Connecticut’s Major Charter Schools Face More Questions

Despite their rhetoric, not only are most of Connecticut’s charter schools actually increasing racial isolation, they are naively or knowingly overlooking key factors in their ongoing claims that they provide better educational outcomes.

A review of Connecticut’s School Profile Reports raises even more serious questions and concerns are about some of Connecticut’s largest charter schools.

Meanwhile, advocates and lobbyists are engaged in a major effort to persuade policymakers to adopt a concept called “Money Follows the Child” in the upcoming 2012 Legislative Session.

The policy change would move scarce resources away from the public schools systems that presently educate about 99% of Connecticut public school students.

Instead of trying to expand the pot of money that is provided for primary and secondary education in Connecticut, thereby helping all public school children, some charter school supporters have changed their strategy and are now pushing to modify the state’s school funding system so that when a child shifts from a public school to a charter school all of the state money associated with the education of that student would shift as well.

This approach would leave more and more of Connecticut’s public schools without the money needed to provide comprehensive education programs and would, in the end, threaten the quality of education in our public schools while leading to higher local property taxes as towns are forced to rely even more heavily on regressive property taxes.

At stake are both the issue of racial segregation and the quality of education in Connecticut.

At the core of the debate is the fundamental principle that federal and state laws prohibit the use of public funds to promote racial and ethnic segregation.  However, virtually every one of Connecticut’s major charter schools, all of whom receive major state subsidies, are not only failing to reduce racial isolation but are, in fact, significantly less  racially diverse than the public schools in the same communities.

While some charter schools, like the Odyssey School in Manchester  are successfully meeting the diversity challenge, others, especially those run by Achievement First, a major charter school operator with charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island is not.

For example, Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy, Achievement First’s Hartford Academy, Achievement First’s Amistad Academy and Achievement First’s Elm City Preparatory are all significantly more racially isolated than are the school systems in which they are based – Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.

As the state spends literally hundreds of millions of dollars to address its moral, legal and constitutional responsibility to make our schools less racially isolated, Connecticut’s charter schools are moving Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction.

What makes this issue particularly troubling is that Connecticut’s new State Commissioner of Education has repeatedly said he will work to expand charter schools in Connecticut even though it is clear from the evidence that most charter schools are unwilling or unable to be a part of the overall effort to reduce racial isolation in our state.

While conveniently overlooking the growing racial isolation in charter schools, Achievement First and other major urban charter schools base their demand for more public funds by claiming that their standardized test scores prove that their charter schools are providing students with a superior education.

However, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument these charter school advocates are putting forward

Putting aside the broader problems associated with using standardized mastery tests to measure educational outcomes; there is overwhelming evidence that test scores are impacted by a number of factors beyond simply what is going on in the classroom.

Study after study has indicated that poverty and standardized test scores (like the mastery test) are closely correlated.  More poverty means lower school test scores; less poverty means higher school test scores.

What policymakers are not regularly told is that although poverty level in all urban schools are high (both at charter and at traditional public schools), the students at many of Connecticut’s urban charter schools are significantly “less poor” than the students who attend the  public schools in those same communities.

In Bridgeport, where 99% of the city’s public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to the data provided to the State Department of Education, the number of students who meet that standard at Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is more than 30 points percentage points lower.

The percentage of students at the other two major Bridgeport charters (The Bridge Academy and Park City Preparatory) who qualify for free or reduced lunches are also significantly lower than in the Bridgeport school system.

There is a similar pattern in Hartford, where 93% of public schools students qualify for free or reduced lunches compared to 68% at Achievement First’s Harford Academy and 72% at the Jumoke Academy charter school.

And it is the same in New Haven, where 81% of all New Haven public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches, while at the Amistad Academy 66% meet that poverty standard.  At Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Prep charter school, the number of students getting free or reduced lunches is 69%.

Considering these schools are more racially isolated these statistics indicate that charter schools have the effect of leaving the poorer students in each city’s public schools systems.

According to their marketing materials and testimony at legislative hearings, charter schools claim that their students score 10 to 30 percent better on master tests than do students in the nearby public schools.

