Updated (with video): Got something to say about charter schools? NAACP Special Hearing on Charter Schools – New Haven, CT – Saturday, Dec. 3, 1 – 6 p.m.

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Update: The full video of the NAACP special hearing is here. (Source: W4 News, AccessTV.org) Also see parent letters regarding charter school issues to the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education.

In October, the NAACP (national conference) passed a resolution that called for a moratorium on privately-managed, publicly funded charter schools. The resolution was fairly moderate and listed the charter school policies that must change in order for any future NAACP support. This weekend, the NAACP will host the first in a series of national meetings about this resolution for a charter school moratorium.  The first meeting will be in New Haven, CT. (details below)

The fact that charter schools are racially segregated (mostly Black students), have punitive disciplinary policies, and siphon funds away from public schools to privately-managed charter schools were among the reasons for a charter school moratorium. (You can read more about why here.) In a press release, the NAACP stated:

We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:
 (1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
 (2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
 (3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
 (4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

In addition to this resolution, the NAACP created a National Task Force for Quality Education. This Task Force will hold a special hearing (one of many around the country) focusing on this resolution for a charter school moratorium on Saturday, December 3, 2016, from 1 – 6 p.m. in New Haven, CT at the Omni Hotel, 155 Temple Street. (directions here)

Sign-up happens at 1 p.m. and the hearing begins at 2 p.m. 3 minute speaking limit per person. You can read the full details in the flyer below. The meeting appears to be open to the public.

NAACPspecialhearing

You can be sure, the charter school lobby that advocates for more privately-managed schools and funding for only those charter schools will be there.

Will public education advocates show up?

Want to learn more about charter schools in Connecticut? Here’s a little something to get started:

A Guide to Understanding the Hartford Public Schools “Equity 2020” Committee

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HBOE October 18 2016 Equity 2020 Committee members LaKeisha McFarland, Natalie Langlaise, Shontá Browdy speaking to the Hartford Board of Education on October 18, 2016 at Hartford Public High School media center with concerns about consultant proposals to close schools given to the Equity 2020 Committee. 

What is the Equity 2020 Committee?

The Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools selected members of the Equity 2020 Committee to 1.) improve quality education for all students and 2.) create a facilities plan that will “streamline” the district, including school closing and consolidations. These two goals are in potential conflict.

Download (PDF, 228KB)

Learn more about the committee here: Hartford Public Schools “Equity 2020”

How did we get here?

In 2007, the Hartford Public Schools started an educational reform that relied on intra- and inter-district school and hyper-accountability using standardized test results. The “theory of action” was to close schools with low test results and expand school with higher test results. This theory of action is based on the ideology that public education is better when schools compete, and when schools don’t meet standardized test targets, then private enterprise can manage all or parts of school functions. As a market-oriented reform, these policies promoted competition between schools for students, space, and funds.

From one perspective, this reform was a well-executed way to destabilize the most vulnerable schools that would set up business opportunities for private enterprises to exploit (e.g. Achievement First charter schools, Capital Prep Schools, Inc., Teach for America, Opportunity High School-Our Piece of the Pie, Jumoke/FUSE). On the other hand, these reforms were poorly designed to ensure quality education for all students and left many schools severely under-enrolled through the process of unregulated/unplanned school choice and constant crisis from high-stakes testing.

Inter-district magnet schools were one of the components of the school choice strategy. The State created these schools to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. Magnet schools have been primarily used to fulfill the Sheff v. O’Neill court order and have doubled in enrollment across the state over the last 15 years or so. Magnet schools are public schools operated by either Hartford Public Schools, Capital Region Education Council, or local colleges, and can be considered a controlled-choice program. In addition, Hartford student participation in the Open Choice program has also increased.

(Note: When students leave to private charter school districts such as the segregated Achievement First and Jumoke Academies, this does not help in fulfilling any State integration goals. The growth of charter schools in Hartford is faster than magnet schools, but magnet schools have higher overall enrollment.)

The State of Connecticut oversees Hartford-area magnet schools and has limited planning for enrollment and implementation of this policy. Hartford students have enrolled in HPS and CREC magnet schools and that has caused some of the decline of HPS enrollment. But the HPS magnet schools and Open Choice have also brought in more than 4,000 students from outside of Hartford. This influx of regional students and dollars has mitigated the some of the financial and enrollment issues that Hartford faces. Magnet schools and Open Choice are one part, but not the whole story of how we got here.

In addition to poorly planned market-oriented reforms (e.g. school choice), Hartford and the region have fewer births and children than a decade ago. The City of Hartford simply has fewer children than past decades. The combination of school choice, poor planning, fewer children/declining population have combined so that some schools have low “occupancy” rates. With the budget crisis at the State and City level, there is increased pressure to save money. Closing schools can be viewed as a way for the City of Hartford to save money.

