentially siphoning millions of dollars off the Providence school system which is already suffering from extreme financial crisis.
One of the most striking quotes in the Cranston Herald article cited above was a promise from the Mayor that he would abandon his pursuit of the Mayoral Academies under certain conditions:
“I promise you, if you can bring the same support, structure and innovations into the traditional public schools I will drop my push for the Mayoral Academy. These flexibilities fund many of the innovations we have in the Mayoral Academies,” he said, referring to issues such as union and contract restraints, a longer school day and year, lack of administrator’s control over hiring and firing, and seniority hiring.
What this says to me is that rather than do his job as Mayor and work with the unions to improve our existing schools, the Mayor is going to open the Mayoral Academies, and he is going to start siphoning off funding one student at a time, and perhaps this will result in the unions becoming more flexible or accommodating to what the Mayor thinks is a better plan for education. It appears that the corporate billionaires have found another champion of their agenda. And once again, the children are pawns in an extremely costly political game that has the potential to significantly damage Cranston’s quality public schools.