However, a portion of that difference may be due to the poverty level of the students served in those schools.

An even greater impact may come from the language barriers students bring with them to school.

When it comes to the Connecticut Mastery Tests (3-8 grades), 84% of all Connecticut students score at the proficient or better level in math.  However, for English Language Learners (ELL students) that is, “students who lack sufficient mastery of English,” the percent of students who achieve a proficient or better score drops all the way down to 57%.

The language barrier has an even more stunning impact on the test results for the reading portion of the Connecticut Mastery Test.  While 78% of all Connecticut students score at the proficient level or better, only 37% of ELL (those not proficient in the English Language) test at the proficient level or better.

These numbers mean that schools that have more ELL students do significantly worse than schools that don’t have as many non-English proficient students.

So, back to the data on charter schools:

In Bridgeport, 13% of the public school students are ELL students.  At Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy the number is just 6%.

Less than ½ of 1% of the students at The Bridge Academy charter school are ELL students, while only 2.5% of the students at Park City Prep charter school are ELL.

In Hartford, where over 17% of public school students are non-English proficient (ELL), the percent of ELL students at Achievement First’s Harford Academy is less than 5% and there are literally no ELL students at the Jumoke Academy charter school.

In New Haven, the disparity is less prevalent.  12% of New Haven public school students are ELL, which is similar to the percent at the Amistad Academy charter school, but at Elm City College Prep charter school only 9% of the students are ELL.

While the impact of these statistics has yet to be fully documented,  the fact remains that Connecticut’s charter schools are simply not in a position to claim that the quality of their education programs are substantially better than the education in the public schools.

Charter schools may claim that they utilize an “open lottery system and that allows every child to have access to their schools, but the facts simply don’t back up the charter schools’ claim that their student populations represent the full spectrum of students that attend public schools.  Therefore their claim of educational superiority doesn’t add up.

Before Connecticut policy makers shift additional resources from Connecticut’s public schools to the charter schools they have an obligation to address these fundamental issues.

Achievement First and a number of the other urban charter schools are more racially isolated, they educate a student population that is less poor and they fail to take on their fair share of non-English proficient (ELL) students.

While CMT test scores in charter schools may be marginally higher than public school scores, the evidence suggests that their teaching methods may not fully explain those results.

The Governor and the Legislature should be seeking answers to these questions before turning over any more of the taxpayers’ money to these schools.

Note:  For more on the issue of racial isolation in Connecticut schools be sure to read Susan Bigelow’s piece that ran in Sunday’s CTnewsjunkie:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/op-ed_real_school_desegregation_impossible_under_current_system/

Charter Schools to the Rescue! Really?

CTMirror has posted a commentary piece I wrote  that follows up a news story the had written.
 

Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is an unapologetic fan of charter schools.  As reported in the CTMirror, Pryor recently toured the Amistad Academy, the New Haven-based charter school that he helped create when he worked in New Haven.

His message:  The Amistad Academy is an extraordinary success.  He added that Connecticut’s present school funding system serves as a “barrier” to opening more charter schools and that he is promising to change that.

Pryor and other charter school advocates claim that the Amistad Academy and other charter schools provide a measurably better education than do public schools and are engaged in an all out lobbying and public relations campaign to change the way Connecticut funds its schools, shifting scarce resources from our public schools to the charter schools.

Putting aside, for the moment, the evidence that some charter schools get better results because they are “creaming off the highest performing students” and therefore naturally have slightly higher test schools, there is a much more profound and important question.

Universally recognized as one of the most important Supreme Court rulings in the history of the United States, the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared that segregated schools are fundamentally and inherently unconstitutional.

The case overturned the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in all its racist glory, claimed that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were acceptable.

The Brown v. Board of Education case helped create the civil rights movement of the 1960s by determining that in this country “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The time had finally come.  Separate and unequal schools were illegal and even separate but equal schools were illegal.

In the last 55 years this case has had a profound impact on educational policy and American society.

