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
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
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
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.
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