The schools that Milone and McBroom proposes to close are mostly Black and Latino non-magnet schools that the District and State diminished through unplanned school choice, taking away funds when kids leave a school, and overall neglect of program and building. (Remember, the HPS “theory of action” is that school choice and high-stakes testing would force schools with low test results to improve and get more students, or get closed and turned over to private managers.) As I mentioned previously, closing these particular schools (all but one are in the North End) would likely compound the historic, class-based neglect and institutional racism that these schools have already faced.

What were the proposals from the hired consultant to the Equity 2020 committee and Hartford Board of Education?

The company Milone and McBroom offered 3 plans for school closings and consolidations. Depending on the plan, MLK, Milner, Burns, Wish, Simpson-Waverly could potentially close. Weaver would be rebuilt and Achievement First private charter school would use the whole Lewis Fox building rent-free. These proposals were created by Milone and McBroom, not the full Equity 2020 committee membership.

Here are the enrollment findings:

Download (PPTX, 515KB)

Download (PDF, 3.52MB)

Download (PDF, 6.69MB)

You can see the possible plans here:

Download (PPTX, 655KB)

Who hired Milone and McBroom and for how much?

The appointed Hartford School Building Committee hired Milone and McBroom to create enrollment projections for the Weaver High School renovation project (see the signed contract below). Since that time, the enrollment projections for Weaver have changed twice. In order to do an updated facilities planning, the Hartford School Building (and HPS staff) hired Milone and McBroom at a price tag of $180,000 and the City of Hartford has paid them $81,000 of that total to date using Capital Improvement Funds. Milone and McBroom have partnered with the SLAM collaborative to create the Equity 2020 plans. SLAM collaborative is the architect for the Weaver High School renovation project.

Download (PDF, 5.05MB)

Download (PDF, 59KB)

Download (PDF, 373KB)

Download (PDF, 144KB)

What is the current and proposed HPS School Closing Policy

In September 2016, the Hartford Board of Education proposed a new school closing and consolidation policy. The revised policy would make it easier for the School Board to close schools and with less community input.

Current Policy

Download (PDF, 199KB)

Proposed/Revised School Closing & Consolidation Policy

Download (DOC, 58KB)

 

What are other groups’ opinions on the consultant plans?

The Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP has called for a halt on all school closings, citing the potential for civil rights violations.

Mayor, City of Hartford

Download (PDF, 123KB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Choice in an “Open Choice” System: English Language Learners Underrepresented and Underfunded in Connecticut’s Choice Schools

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HISTORY

In the 1960’s, the state of Connecticut began bussing urban students to suburban schools, as a part of a school desegregation plan known as “Project Concern.” More than two decades later, Hartford schools were still predominately composed of students of color, while schools in the surrounding suburbs were predominately white. In 1989, Elizabeth Horton Sheff filed a lawsuit against Connecticut’s then-governor, Richard O’Neill, calling attention to the segregation and inequality of opportunity that characterized Hartford Area schools. Though it took eight years, Connecticut’s Supreme Court finally ruled in her favor, and mandated that the state must attempt to ameliorate this segregation. Despite this victory, not much changed in the years to come. So, in 2000, the plaintiffs returned to the courtroom. The resulting settlement called for expanded (voluntary) participation in the “Open Choice” system (previously known as “Project Concern”) and the formation of additional, public charters and themed magnet schools within Hartford open to students from both Hartford proper and the suburbs. In the 2011-2012 school year, just under 50,000 students were enrolled in one of Connecticut’s choice programs – the majority of these students attended one of 63 interdistrict magnet schools.[1] This new system has been hugely successful in its attempts to promote racial integration within schools[2] – it has even been referred to as “the only successful effort to produce a new legal framework to deal with the reality of metropolitan segregation.”[3] On the other hand, it has been far from inclusive of the state’s large population of nonnative English speakers and has a long way to go before reaching its goal of equal educational opportunity for all students.[4],[5]

 

ELL DISPARITY IN CHOICE SCHOOLS: WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

The number of English language learners (ELL) in Connecticut is immense, and it is growing rapidly. In 2011-2012, over 30,000 students were considered to be “ELL” (and it is likely that this is an underestimate), making up 5.4% of the state’s total student population.[6] Despite their large presence, ELL students are severely underrepresented in Connecticut’s public choice schools (specifically in magnet, charter and technical schools). In the 2011-2012 school year, 76% of public charters, 64% of magnets, and 56% of technical schools in the Greater Hartford Area (GHA) had substantially lower enrollment percentages of ELL students than the local, traditional public schools in their districts.[7]

Figure 1 Figure 1: Differences in ELL enrollment at three types of choice schools as compared to local public schools. Reprinted, (Cotto & Feder, 2012).[8]