The Connecticut Supreme Court went even further.  When one of the attorneys in the famous Sheff desegregation case said, “the state has an obligation to provide great, racially diverse schools,” Connecticut’s Supreme Court agreed and ordered the legislature to take definitive action to reduce racial isolation in the state’s urban public schools.

Many of those who have clamored for charter schools, including Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, have claimed that charter schools would be an important mechanism for reducing racial isolation.

Just last year the president of Achievement First, one of the largest nonprofit corporations in the charter school business, with over 20 charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, told Connecticut legislators that they were ready to open a new charter high school in Hartford that would provide a racially integrated education.  This comes from the organization whose Connecticut charter schools are among the most racially isolated in the state.

The Connecticut State Department of Education collects data from all public, charter and magnet schools and annually publishes Strategic School Profiles.  Those reports shed light on how, virtually across the board, Connecticut’s charter schools are failing to reduce racial isolation.

In Bridgeport, where the public school body is 91.4% minority, Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is 98.7% minority.

Bridgeport’s other two major charter schools are also more racially isolated than the city’s schools. The Bridge Academy’s student body is 99.2% minority and Park City Prep is 98.8%.

Connecticut’s capitol city of Hartford has a school system that is 92.6% minority and, once again, the charter schools in the city are even more racially isolated.  Achievement First’s Harford Academy and the Jumoke Academy’s student body are both 99.5% minority.

And finally, in New Haven, where the commissioner portrayed the Amistad Academy as an extraordinary success, the public schools have 86.9% minority populations while Achievement First’s Amistad Academy is far more racially isolated with 98.1% of students being minority. Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Prep, comes in even with 98.9% minority.

The Connecticut State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is more racially isolated than the public schools systems that they were designed to help.

Interestingly, the statistic is true for most but not all charter schools.  For example the Common Ground School in New Haven, is successfully providing a more racially diverse learning environment with 81.9% minority compared to the City’s 86.9% number.

As charter schools and their advocates push even harder for more taxpayer funds so they can open more charter schools, State Education Commissioner Pryor will play a vital role as the State Department of Education acts on seven new charter school applications that would create spaces for another 1,600 students.

Meanwhile simply pointing to standardized test scores and claiming they prove charter schools are better is not only simplistic but also a completely false exercise.  Like New Haven’s public schools, the Achievement First charter schools in New Haven failed to meet the state’s required improvement goals.

Furthermore and far more importantly, when it comes to the vital and constitutionally mandated issue of reducing racial isolation, Connecticut’s charter schools are taking the state in exactly the wrong direction.

Early Childhood Education Blog Post (Part II) – Are Jepsen and Malloy wrong on this issue

Two days ago I posted a blog entitled Forget Race to the Top: Connecticut’s Education Policy Takes a Terrible Tumble in which I took Attorney General George Jepsen and Governor Dannel Malloy to task for seeking to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to receive.

The responses I received on the blog and via email were thoughtful and substantive.  Some highlighted the actual Constitutional wording and others pointed out the lack of available funds to pay for added costs of including early childhood education as a Constitutional requirement.

I’d like to respond by urging readers to return, for a moment, to the spring of 1977 when, in the case of Horton v. Meskill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut’s system of school financing was unconstitutional.

Connecticut was one of the first states in the country where the courts stepped in to say that a child’s right to an education was so fundamental that state governments must act to ensure that school financing systems “provide a substantially equal educational opportunity.”

Since Connecticut’s school were funded primarily through local property taxes, there were huge disparities between towns when it came to funding schools and the Court said that the funding situation violated the equal access rights that all of Connecticut’s children have a right to.

The Court went on to say that while the legislature must address the school funding issue it made it clear that how it was addressed was a matter for the legislative branch and not the courts.

In the ensuing years the legislature adopted and refined the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) school funding formula to try and address the funding disparity issue.

Almost twenty years later, the Supreme Court addressed Connecticut’s school funding system in the case of Sheff v. O’NeillAlthough this case dealt more with segregation, the underlying issue was how best to address the right  Connecticut children had to an education. The Teacher Enhancement Act, the Education Cost Sharing Formula and various desegregation measures were all related to the state’s ongoing duty to provide appropriate educational opportunities.

