In the past year, we've established that district-based turnarounds in Providence -- there is apparently no legal basis for site-based reforms to be sustained against the whim of the mayorally appointed school committee. Whether state-administered school turnarounds (e.g., Hope High School) have any legal protection against the local school committee once successfully "turned around" by the state is very much an open question. Until last year, it was believed that contractual language in Providence's contract over "site-based management" had some weight. This has turned out not to be the case.
So then, when is working for school reform in Providence or Rhode Island not a sucker's bet? I tend to think of this from the perspective of the individual teacher, but Dean Millot's series (they need special tags or something for these mini-series...) of posts on the power relationships between Charter Management Organizations (CMO's) and local boards put it in a broader context. Just as teachers have to consider whether or not to invest their time in fixing a school if their work is likely to be undone by the politically appointed (in Providence's case) board, a CMO has to consider whether a charter school's board can and will stick with them long enough for the investment to pay off financially. Do they need to control who gets on the board to make it more allied to the CMO than the community?
Getting back to Rhode Island, the only good answer is a "traditional" community-based charter, where the board can be made up of like-minded people sympathetic to the values of the school (or, less idealistically, the interests of the CMO -- although I'm hazy to what extent CMO's can participate in the management of RI charters at all).
The new "mayoral academies" are just a perverse case -- the board is made up of the mayors or their appointees from participating communities, which must include a mix of urban and suburban/rural towns. This pracically guarantees diverging interests over the long haul. I don't see how the schools don't become political footballs over the years, and I don't know why a CMO would want to deal with it. It is bad enough having to deal with the inconstancies of one city government, adding three more into the mix hardly seems like an improvement. Leaving aside my other concerns about the academies, the governance structure is just a typical Rhode Island jury rigged workaround.
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