Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Why are you Hung Up on this Technical Argument?

Kevin asks in comments what is probably on many of your minds, essentially "Why are you so hung up on this narrow argument about mayoral academy enrollment?"

This isn't a peripheral point however. What is at stake is whether or not mayoral academies will be diverse regional schools or just another vehicle for creating urban charters -- perhaps even more segregated urban charters than RI's current independent charters.

None of the CMO's that RIDE and RIMA want to bring to Rhode Island have any interest in creating a diverse regional school. It is not what they do. It is not what they want to do. This in itself limits the growth of CMO-based charters in RI. The "equal enrollment" clause in the mayoral academy law is a gift to charter opponents. Embrace it. Don't give it up without a fight.

Beyond that, it mitigates the negative effects of these schools in innumerable ways. It is harder to show need and demand if there is an actual enrollment target from each community. It potentially imposes much higher costs on smaller communities, discouraging their participation in combination with big ones.

Perhaps most importantly to me, it makes the schools much more accountable, because middle class parents and towns have much more firepower in that regard. This has been illustrated in virtually every important event the existing academy and the proposals: Democracy Prep being kicked out, Cumberland blocking co-location, Cranston torpedoing the first AF proposal, BPV having to expand into Pawtucket, AF having to site in Providence, etc., etc. If you are concerned about harsh discipline in "no excuses" schools, the solution is just more middle class kids and parents in the schools. They'll moderate things over time.

What I find most offensive about the current proposal is it allows a mayor to sign up his town and then the town to simply wash its hands of the whole affair. If North Providence elementary school parents applied to the proposed AF academy in Providence at the same rate as the other three towns, seven percent of the school will be from North Providence. If there is a preference for low-income students, that might knock it down a couple more points. But nobody really believes there is as much demand for this school among North Providence parents as there would be for parents in Providence, so North Providence's participation could drop down into the low single digits. Yet they still get equal say in the school's governance and their mayor could be chairman of the board. Heck, they could start another one next year and sign North Providence again too. They don't care if they lose four low income students a year to a charter in Providence. Throw in Little Compton and Chariho while you're at it. It's a great resume builder for an up and coming mayor!

I'm probably burying the lede in this rant, but finally, this is an actual legal reason to stop the application. Unpopularity is not. Nor should it be. A charter school has to show need and demand, not overall political opinion. It is, in fact, the original point of charters -- innovation and approaches that the mass of schools are not ready for or interested in. You have to win the politics, but there also needs to be some legal rationale for the regents to cite.

And just the stupidity of the whole thing offends me.

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