This extraordinary saga took on added importance in the 2010 case of Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v Rell when the Supreme Court ruled that the state actually had a Constitutional obligation to provide students with “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting… [and] to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy.”

As a result of this vital ruling, the legislature must face the fact that not only must it adopt a funding formula that removes disparities in resources but it must ensure that children have access to a quality education that will provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be “productive citizens”.

This now brings us to Jepsen and Malloy’s effort to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what type of education students must be provided.

While there are certainly some short-term budget implications of keeping early childhood education within the definition this isn’t about this bi-annual budget, or the next or even the one after that.

State government has been required to address its duty to properly fund its education system since 1977.  Now, 34  years later, the process is still in flux and will be for the next 34 years.

George Jepsen and Dan Malloy have the opportunity to frame that debate for decades to come.  Early childhood education has proven to be one of the most important factors when it comes to later educational success.  While money alone doesn’t make a system successful, it is clear that a successful education system must include an early education component.

The motion to remove early childhood education was neither necessary nor appropriate.

While it is certainly appropriate to look to the wording of the State Constitution, the truth is that if Connecticut has a Constitutional duty to provide children with a quality and successful educational experience, it will need to ensure that children will have access to early childhood education programs.

Jepsen and Malloy would claim that they are the most pro-education elected officials who have ever held their respective offices.

Their legal action undermines those claims because this truly isn’t about what happens during their tenure but how Connecticut develops over the next 50 years.

And thus I return to my conclusion that this was the wrong move, at the wrong time and their motion should be withdrawn before it does permanent damage.

Forget Race to the Top: Connecticut’s Education Policy Takes a Terrible Tumble

Call it a giant step backwards in the effort to ensure Connecticut’s children receive a quality education.   That would be the effect of a move by Attorney General George Jepsen and Governor Dannel Malloy as they seek to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what Connecticut’s children have a constitutional right to receive.

And no, this isn’t some “education reform” proposal put forward by the Tea Baggers or other anti-government conservatives.

It is a very serious action on the part of Connecticut’s Democratic Attorney General, with the strong support of Connecticut’s Democratic Governor that calls on the state courts to remove early childhood education from the definition of Connecticut’s Constitutional responsibility to provide every child with a quality education.

About a year ago, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell that the State Constitution requires that every child have access to a quality education.

Consider it the most important Supreme Court ruling in nearly fifty years.  In fact, it is safe to say it is the most significant court case since Connecticut’s State Constitution was updated and adopted in 1965.

The Supreme Court sent this landmark case back to the lower court to refine and work out the details related to ensuring every child’s constitutional right to a quality education is protected.

Now, thanks to a blockbuster news story that was published on CTNewsjunkie, we learn that Attorney General George Jepson – with the backing of Governor Dannel Malloy – has submitted a motion demanding the court to carve out early childhood education from the constitutionally mandated rights our children have.

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/malloy_sends_mixed_message_to_early_childhood_education_advocates/

Why Jepsen and Malloy would take such an incredible step remains a mystery.

While reasonable people throughout the education community and across the political spectrum can and do debate the merit of different educational models, the rather archaic notion that “education” begins with kindergarten was thrown out a long time ago.

As Maggie Adair, executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance told CTNewsjunkie, “Research indicates that one of the most effective strategies for improving educational outcomes and promoting economic development is high-quality early education.”

For decades, study after study, educator after educator have shown that early childhood educational experiences are the key to later educational success.

Malloy, Jepsen and nearly every major Democratic elected official has supported expansion of early childhood educational programs.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Candidate Dan Malloy repeatedly pledged his support for early childhood education.  At one meeting with child advocates in October 2010 Malloy promised not to cut state subsidies for early childhood programs and as Governor he followed through on that pledge and even issued an executive order to create an Early Childhood Office as a way to strengthen Connecticut’s long-standing bid for “Race to the Top” federal grants.

With these previous actions, it came as a shock that George Jepsen would file a court motion to remove early childhood education from Connecticut’s definition of what Connecticut’s children have a right to.

