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Stop Pointing Fingers at New York and Clean Up Your Own Backyard

There is big controversy in New York over alleged high suspension rates and high mobility rates at Success Academy Charter Schools and the heat has recently been turned up by a hard hitting piece in The New York Times. We do not have any Success Academy Charter Schools in Rhode Island. Tim Duffy is the President of The Rhode Island Association of School Committees. He sent the New York Times article around to all school committee members currently on his listserv and has tweeted the article.

Other than to inflame his members about the charter sector and provide fodder for anti-charter apologists, what is gained from sending around a story about a school that doesn’t exist in Rhode Island and has no bearing on their responsibility as public servants? When I reached out and asked Mr. Duffy about the email he responded saying “because it is relevant to the discussion that is currently taking place on charter schools.” I disagree with Mr. Duffy based on what the data tells us. Since one of the central criticisms of the New York school is its high suspension rate, it makes sense to look and see what our suspension rates look like here in the Ocean State, not just in the charter sector but also in our 36 school districts.

Let’s start with the good news. In looking at suspension data over time, the vast majority of Rhode Island districts have reduced their out of school suspension rates since 2010. Providence is down by 18 points, South Kingstown is down by 27 points, and Pawtucket is down by 18 points. While folks can argue about the efficacy of suspension versus restorative practice, there seems to be consensus among Rhode Island school leaders that high suspension rates are bad and low suspension rates are the goal. So, what’s happening in our charter schools? Rhode Island charter schools as a sector have a 9 per 100 suspension rate versus a statewide average of 22 per 100. That’s right. Suspension rates are lower in our charter sector.

If we look only at our urban core districts the number jumps to 36 percent with one of them registering a staggering rate of 102 percent. Does Mr. Duffy have anything to send around to his members about that?

Blackstone Valley Prep, a mayoral academy serving Cumberland, Lincoln, Pawtucket, and Central Falls and the school my own children attend, has been compared by many to Success Academy in New York. Well, last year BVP had a suspension rate of 5 per 100 and this year so far, they have had zero out of school suspensions. Likewise, the article raises concerns around student mobility, also known as attrition.  Here again, the charters in Rhode Island are stronger than traditional public schools, despite accusations to the contrary.

The stability rate for charters is 94% versus a state average of 88%. Commissioner Wagner has already spoken of student mobility as a top priority and he is looking at out of the box ways to mitigate what has proven to be a persistent challenge in our urban core. School committees and superintendents across our state have overwhelmingly pushed for adjustments to the funding formula because they contend that after five years with the formula, it has become clear that the ‘money follows the child’ model is putting districts at a financial disadvantage when it comes to charter school tuitions. With my town of Cumberland leading the charge, some committees and legislators have even fought hard to pass a moratorium on all charters until the funding formula is, in their words, ‘fixed.’ Last week, Governor Raimondo began work on that ‘fix.’ She named a 29 person working group to study the funding formula and make recommendations around where adjustments are needed with ‘fairness across all school types’ cited as one of the top priorities’ laid out by the Governor.

“It is an excellent funding formula,” Raimondo said. “But it’s been around for five years. It needs to be tweaked.” It seems that Tm Duffy, president of the RI Association of School Committees, would be better served encouraging his members to tackle their own suspension and attrition rates than fanning the flames with a New York Times story about a school two hundred miles away.

Data source: RI Kids Count Factbook

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