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Charter School Model Not Permitted For Turnaround Schools In Latest Version of Education Bill

Charter School Advocates, Stunned, Then Angry


May 01, 2012

Charter school advocates were stunned and now are angry that the latest proposal for education reform does not include charter schools as an acceptable model to turn around low-performing schools.

Michael Sharpe, chief executive officer of Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford and president of the Connecticut Charter School Network, said: "We all, as a community representing kids of color and poor kids, should be enraged by this. Why would you tie your hands legislatively from any possible solution to the achievement gap and to the failures of urban schools in Connecticut? It doesn't make any sense." Read the full letter.

Sharpe said he has written legislators who are members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus to alert them to the situation. "I would think the members would be enraged by a provision that denies the families they represent the opportunity to have options in terms of an excellent education."

A summary of the latest revision to the education bill prepared by Democratic legislative leadership became available last week. The bill eliminates the education commissioner's authority, when reconstituting a low-achieving school, to make it a state or local charter school or place it under the control of a private entity.

In addition, the bill does not include charter schools in its menu of possible new models for the state's 50 lowest-performing schools, called "turnaround" schools.

Malloy's original education bill gave the commissioner the authority to turn around a network of low-perfoming schools by choosing from among a variety of school models, including charter schools.

Hartford School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Tuesday that the charter option should not be eliminated as a possible turnaround model.

Kishimoto was reached just before the start of a Hartford board of education meeting where she expected to discuss a possible partnership between Jumoke and the struggling Milner Core Knowledge Academy.

Kishimoto said her department has good relations with high-performing charter schools in the city that have a "proven turnaround model."

"Why wouldn't legislators want us to look at a model that is already successful?" she asked.

"I worry that individuals are lobbying for a particular model or against a particular model," Kishimoto said. "Legislation should be written broadly, allowing any best practices to be presented as a viable option."

Democratic legislative leaders and members of the Malloy administration are currently in talks to try to reach agreement on the evolving bill, and their representatives have said they don't want to comment on topics under negotiation.

However, a staff member for the Senate Democrats suggested contacting Kenneth Saltman, a professor in education policy studies and research at DePaul University in Chicago, who is writing a book to be published in June called "The Failure of Corporate School Reform."

In an interview Tuesday, Saltman criticized charter schools as less accountable than public schools. He also said charter schools have high teacher turnover; can be used as a tool to get rid of teachers unions; and that nationally, charter school students perform on standardized tests about as well or worse than students who attend traditional public schools.

He said charter schools are one step along the path to widespread privatization of public schools and that the charter school movement should be halted.

"Charter schools bring us closer to privatizing the system and really dismantling the system of guaranteed community-based public schools," he said.

Malloy repeatedly has said that he is not trying to privatize schools. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has called for more "high quality" school choices for students, while also ensuring that local neighborhood schools are strong.

Sharpe said Tuesday that in Connecticut which allows only non-profit charter schools 87 percent of charter schools outperform their district counterparts.

"The kids of color attending those charter schools have done dramatically better than the kids of color throughout the state of Connecticut," said Sharpe, speaking specifically of the charter schools in Hartford and New Haven.

Sharpe said he was puzzled by the revised legislation and doesn't understand why legislators would rule out a turnaround model that has been shown to help urban children in Connecticut perform better.

Ronelle P. Swagerty, spokeswoman for New Beginnings Family Academy, a charter school in Bridgeport, said she thinks it's "ill-informed" not to include charter schools as a permissible turnaround model. "Some charter schools have done quite a fantastic job," she said.

The students at New Beginnings "outperform the district every year," Swagerty said. "It's really disheartening that grown people who profess to be in the business of helping children are really focused more on adult interests than the kids."

Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford, who is a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said charter schools "have proven themselves as a very effective model" and should be permitted as a turnaround model.

A battle over the future of charter schools has been going on for months, fueled partly by suspicions that Pryor's background in charter schools could lead to a proliferation of privatization.

Pryor was a co-founder of Amistad Academy, a nonprofit charter school that opened in New Haven in 1999. He also served on the board of trustees for Achievement First, an organization that manages a network of charter schools, including Amistad.

In December, Pryor, who began working as commissioner in October, sought an opinion from the Office of State Ethics, on whether his background posed a conflict of interest for him as the state's education commissioner. The Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board said in January that his background did not pose a conflict of interest.

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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