Equally shocking is that when asked about Jepson’s move, Malloy told CTNewsjunkie “I think he’s right.”

Malloy followed his endorsement of Jepsen’s action by defending his own support for early childhood education programs adding “So the legal position is not necessarily determinative of what we should do as a state when we can do it.”

Come again?

Connecticut’s people just like the Governor and every economist and every policy maker and every educator and every business owner knows that an educated workforce is the key to a successful economy.

Now we hear the Governor saying that early education programs are good when we can afford them but are not necessary or required when it comes to meeting our legal and moral responsibility to provide our children with a quality education

As CTNewsjunkie reports, a number of early education advocates called Malloy’s pronouncement as “illogical”.  To me, that is being overly generous.

Attorney General Jepson’s legal motion claims that children don’t have a fundamental right to an early education because if one reviews the record of Connecticut’s 1965 Constitutional Convention there is “little doubt that preschool or preschool services do not fall within the scope of the Constitutional right.”

To explain their reasoning, the motion goes on to read “It is readily apparent that the text of the constitutional provision at issue makes no reference to preschool or preschool services…In fact, quite to the contrary, the term “schools” is explicitly modified by the terms “free” and “public” — and, most critically, by the terms “elementary” and “secondary.” Obviously, “pre-kindergarten,” “preschool” and “early childhood education” are terms used to describe programs which are decidedly not elementary or secondary education.”

Considering that early education provides better educational outcomes and the fact that hundreds of elementary schools provide Pre-K and early education programs, the Attorney General’s comments are not only bizarre but counter to the policy goals that have been so well articulated by Democratic policymakers for years.

So why would George Jepsen and Dan Malloy take this extraordinary step?

Nothing they have said to date sheds light on that question.

Connecticut’s State Constitution requires that every child has access to a quality education.  Leaving the concept of early childhood education as a part of the definition of what constitutes a quality education does add margin cost over the coming decades but the impact is relatively minimal compared to the far more significant issue of developing a fair and equitable funding mechanism to ensure that all children receive a quality education.

In addition, as we know from earlier education funding lawsuits, it takes years, even decades, to indentify, develop and implement state funding formulas that successfully achieve constitutionally mandated goals.

Even if this Governor wanted another term in office, leaving early childhood education as part of the legal definition of education would have little to no impact.

The true beneficiaries of having a definition of education that includes early childhood education are the generations to come, long after today’s policymakers are gone.

If Connecticut has any chance to develop a competitive 21st Century economy, we will have to develop a successful education system and we can’t achieve that without building off a foundation of successful early childhood programs.

Before the Attorney General continues with this outlandish motion, both he and Malloy owe the people of Connecticut a far more coherent explanation as to why they are taking an action that will undermine our children and our economy.

Malloy to appoint Charter School Champion as Connecticut’s next State Commissioner of Education?

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

The Courant’s Rick Green is reporting that “Stefan Pryor, deputy mayor of Newark, NJ and one of the original founders of the public charter school Amistad Academy in New Haven will be named Connecticut’s next education commissioner tomorrow.”

See story here: http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2011/09/stefan-pryor-charter-school-fo.html

If true it would be astunning development.

Pryor who, according to Green,  apparently has no direct classroom public education experience does come highly regarded but his direct association with the charter school movement would definitely be controversial and could call into question Connecticut’s ability to respond to state Supreme Court rulings that Connecticut’s present funding system is unconstitutional.

Furthermore it will certainly raise the question about whether Connecticut is attempting to walk away from the United States Supreme Court’s most fundamental case on education – Brown vs. Board of Education which determined that racially separate but equal education violates the United States Constitution (as does racially separate and unequal education).

There will undoubtedly be a lot more discussion about Malloy’s choice if it comes to pass…

But why would it raise these questions?

Connected started funding charter schools in direct response to the racial isolation that has been taking place in Connecticut’s urban centers.  The expectation was that charter schools, like magnet schools, would attract more non-minority students so that schools would provide environments that were less racially isolated.

The Amistad Academy which Pryor helped create is Connecticut’s flagship Charter School.