Unfortunately, choice schools have not become any more inclusive in the years since Cotto’s Report. They still enroll significantly lower percentages of ELL students than the traditional public schools in their respective districts. 2013-2014 data from 13 of the 28 GHA districts (as much data as was available) reveal that ELL students are still underrepresented, and especially so in magnet schools. ELL students are no more represented in magnet schools than they were two years ago, and in some cases, they are less so. Currently, the average ELL student-composition across the GHA is 10% for district schools, but only 4% for magnets. To identify districts that did a better job in encouraging ELL enrollment, it is most useful to look at the relative proportions within a particular district, rather than looking at the GHA as a whole. Danbury (25%), Hartford (22%), New London (22%) and Windham (26%) district schools enroll the highest percentages of ELL students. Danbury magnet schools, however, enroll 17% fewer ELL students than their district counterparts; this represents the largest enrollment gap in the GHA.[9] Charter and technical schools also tend to under-enroll ELL students. The average composition of ELL students among Bridgeport’s four public charter schools is only 4%.[10]

 Figure 2

Figure 2: Changes in the mean percentage of student body made up by ELL students at three types of choice schools, as compared to 2014 Connecticut district average. Reprinted with permission from “School Choice Data Analysis” project by Leib Sutcher and Claire Bradach.

When it comes to school choice, ELL students have almost none. Most choice schools do not have bilingual education programs. As of February 2015, less than half of the state’s students requiring ELL support were actually receiving it (approximately 9,897 out of 22,914).[11] As a result, ELL students in Connecticut are, on average, five grade levels below their non-ELL classmates.[12] Based on 8th grade math and reading scores, the achievement gap for ELL students in Connecticut is the worst and second-to-worst in the country.[13] There exist two possible solutions to this devastating achievement gap, the first of which relies on changes to existing policies regarding bilingual education programs.

 

SOLUTION #1: POLICY CHANGES

This past January, a group of concerned stakeholders including teachers, administrators, and members of the Latino and Asian communities held a forum to address the lack of resources for bilingual education. Luckily, a few legislators (find out names) listened to their suggestions and worked with them to write what because known as House Bill 6835, “An Act Concerning English Language Learners.” Aiming to better educational opportunities for ELL students in Connecticut, the original bill proposed changes to existing policies. Two recommendations, in particular, are ones that, if passed, could potentially have a significant and positive impact on the under enrollment of ELL students at choice schools.

Currently, the law goes that only schools with twenty or more ELL students must offer a program of bilingual education[14]. On top of that, to say bilingual education is loosely defined in the statutes would be a gross understatement. H.B. 6835’s originally called for a decrease in this threshold, from twenty students to six. Based on 2013-2014 enrollment data, this decreased minimum would lead to the new bilingual education programs in at least forty additional choice schools in the Hartford Area. This amendment might have even incentivized schools to try to recruit and enroll more English language learners in order to lock down that funding, as well as to increase overall diversity of the school (schools are penalized if they are not composed of at least 25% and at most 75% minority students). After major dissent was expressed at a public hearing On (date), the Joint Education Commission held a public hearing, at which much dissent was expressed, due to some peoples’ financial concerns. Connecticut spends a mere $1.9 million dollars on over 30,000 ELL students every year: a number that comes out to around $50-$60 per student[15] (fact check). Nonetheless, in the resulting substitution bill, the proposed amendment to lower the twenty-person minimum had been thrown out.

The Connecticut Statute for Education also limits the amount of time that a student is allowed to spend in a bilingual education program to just thirty months – If the student is within 30 months of high school graduation, they are not eligible for the services at all. A second, important feature of H.B. 6835, that did make it into the substitution bill, was a two-fold increase in this time frame, from thirty to sixty months. Just last week, on April 29th, the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly voted 36 to 20 in favor of the Joint Education Committee’s substitution bill. [16] H.B. 6835 still has a long way to go – it must pass through both House and Senate before its fate is sealed.

 

SOLUTION #2: DUAL-LANGUAGE MAGNET SCHOOLS

In Connecticut, it’s easy enough to find a magnet school with just about any theme – there are magnet schools for arts, for aerospace and engineering, and for global citizenship. In New Haven, there is a very special magnet school called the John C. Daniels School (JDS). JDS is a dual-language immersion school, and with 19% of its students being ELL, a proportion one percentage point higher than the district average and more than twice that of any other interdistrict magnet school in New Haven.[17] So, if only 19% of students at JDS are ELL, then who are the other 81%? They are native English speakers, and they have chosen to go to JDS to learn Spanish. At JDS, half of classes are taught in English, and half are taught in Spanish. Then, in middle school, students can elect to take either Mandarin or continue on with Spanish.[18] JDS students consistently score above the district average in every subject, with very few exceptions. In 2013, 97% of sixth graders passed the math section of the CMT, putting them ahead of not only their district, but the entire state of Connecticut.[19]

