By JOSEPH H. CROWLEY Recently, Gov. McGee was quoted in the Providence Journal. Gov. McGee is absolutely right in his quote, "Now is the time to focus on creating more high quality educational opportunities for all students, not fewer." Unfortunately,
Recently, Gov. McGee was quoted in the Providence Journal. Gov. McGee is absolutely right in his quote, “Now is the time to focus on creating more high quality educational opportunities for all students, not fewer.” Unfortunately, his suggested remedy is backwards. He was quoted in reference to opposing the three-year moratorium on charter schools.
For starters, Rhode Island has been extremely lucky. It has been reported only one charter has failed in this state. The Network for Public Education released a report in 2020 showing charter schools across the United States failed half the time during a 28-year stretch and more than one quarter of them folded within the first five years. Charter schools do not provide the stability America needs in its educational system.
There is a widely held misconception our high-poverty public schools are failing. “Failing” was a label created by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for schools which did not close the learning gaps between students receiving free and reduced lunches and those not. Learning gaps being the difference in test scores between richer and poorer students. The faulty assumption made by NCLB was the learning gaps originated in our schools when, in reality, poverty creates learning gaps.
Mistakenly assuming schools created learning gaps, billions of dollars were spent to “fix” the “failing” schools. Educators were fired or reassigned. Schools were closed. New curricula were developed. Elaborate teacher evaluation systems were created. “Alternate” schools were created. This process has gone on for two decades.
The outcome? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our nation's report card, very little. NAEP, which tests fourth and eight graders across the country biannually, found over 12 years test scores for everyone went up – a very modest 10 points on a 500 scale. The learning gaps that were the target of the time and money spent “fixing” schools? They were not reduced at all.
Learning gaps, for the most part, come from the difference in the homes our students come from. Children of reasonably well educated parents do better than the children living in needy circumstances. The conversations the more affluent children hear at home lead to better scores in literacy tests. Having reading materials leads to better literacy skills. Having better educated parents assisting with homework leads to better test results.
Not living in the highly stressed environments of poverty leads to better test results.
Johns Hopkins University recently completed a study of the Providence schools. There is no doubt there are issues needing to be addressed in Providence. However, to suggest all of the learning gaps between richer and poorer students are the fault of the schools is wrong. Johns Hopkins, some years back, published its “dropout factory” list of high schools. Back then, Johns Hopkins did not take into consideration every high school on their list was serving large populations of needy students. Then, as now, poverty was the real issue – not the schools.
Think about it. All across America our “failing” schools are in high poverty areas. What type of “dark force” drove all of our worst teachers and administrators into high poverty schools? How could Central Falls have only hired teachers needing improvement while Barrington hired the “highly qualified”? It makes no sense. Poverty is the issue.
“Now is the time to focus on creating more high quality educational opportunities for all students, not fewer.” So says the governor. And that is absolutely true. Some charters have found ways to reduce learning gaps – extended school days and years is an example. Now is the time to implement the successful strategies developed in charter schools in all of our public schools to provide “high quality educational opportunities for all students.” We need high-quality public schools serving “all” students. Charters were created to experiment with various pedagogies to determine what worked best. They were not created to compete with our district schools. Charter schools cannot replace all of our public schools. What they are dong is drawing resources away from our district schools.
It is unfortunate charters have used their marketing teams and lobbyists to convince parents and legislators our public schools are failing and charters are a better choice. A charter school with seven-hour school days and 190 days in a school year will have – should have – better educational outcomes than the neighborhood school limited to six hours for 180 days. It is time to level the playing field and provide neighborhood schools serving large numbers of children living in poverty with the resources to extend their school days and years.
The governor is suggesting taking funds from district schools to create “educational opportunities” for a small percentage of students. The governor is doing nothing to create “high-quality educational opportunities” for the schools serving over 90 percent of our students.
A Cranston resident, Joseph H. Crowley is past president of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals and author with Albert Colella of “Poverty & Despair vs Education & Opportunity.”