Pointing to its higher attendance rates and higher test scores Amistad and charter school advocates have successfully pushed for more funding for charter schools, even at the expense of Connecticut’s public schools.  Their primary initiative – “the money follows the child” – has yet to gain widespread support but they have said they will be pushing hard for the legislation in the coming legislative session.

But Amistad is also the poster-child for the most serious policy shortcoming facing charter schools.

According to the state’s school profile data most Connecticut charter schools are significantly MORE racially isolated then the schools systems in the very communities they are designed to help.

New Haven’s public schools are about approximately 88% minority but Amistad Academy’s student body is 98.5% minority.  While about 10% of New Haven’s school population is white, Amistad’s white students make up only about 1% of the student body.

In fact, according to the reports that all school are required to file with the state of Connecticut, Amistad has become significantly more racially isolated during the past decade.

Furthermore, while Connecticut’s public schools face significant challenges responding to students with developmental issues that require special education services, Amistad and many other Charter schools report virtually no students in need of special education services.

Those who have challenged the efficacy of charter schools point out that it is a lot easier to get higher test scores if schools don’t have to attend to those students who need special help.

In any case, stay tuned.  If Malloy really is selecting a charter school advocate to lead Connecticut’s system of public schools there will be a lot more to be said.

Shocking News as Connecticut Moves to End Premier Birth to Three – Early Connection Program (again!).

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Under the cover of night (or in this case under the cover of the recent state employee layoffs) it now appears that the state of Connecticut is going to eliminate the extraordinarily successful Early Connections Program.

Early Connections is the “primary source of intervention and care for infants and toddlers with special needs, including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”,  providing essential support services to about 250 children and their families in up to 100 communities around the state.

While there are a number of community based non-profit agencies that provide birth to three services, the Early Connections program plays a fundamental and unique role in serving some of the most vulnerable young children in our state.

Early Connections is both nationally acclaimed for its level of service and has been at the forefront of developing successful interventions and curriculum that provide young children and their parents with the support they need to become more successful and productive students in later years.

Parents have said that the Early Connections Program has been the single most important factor in the development of their developmentally challenged children.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has attempted to end the Early Connections program.  Following the Rell/SEBAC deal and the massive number of early retirements that took place in 2009, DDS tried to end the program by prohibiting new admissions to Early Connections.

After a significant out-cry from across the state, DDS reversed itself and re-opened the admission process and preserved this stellar program.  But rather than make this program the priority that it needed to be – neither Governor Rell nor Governor Malloy have invested the resources necessary to expand the present program.

Ending admissions and phasing out the Early Connections program was part of Governor Malloy’s Plan B budget.

Upon approval of the Malloy/SEBAC agreement all layoff notices were supposed to be rescinded and existing programs maintained.

However, according to sources close to the Early Connections program, staff and parents with children in the program are being told or will be told that no new admissions will be allowed and Early Connections will cease to be when the existing infants and toddlers graduate out of the program over the next three years.

While the state agency has the legal authority to end admissions, acting without the full review and approval of the Connecticut General Assembly is particularly troubling.

More than two years ago, Jonathan Kantrowitz, who writes a blog for the Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate and other Hearst papers wrote a great piece about the need to properly fund this vital program.  See: http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/2009/10/27/fully-funding-early-connections-vital-to-connectcut-school-districts/

Education Reform, The Achievement Gap and the “promise” of higher education…

Another wait, what? Moment….

Governor Malloy proposes and the Democrats adopt the biggest budget cuts in state history for Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.

Malloy proposes and the Democrats adopt a budget that maintains the present level of funding of the ECS education funding formula

Malloy Proposes and the Democrats actually provide a slight increase in funding for Magnet and Charter Schools

And now a bill scrapping the college requirement for substitute teachers passes overwhelming and now heads to Malloy’s desk for his signature.

Yup, Senate Bill 933, allowing the Commissioner of Education to waive the college requirement for substitute teachers passed by General Assembly by overwhelmingly numbers.  In fact, only 2 legislators voted no. (Toni Walker and Roberta Willis voted no)

The explanation…. State Representative Andy Fleischmann, the Education Committee’s co-chairman said “We’ve heard from a lot of districts it’s causing a burden on them.”