Figure 3

Figure 3: View of main entrance at John C. Daniels Interdistrict Magnet School of International Communication.[20]

JDS is not the only dual-language schools in Connecticut – the Dual Language and Arts Magnet Middle School in in Waterford, and the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London have also been both popular and successful. The creation of additional dual-language magnet schools based on existing models is the best way to address some of the disparities in educational opportunities for English language learners, and it is not so far fetched. A 2013 “Feasibility Study of Two-Way Language Programs,” led by the Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, revealed great amounts of community and business support, and even potential state interest and funding. Dual-language instruction has been shown to contribute to a child’s cognitive development, language skills, career readiness and general global awareness.[21]

With the creation of more bilingual education schools comes the problem of staffing. Connecticut’s stringent certification requirements for bilingual education teachers work against the goal of serving the needs of the state’s large and growing ELL student population. To become certified in bilingual education, a teacher must go to through a fifth year of schooling. However, once certified, they are not paid any more than regular teachers. The state also does not recognize out-of-state certification – only teachers who received their bilingual education certificates in the state of Connecticut are eligible to teach. A bill that is currently on the senate calendar, Bill 1102, addresses these stipulations. If it passes, establishing more of these themed-magnets will become a more feasible prospect: more teachers mean more programs in more schools, and more options for ELL students.

While it is possible that the under-enrollment of ELL students in choice schools may not be the root of the problem, the remediation of this enrollment disparity may have the potential to turn around the achievement gap for English language learners in the state of Connecticut, and both policy changes and the creation of new, dual-language magnet schools are two, very promising solutions.

 

 

 

 

References


[1] Cotto, R. & Feder, K. (2014). Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice

Programs. Connecticut Voices for Children. New Haven, CT.

[2] Rabe Thomas, J. (2013, November 26). Nearly half the students from Hartford now attend

integrated schools. Retrieved May 3, 2015, from http://ctmirror.org/nearly-half students-hartford-now-attend-integrated-schools/.

[4] See, Plurality Opinion of the State Supreme Court, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding vs. Rell. March, 2009. Available at http://ccjef.org/litigation.

[5] Miller, C. & How, H. (2015, March 6). “Inequality in ELL-Enrollment at District versus Magnet Schools in the Greater Hartford Area.  Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1n0kDYiXIWSq17hSQl5aW8ecmKwZb6J-3PhHsdfHkffg/edit

[6]Hartford Public Schools. Two-Way Language Program Feasibility Study, January 3, 2013. http://www.achievehartford.org/upload/files/DualLanguageDiscussion—20130124123318926.pdf.

[7] Ibid 1.

[8] Ibid 1.

Programs. Connecticut Voices for Children. New Haven, CT.

[9] Ibid 5.

[10] MacDonald, A. (2015, March 6). “Angus’s Exercise D.” Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CPD_xgiWQFqSIPHbyRDXEHWRZ_ti61Qv8P-FhuXRxwE/edit

[11] Zimmerman, E. (Director) (2015, February 25). Testimony before the Education Committee on Proposed S.B. No. 944 and H.B. 6835. Commission on Children. Lecture conducted from State of Connecticut General Assembly, Hartford, Connecticut. Available at

http://www.cga.ct.gov/2015/eddata/tmy/2015SB-00944-R000225-Elaine%20Zimmerman,%20CT%20Commission%20on%20Children-TMY.PDF.

[12] ConnCan: Connecticut Maintains Worst-in-the-Nation Achievement Gap. (2013, November 8). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from http://www.conncan.org/media-room/press-releases/2013-11-conncan-connecticut-maintains-worst-in-the-nation-ac

[13] Boesner, B. (2013, November 7). 2013 NAEP Snapshot [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/696/f8/4/1276/4/2013_ConnCAN_NAEP_Snapshot.pdf.

[14] http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=321160

[15] Rodriguez, O. (2015, May 1). Background Information on H.B. 6835 [Telephone interview].

[16] Appropriations Committee – Vote Tally Sheet. (2015, April 29). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from http://www.cga.ct.gov/2015/TS/H/2015HB-06835-R00APP-CV33-TS.htm.

[17] Ibid 9.

[19] John C. Daniels School Test Scores – New Haven County, CT. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from http://www.realtor.com/local/John-C-Daniels-School_New-Haven_New-Haven-County_CT/test-scores

[21] Ibid 6.

20 Ibid 6.

 

 

 

Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible

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Over the next few months, the public and Legislature will debate whether charter schools in Connecticut are sufficiently regulated or not. The State Department of Education and Board of Education will also decide whether or not to renew six (6) existing charter schools in Connecticut.

