Monday, June 10, 2013

I Leave Comments

Bob Plain wonders if charter schools like Blackstone Academy can be "scaled."
I reply:

Hi Bob,

If you want to understand the inner dynamics of school reform battles in RI today, you have to have some background on the mostly Gates-funded, mostly small high school reforms of the early aughts (and related CES-related efforts throughout the 90's).  It isn't a coincidence that many of the leading figures opposing Gist and RttT come from Hope High or, in my case, worked at Feinstein High School.  Feinstein, Hope Arts, and E3 (the only one that survived) all had NECAP reading scores comparable to Blackstone Academy's:

Blackstone Academy (2011-12): 80%

Feinstein High School (2008-09): 77%

Hope Arts (2008-09): 76%

That was 144 seats in *neighborhood* PPSD schools that were getting the same kind of performance in reading, and close to it by other measures -- except math -- when Tom Brady's PPSD and Deborah Gist's RIDE *aggressively* moved in to end these programs.

In Feinstein's case, Gist named Feinstein "persistently low-performing," and the PPSD decided to close it in the year it had the highest NECAP reading score any PPSD neighborhood high school had ever gotten or will ever get, exceeding the state average.  The year its low-income students entirely closed the writing achievement gap vs. non-FRL students statewide.  The year FHS completely eliminated the writing achievement gap in for its African American students vs. whites statewide and FHS's hispanic students vs. whites statewide.

Hope Arts (and IT) had similar achievements, nonetheless, RIDE and PPSD killed them, with RIDE and Gist pointedly refusing to enforce RI law and at least retain Hope's block schedule despite losing a lawsuit in the RI Supreme Court.  For years, no successes at either school would be publicly acknowledged by the state or district.  Did you know that Feinstein sent about a third of its graduating seniors to URI Talent Development year after year?  Of course not.  You can't praise a school you're trying to close.

Creating these programs was long, difficult, frankly expensive work.  Destroying them also took a lot of planning and a coordinated bureaucratic assault by the city and state, which scattered communities, wrecked the careers of dozens of teachers and administrators and pushed students into lower-achieving programs.

This was Deborah Gist's defining moment for many of us.  It was cold, brutal and remorseless, we lived through every minute of it, and we won't forget it or pretend it didn't happen.

That Blackstone Academy has similar performance is no coincidence.  The scenes Steiny describes would be familiar to any Hope or Feinstein (or E-Cubed) alum.  In fact, at least one long-time member of the BA faculty, Brian Fong, did his student teaching for Brown at Feinstein and taught there for two years before moving to Blackstone Academy, where he continued to use projects and lessons developed at Feinstein.

Deborah Gist likes to say we have the same goals for kids and schools, and to some extent that is true, because she will praise one school that is doing the same things as schools she is villifying.  It isn't about what is being done in the schools, but who has the power, and it can't be unionized career educators.  I can't think of any other explanation.


Sean said...

Still not a 100% sure what Brady and Gist's incentives were for closing those schools down.

If I'm reading correctly, you're attributing the cause of the closures to the teachers being unionized?

This strikes me as arbitrary. Wouldn't the commissioner want a traditional public school success story?

And there was a formula for persistently low achieving, right?

Tom Hoffman said...

Well... I'd agree that it just doesn't make any sense. It didn't at the time, and it doesn't now.

Brady didn't shut it down because it was unionized, but because it was different and autonomous, and the big push was for uniformity.

There is really no question that Gist would have praised Feinstein and Hope if they'd been charters. Maybe it would have been enough if they had been HER turnarounds.

But yes! Why didn't they just take credit for the success stories? It is bizarre, really.

Tom Hoffman said...

Also, this was the first round of PLA, and RI "raced" to be the first in the country to implement it, by a considerable margin, including pushing out the announcements before the new test scores came out -- but probably after they had them.

They didn't disclose the original formula, and I thought about requesting it as an open record, but ultimately, the wording of the regulation seems to allow them to name any school with a four year graduation rate under a certain level to be named PLA, so you couldn't "win" by challenging the calculation.

Tom Hoffman said...

I accidentally deleted a comment by Mike:

So this is weird and I vaguely remember reading it:

"School Supt. Tom Brady first recommended shutting down both the schools, due to declining enrollment and the need for costly improvements. Estimates for the renovations topped $35 million at Perry alone."

And then:

"Through the lease, Achievement First would rent the building [Perry] for one dollar per year for a period of 20 years. The public charter school will oversee a $10 million renovation of the building at no cost to the City."

I've seen renovation cost projections run wild (see Little Compton, now) but this seems, well, like a coverup.

I also went back and read your old pieces from 2011, which were compelling- particularly the Krieger back-and-forth- but ultimately uninformative. This continues to make absolutely no sense to me.

Maybe it was a three-pronged: Gist in her Time 100 mode, legitimate concerns about declining enrollment, and a hunger for SIG. None stands on its own as a plausible explanation, though, especially after achievement skyrocketed. Maybe they were in over their heads?

Krieger seemed clueless.

Brady was an original champion of UP, an organization designed to innovate within labor-management constraints. Seems like Feinstein already had the feel of what they wanted in an UP school.

What a weird story.