At a time when literally thousands of college graduates are unemployed, requiring that substitute teachers have a college degree… is causing a burden on school districts?

Meanwhile….

“The future of this state in terms of its ability to compete and provide economic opportunity is based on the ability of its residents to get valuable and
relevant post-secondary credentials. . . . You’re just not going to get ahead as an economy or as an individual with just a high school diploma.”  – Mike Meotti, Commissioner of Higher Education

“Connecticut must make our schools [colleges] responsive to workforce needs, focus on increasing graduation rates…”  – State Senator Beth Bye, Co-Chair Legislature’s Higher Education Committee

Oh, and at the same time, the Legislature continues to move forward with a Malloy proposal (H.B. 6387) that would allow communities to shift scarce state education funding away from schools and to non-education expenses if the number of students in the district “declined markedly”.  So instead of requiring them to use state tax dollars to upgrade their school programs and truly attack the achievement gap, Malloy and the Legislature are on the cusp of letting them use those education funds for whatever they see fit.

Welcome to Connecticut’s public policy arena….

Connecticut Charter Schools: The Unwritten Story of Greater Racial and Ethnic Isolation – Funded, in no small part, by Connecticut Taxpayers.

This blog post is intended to shed light and promote discussion and debate about a vital education policy issue facing public education.

Once considered outside of the mainstream, charter schools have become a major player in the national debate about education reform.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has already donated more than $450 million to support charter schools around the country and Gates himself has called charter schools “the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate”.

In 1992, Minnesota and California were the first states to pass charter school laws.  By 1995, 19 states had adopted laws allowing the creation of charter schools and by 2003 a total of 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia had all joined the effort to support the creation of charter schools

Connecticut, home of the largest achievement gap in the nation, has also witnessed the rise of charter schools as an appropriate educational model (along with magnet schools and “Open Choice programs” that allow some students to move within the public education system).

Connecticut joined the Charter School band-wagon in 1996 when legislation was adopted promoting the creation of charter schools.  According to a recent report from the State Department of Education, it was felt that “charter schools could serve as a catalyst for innovation in the state’s public schools. It was also anticipated that charters could serve as another effective vehicle to reduce the racial and economic isolation of Connecticut’s public school students.”

Backed by evidence that charter schools were successfully improving standardized test scores advocates were able to persuade Connecticut policy makers to dramatically increase state support for charter schools.  Through the state’s Charter School Grant, Connecticut has poured over $300 million into its emerging charter schools.  Over the past decade, direct state support for charters has skyrocketed from $14 million a year in 2001 to $53 million this year.

State Support for Charter Schools by Fiscal Year (in millions):

FY 00-01                                 $14

FY 01-02                                 $15

FY 02-03                                 $16

FY 03-04                                 $16

FY 04-05                                 $20

FY 05-06                                 $22

FY 06-07                                 $30

FY 07-08                                 $35

FY 08-09                                 $41

FY 09-10                                 $48

FY 10-11                                 $53

In addition to the belief that charter schools were generating better academic results, support for the charter school model grew because the schools and their proponents (including Achievement First, a major charter school operator in New York and Connecticut) repeatedly told state leaders that charter schools were a vital piece in the ongoing effort to address the racial and ethnic segregation that plagues the Connecticut’s public school system.

However, what has gone unreported is that a review of the data reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools are even more racially and ethnically isolated than the districts the schools are recruiting from.  In fact, faced with court rulings requiring Connecticut to confront its segregated schools systems, charter schools are taking Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction.

When the facts are examined, not only have charter schools failed in their promise to address segregation but as a result of the effective lobbying efforts of the charter schools, scarce public resources are now being used to undermine the state’s own policy goals on racial and ethnic isolation.

The data could not be clearer, Connecticut’s urban school systems are predominantly minority.