Already this legislative session, there is a bill for a moratorium on new charter schools and a review of existing ones. There are also proposals for more charter schools in CT. A missing aspect of this debate has been the existing charter school renewal process. This process merits more scrutiny because the firm “accountability” it promises is actually more flexible than advertised and it stands in contrast with how other public schools are treated by the State.

When Connecticut lawmakers initially allowed charter schools to operate in 1997, a major guiding principle was an exchange of “flexibility” for “accountability”. In other words, private non-profit “entities” receive public funds to operate public charter schools with permission to operate outside of various state and local laws, such as limited or no requirements for teacher certification and collective bargaining; but only if they met State educational goals. Charter school laws and guiding principles are similar around the country.

In 2014, the State’s charter school report claimed that, “Connecticut’s charter school law and accountability plan administered by CSDE require charter schools to demonstrate their success and compliance with the law in exchange for their charters.” In 2010, the report put it more directly as success and compliance, “in exchange for autonomy from local boards of education.”

This concept suggests that if charter schools don’t meet defined goals or state educational interests, they will face concrete, firm, and predictable consequences. The case of charter schools renewals, past and present, shows that the concept of “accountability” for “flexibility” is more theory than practice. Instead, when it comes to charter schools, the “accountability” is “flexible” and consequences do not come their way in a regular or predictable fashion.

For other public schools, the concrete goals usually mean some test-score target defined each year; and the firm, predictable consequences for not meeting those targets can mean mandatory state or local intervention in managing the school, firing most of the staff, or converting the school to a private management company, or a charter school. Examples of this “test and punish” approach throughout Connecticut include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Lewis Fox Middle School in Hartford was closed and later replaced with an Achievement First Charter School
  • Milner Elementary School in Hartford and Paul L. Dunbar School in Bridgeport were reconstituted and then operated by Jumoke/FUSE charter management corporation through the controversial “commissioner’s network”. This experiment ended with the demise of FUSE/Jumoke.
  • Last year the State of CT and Hartford Public Schools attempted to close Clark Elementary and replace it with an Achievement First-managed charter school, but that effort failed.

There is a different approach for charter school renewal and evaluation. Depending on the particular charter, the non-profit, private organizations that operate a public charter school must go through a  process to determine whether they can keep their charter or lose permission from the state to operate the school. This process happens every three to five years for each charter school. The process is a way to regulate all charter schools and make sure they are serving the goals of public education.

The process to renew a charter has multiple parts and extends over several months. The charter operator must first submit an application to the State Department of Education explaining their work, including areas such as students’ academic progress (interpreted by the state as standardized test results), curriculum, staff development, finances, and governance (management & administration) of the school.

Six schools will go through the charter renewal process this school year (2014/2015). Those schools include: (click on the school name link for the 2014/15 renewal applications.)

These aren’t new charter schools, but have enrolled children for ten to twenty years at this point. Having opened in 1997, Odyssey, Common Ground, and ISAAC were among the first state charter schools created in Connecticut. Here’s a list from The CT Mirror for future charter school renewal years.

 

The red tags on the map are the six charter schools up for renewal this year. Blue dots on the map are all other charter schools in CT.  Click on the dots/tags for more basic info on each school, including its website.

 

The next step is that the State Department of Education reviews the application and conducts a site visit to observe how a school operates compared to the description in their renewal application. A look into this process can be seen in this letter from CT SDE’s charter school program manager to administrators at the Common Ground High School in 2009, when the school was last up for a review. The letter shows some of the criteria for the charter renewal, which includes categories listed above, such as finance, test results, etc. If the school is meeting its goals and the educational interests of the state, then the State Board of Education can renew the school’s charter.

The state’s charter school law, specifically Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-66bb(g), outlines basic criteria that should guide the State Board of Education in deciding whether or not to renew a school’s charter. The criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • “student progress”,
  • administrative irresponsibility or misuse of public funds,
  • non-compliance with applicable state laws,
  • and failure to attract, enroll, and retain certain demographic groups such as students with disabilities and emerging bilingual children, identified as “English Language Learners.

It’s worth reading the CT charter school renewal law here.

The law leaves the door open for flexibility in this process. The text states that the State Board of Education “shall” (must) take into account the findings of a holistic, independent appraisal, but “may” (can) deny the application based on criteria in four categories, but not necessarily others. In short, the law does not require the State Board of Education to deny a charter renewal application for any particular reason, although it may do so.

In this way, lawmakers created loose rules in the charter renewal process. Like a judge may have discretion on a legal matter, or a psychologist uses clinical judgement, the CT State Department of Education reviews charter schools on a case by case basis and has a wide range of options in responding to their strengths and weaknesses. This provides administrative leeway or flexibility for state charter schools in Connecticut in the charter renewal process, but is contrary to this apparently strict mantra of “more accountability for more flexibility.”

