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State Must Do Math On Charters

March 15, 2006
Column By Stan Simpson

Kiara Thomas just wasn't getting it.

Fractions. Decimals. How exactly does a quarter turn into a half, the fifth grader at Jumoke Academy in Hartford asked teacher Andrea Barber.

Barber started to answer, then thought better of it. Instead, she asked Kiara's classmates if they could help. Hands shot up. Chase Lee Hill was chosen.

"Think of four quarters ..." Chase began, breaking down the fractional makeup of a dollar.

The word on Jumoke - Swahili for "everyone loves the child" - is that the Blue Hills charter school is starting to get it too. Once considered one of the state's lowest-performing charter schools - publicly funded, but independent education operations - it's now the latest on a growing list of Connecticut charters making remarkable progress.

In 2000, 30 percent of the Jumoke sixth graders scored "proficient" in state reading tests. Four years later, 64 percent reached reading proficiency. In writing, 39 percent of the Jumoke sixth graders performed at or above state standards in 2003. A year later, 79 percent were making the mark.

Jumoke's ultimate goal is to be a pre-K to 8 school, not just a K-6. But - stop me, if you've heard this before - there are state financial and regulatory restrictions. Mostly, it's a lack of political will to make the meaningful changes Connecticut needs to plug one of the widest academic achievement gaps in the country between white students and their black and Latino peers.

Yeah, I've been on the charter band wagon for a while now. Count me in for any program - public, private, all-boys, all-girls - that lays waste to the notion that poor black and Latino kids can't learn at the same pace of their more affluent peers.

Amistad Academy, Elm City in New Haven, Bridge Academy School in Bridgeport and even garden variety public schools such as Dwight Elementary School in Hartford provide high quality urban-education models that should have Connecticut lawmakers salivating.

Instead, charter advocates were forced to lobby this week for basic reforms: a bill that would remove the enrollment caps on charter schools and provide them funding at the same levels as the conventional public schools. Gov. M. Jodi Rell is missing a wonderful opportunity to leave a legacy as the Guv who closed the Gap. The incremental changes she proposes for charters in her budget are not enough and don't address the achievement gap as the state crisis that it is.

A dozen years ago, charter school advocates shot off their mouths saying that they could deliver better education with less money. Well, some of them actually did. Their critics, mostly those in the teachers union, are rankled that the charter folks now have the audacity to ask for more per-pupil-spending.

Forget about what was said 12 years ago. How about developing a system that rewards all public schools that are excelling in narrowing the achievement gap?

At Jumoke, which has 300 students, there are just as many students on the waiting list. After school on any given day in the building, half of the Jumokes can be seen participating in enrichment work. There is also a Saturday tutorial and an optional daily one-hour pre-school reading session. Parent participation is up. The school even hired a math tutorial company.

Now why did they go and do that? Chase Lee Hill is just down the hall.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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