Bridgeport Public Schools: 

91.2% Minority                                

47.3% Latino

40.1% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

 

Hartford Public Schools:                             

93.3% Minority

52.3% Latino

43.5% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

 

New Haven Public Schools:

 87.7% Minority

36.6% Latino

28.9% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

Recognizing the reality of these extraordinary demographics, the state turned to charter schools and other alternative education models to create educational settings that were more diverse.

However, as noted, the State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is even more racially and ethnically isolated.

In Bridgeport, where 91.2% of the students are minority; the percentage of minority students in the city’s charter schools are actually higher than in the city as a whole.

School     (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy’s     (98.7%)

The Bridge Academy     (99.5%)

New Beginnings     (98.3%)

Park City Prep     (98.2%)

The same situation is true in Hartford where 93.3% of the students are minority but the population of minority students in the city’s charter schools is 100%

School     (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Harford     (100%)

Jumoke     (100%)

And in New Haven, where 87.7% of the students are minority only 1 out of the 4 area charter schools seem able to attract non-minority students.

School (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Amistad     (98.1%)

Achievement First – Elm City College Prep     (99.0%)

Common Ground School     (83.2%)

Highville Charter     (98.3%)

When it comes to serving Latino students, the failure of Connecticut’s charter schools is even more appalling.

Although 47.3% of Bridgeport students are Latino,  the percentage of Latino students in Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is Charter Schools is 38.8% Latino, The Bridge Academy has a Latino population of 29.4% , New Beginnings Latino percent is 13.7% and Park City Prep’s Latino population is 31.1%

An even more stark situation exists in Hartford where 52.3% of the students are Latino, but only 10.7% of the students at Achievement First – Hartford are Latino while Jumoke Charter’s Latino population is only 3.2%

New Haven’s charter schools have done a bit better serving the Latino community, but the charter schools there are still falling short.  With a Latino student population of 36.6% in New Haven’s public schools, Achievement First – Amistad has a Latino population of 31.5% , Achievement First – Elm City has 20.2% Latino students, the Common Ground School is 30.7% Latino and  Highville Charter has a Latino Population of 7%.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that despite Connecticut’s urban areas having significant numbers of students coming from non-English speaking homes, charter schools have somehow managed to create learning environments in which virtually NONE OF THE STUDENTS who come from non-English speaking households end up in their schools.

As educators and policy makers know, one of the most significant challenges to educational achievement is language barriers particularly a problem when students take their homework (which is written in English) home to non-English speaking households.  Greater parental engagement in their children’s education is hard enough, but when the students are learning in a language that is not spoken at home it makes it virtually impossible to generate significant parental involvement.

In Bridgeport 40% of the students go home to a non-English speaking home.  That percentage increases to 44.7% in Hartford and in New Haven the percent of students coming from non-English speaking homes is 28.6%

In Connecticut, charter schools are required to ensure equal access to their schools.  Efforts must be made to recruit students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and admission tests can’t be used.  In fact, entrance decisions must include a blind lottery system.  So that said, compare the percentage of students from non-English speaking homes with the numbers the charter school have reported to the State Department of Education:

School     (% students from non-English speaking homes)

Bridgeport Public Schools     (40%)

Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy     (0.6%)

The Bridge Academy     (14.9%)

New Beginnings     (0%)

Park City Prep     (0%)

HartfordPublic Schools     (44.7% )

Achievement First – Hartford     (0%)

Jumoke     (0%)

New HavenPublic Schools     (28.6%)

Achievement First – Amistad     (0%)

Achievement First – Elm City Prep     (0%)

Common Ground School     (4.6%)

Highville Charter     (0%)

The data is certainly unsettling.  If Connecticut’s publically funded charter schools are supposed to be equally accessible to all and up to 4 in 10 students from those areas come from non-English speaking households then it is pretty unbelievable and completely unconscionable that almost no charter school students come from non-English speaking households.

There is no question that the concept of charter schools is politically very attractive, but the data raises very serious questions about Connecticut’s charter schools and Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly would do well to call a “time out” when it comes to on-going support for these schools and determine how to proceed considering these schools are creating greater racial isolation while failing to service the breadth of our city’s ethnic communities.