Not included in the above section of charter school renewal law or the checklist are requirements to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation or other state laws. To that point, the very next section of the charter school law states:

(h) The Commissioner of Education may at any time place a charter school on probation if (1) the school has failed to

(A) adequately demonstrate student progress, as determined by the commissioner,
(B) comply with the terms of its charter or with applicable laws and regulations,
(C) achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation, (continued…)

Finally, the state can revoke a charter at any time in cases of an emergency, or with written notice for failure in any of the areas listed above. The commissioner has to provide notice in writing about why she/he moved to revoke the charter. The law states:

(i) The State Board of Education may revoke a charter if a charter school has failed to:

(1) Comply with the terms of probation, including the failure to file or implement a corrective action plan;
(2) demonstrate satisfactory student progress, as determined by the commissioner;
(3) comply with the terms of its charter or applicable laws and regulations; or
(4) manage its public funds in a prudent or legal manner.

Even if the State Board of Education moves to revoke a charter, the “governing council”, or a charter school’s managing board, can provide an oral or written presentation to contest the State’s decision to revoke the charter and demonstrate compliance in areas deemed deficient.

Perhaps because of the flexibility in the charter renewal law, there have been times when charter schools have been renewed despite apparent examples of not meeting specified goals, the listed criteria in statute, or educational interests of the State. Another possibility is that the implementation of the policy has not been sufficiently discerning to identify major problems such as financial malfeasance or the mistreatment of children.

As a result of this flexibility, the state Board nearly always renews charters. Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools  in the state obtained a renewed charter from the State Board of Education, according to this list  from the CT Mirror. (excluding one that became an interdistrict magnet school) Non-charter public schools have not been so fortunate as they have had to follow strict federal and state rules and consequences, primarily on the basis of standardized test results. Since 2007, at least ten non-charter schools in Hartford, CT alone were closed or the staff fired on the basis of rigid test-based targets and subsequent punishments as outlined in state, federal, and local policy.

(Note: To my knowledge, there isn’t a list of all CT schools that have been closed, reconstituted, converted to charters, turn(ed) around, or restarted as a result of NCLB/RttT test-based accountability. If you know of a list, please share!)

Take the charter schools requirements to enroll representative populations of emerging bilingual students and students with disabilities and the reduction of racial and ethnic isolation. In my report with Kenny Feder, “Choice Watch,” over at CT Voices for Children, we reported that charter schools in CT tend to have smaller proportions of emerging bilingual children and children with disabilities when compared to local school districts, and are often more racially segregated than local school districts. Yet, no charter school was revoked because it didn’t include emerging bilingual students, children with disabilities, or because it was racially segregated, as state law would suggest.

When problems are found, the State Board of Education has often allowed schools to keep their charters rather than closing the school through a non-renewal. In some cases, the State board required more frequent review of charter schools, such as a renewal process after three years rather than five, for example. This scenario happened in 2007 with Common Ground and Odyssey Community School (due to poor test data) and Achievement First-Hartford in 2013 (due to excessive suspensions/special education/civil rights complaints). In other cases, schools received “probation” by the State Board of Education before a charter was revoked or non-renewed. Examples of this action included Highville/Mustard Seed (due to financial malfeasance) and Jumoke (due to financial malfeasance).

According to past and recent State Department of Education reports on the operation of charter schools, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, despite the fact that the State Dept. of Education was required to review their financial plans before a charter was granted. Additionally, the CT State Board of Education shut down one charter school for health/safety violations and closed one charter school because of lack of academic progress.

Even relatively low test scores haven’t been a sufficient reason to deny a charter renewal. When its charter was renewed in 2012, Trailblazers Academy charter school had among the lowest aggregate test results in CT. By the rules of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Trailblazers had not met “Annual Yearly Progress” for six years.

Stamford Academy, which had among the lowest aggregate test results in 2013 is now in a similar situation this year as it faces a charter renewal process. (They are up for a renewal after only three years.) By 2010-11, Stamford Academy hadn’t made “Annual Yearly Progress” for five years.

(Note: Annual Yearly Progress was such a problematic measure that it was abandoned by the CT State and U.S. Federal Departments of Education in Connecticut’s 2012 waiver to parts of the NCLB Act.)

According to the logic of more “accountability” for more “flexibility”, shouldn’t these schools have lost their charters?

Despite not making AYP (the goal back then) and the State reporting this negative status, it is still unclear why these charter schools never faced the same sorts of clear, strict punishments as other public schools under NCLB. While the CT State Department of Education and State Board of Education delegated the responsibility of implementing NCLB sanctions to local districts for schools under local control, they apparently haven’t assumed that responsibility for schools under their own supervision in recent years.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if these schools had been non-charter public schools, they would have been targeted for punishments such as firing the entire staff, notifying parents that they could choose to go to another school, closing the school, state takeover, conversion to charter schools, or taking away public governance in favor of private management. Ironically, Stamford Academy and Trailblazers were the end goal of No Child Left Behind – privately managed, publicly-financed state charter schools that parents chose to enroll their children, ostensibly to produce higher test scores. Yet, they were still amongst the most struggling academically and the state renewed their charters in 2012.

In defense of these schools, (Trailblazers, Stamford Academy, and others) perhaps they are offering educational benefits not captured by overall low test results. Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy enrolled high proportions of children that struggled in school. These schools also served a much more historically under-served group of children, mostly Black, Latino, low-income, and many more students with disabilities when compared to the more affluent Stamford Public Schools, which also have higher proportions of white students.

I am not advocating that Trailblazers and Stamford Academy should close because I don’t have enough information on either one to make a judgement, nor would closing the schools improve them. But I am pointing out that there have been two sets of rules when it comes to state “accountability”. Several years ago, Wendy Lecker also pointed to what appeared to be “double standards” in evaluating charter and other public schools in her column at The Stamford Advocate.

Let’s also consider what the renewal process has looked like for some of Connecticut’s charter schools that look better as measured by test score data. When its charter was renewed in 2012, the State touted Amistad Academy’s high test results compared to New Haven schools in 5th grade, and particularly for 8th grade students.

The state’s resolution on Amistad Academy noted that the school didn’t meet “Annual Yearly Progress” in the elementary grades, but did in the high school grades in 2010-11. But there didn’t appear to be any firm academic goals apart from the AYP metric, just general description of its test results and how they were better than the New Haven Public Schools overall. There was a presentation of test results with some narrative, particularly of the vertical scale scores offered as evidence in the final resolution to approve the charter renewal.

Undiscussed however, was the fact that the test participation data showed massive student attrition at Amistad Academy. In 2008, there were 76 students in grade 5, but there were only 53 students that matched that group in grade 8 in 2011. This was a loss of 30% of the student population from the original 76 students that started 5th grade in 2008.

Amistad Table 3 VS

So the high overall test results in 8th grade only accounted for 70% of the kids that stayed at the school-those students that took the standard CMT in math in both grade 5 and grade 8 at Amistad Academy. This attrition happened in CT and New Haven overall, but not to the same degree. Such attrition impacted the way the test results were interpreted (we are only looking at 70% of an already selected cohort) and the manner in which the test results were obtained (removing low-scoring or undesirable students can inflate results at this school and impact other local schools that later enroll these students). This attrition went unmentioned in the State Board’s renewal resolution despite one of the questions in the State checklist being, “Is there a high turnover of students?”

The State’s resolution, referencing the audit and site visit, also explained that the school lacked curricula in grades 3-8 science, K-12 health, physical education, and the arts. There were also problems with financial controls and safeguards between Achievement First, Inc, the private charter management corporation, and Amistad Academy, the public charter school; and many of the school’s teachers lacked proper state certification. The school was allowed to remedy, or begin fixing these deficiencies before their hearing at the State Board of Education, thus securing a renewed charter.

In Connecticut, there are laws against both excessive suspensions of students and racial/ethnic segregation of students, particularly for charter schools. [see above CGS Sec. 10-66bb(h)] But the renewal process for Amistad Academy ignored its exclusionary disciplinary policies, racial and ethnic segregation, and provided no analysis of representative populations of bilingual children and students with disabilities, among others. To be sure, these issues aren’t specified in the renewal checklist, but the school is required to follow applicable laws and regulations, including laws about students suspensions, special education rights, and racial and ethnic segregation, among others.  A year after the Amistad renewal, The CT Mirror and The Hartford Courant reported that Amistad Academy and its Achievement First affiliates had the highest numbers and rates of suspensions of children in CT. As Choice Watch reported, the school was (and still is) racially segregated, as well as most charter schools in CT.

Amistad Academy may be a school that people want their children to attend amidst the relative disinvestment, neglect, and mis-education of children of color in other schools. However, parent and families’ decisions about schools happen in the context of State over-investment and policy in favor of public school choice programs and under-investment in other public schools with high proportions of low income and Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino children.  This arrangement is a key feature of Connecticut educational policy, like other states. (See M. Apple, P. Lipman, & K. Buras writing on this issue.)

Regardless of Admistad Academy’s status, the State’s own charter renewal report documented educational concerns and overlooked substantial problems. It was not until then-State Child Advocate Jamey Bell intervened that the suspension information and the depth of the problem became known to the public, particularly throughout the Achievement First charter school chain. As a result of State and public pressure, Achievement First/Amistad has reportedly made improvements to its disciplinary policies; and lately the company has explored the idea of alternative methods in addition to its current “no excuses” schooling. 

Like all schools, Amistad Academy has both its strengths and  weaknesses. Recognizing this point, the State’s charter renewal process has been flexible in its approach towards renewal and remediation of charter schools, instead of responding with rigid “accountability.” In addition to flexible, the state’s approach has also been selective in valuing particular types of “achievement” data first, and everything else after.

Accountability at Traditional Public Schools

In Connecticut, however, plenty of other non-charter public schools have similar groups of children as Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy charter schools, may need more support, and struggled on overall test results. Unlike these two charter schools, other public schools faced crude forms of high-stakes test accountability under federal, state, and local rules.

This flexible “accountability” stands in stark contrast to the regimented consequences that other public schools face under the No Child Left Behind Act, NCLB Waiver, and other high-stakes test accountability systems such as in Hartford, Connecticut. These systems outline firm, test-based numerical targets and emphasize clear punishments when the goals aren’t met, such as school closings, conversion to charter schools or private management. Unlike the charter renewal process, there are rarely second or third chances for other non-charter public schools, and excuses aren’t acceptable when it comes their “accountability” process.

So here’s a dilemma: Carefully implemented, the ability of  authorities to have administrative discretion (reviewing each school on a case by case basis) and assess schools holistically may be pragmatic and humane policy in some cases. In other cases, this flexibility can result in vague, selective accountability. It’s worth considering this local administrative judgement and holistic assessment in the context of all public schools. So I will explore this idea in a future post.

In the meantime, let’s watch this charter renewal process. The charter renewal process offers the possibility for people and groups to weigh in through letters to the State Department of Education, a public hearing for people to testify about the school’s work, and, ultimately, people can testify at the CT State Board of Education before a school’s charter is renewed.

The dates, times, and locations for the local public hearings on these charter school renewals are here and the chart is below. So take a look at the charter school applications and the process documents. In the meantime, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Is the State of Connecticut exercising sufficient oversight of charter schools through the renewal process? Is the law sufficient?
  • Are these charter schools meeting their goals and the educational interests of the State?
  • What evidence should be weighed in this process of charter renewal?
  • Can the holistic process of reviewing charter schools be applied to other public schools?

(Note: Comments are activated and you can now share this link with a “share it” button.)

 

Charter Renewal
Public Hearings 2014-15

School Name

Dates

Time

Hearing Location

Robert Trefry

New Beginnings Family Academy

Tuesday
February 24, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

Bridgeport City Hall
Common Council Chambers
45 Lyon Terrace

Bridgeport, CT 06604

Estela Lopez

Odyssey

Wednesday
February 25, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

Howell Cheney Technical High Multi-Purpose Room

791 W. Middle Turnpike

Manchester, CT 06040

Stephen Wright

Stamford Academy

Thursday
February 26, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

J. M. Wright Technical
High School

Gymnasium
120 Bridge St.
Stamford, CT 06905

Charles Jaskiewicz

ISAAC

Tuesday
March 3, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern CT
Lecture Hall
490 Jefferson Avenue

New London, CT 06320

Allan Taylor

Explorations

Thursday
March 5, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

Winsted Town Hall
P. Francis Hicks Room
338 Main Street
Winsted, CT 06098

Maria Mojica

Common Ground

Tuesday
March 10, 2015

6:00 -8:00 pm

Wilbur Cross High School
Auditorium

181 Mitchell Drive

New Haven, CT 06511

 

 

Watching Public School Choice in Connecticut

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Last Saturday, May 17, 2014, was the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision that struck down de jure school segregation. That same day, Mira Debs, Prof. Jack Dougherty, and I gave a presentation entitled, “Who Chooses Magnet Schools? Findings from Three Studies in Hartford, CT.”

So what’s the connection between Brown v. Board of Education and magnet schools in Hartford?

First, public school choice programs (such as charter and interdistrict magnet schools) in Connecticut are all required by Connecticut law to provide children with an equal educational opportunity and to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of students (except technical schools). The exact goals and rules vary by program.

Second, interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford and its suburbs are one of the ways that the State of Connecticut chose to comply with the Sheff v. O’Neill decision, a local court case on public education and racial/ethnic segregation.

As the first presenter, I shared some findings from my “Choice Watch” report that I co-wrote with Kenny Feder for Connecticut Voices for Children. I also provided a short overview of school choice programs here in CT.

 

The findings on public school choice enrollment are fairly straightforward. In Connecticut:

      • Interdistrict magnet school and regional technical schools tend to be (numerically) racially and economically “integrated” if we used free/reduced price meal eligibility as the measure for the latter. (A note of caution here.)
      • Charter schools in the state tend to be racially hyper-segregated, but not necessarily as isolated in terms of economic status (free and reduced price meal eligibility).
      • All three school choice programs tend to have a lower percentage of children with disabilities and emerging bilingual students (ELL) when compared to their local school district averages.

Why these demographic differences happen is more complex. As Mira writes, maybe the complexity of the school choice system(s) in the Hartford-area is a good place to start looking.