Rhode Island · School Talk

Rhode Island Voters Overwhelmingly Favor Expanding Charter Schools

The much awaited Brown University Poll is out and while it’s sort of interesting to know that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear to be the primary front-runners and that Rhode Islanders generally support spending state funds to promote tourism, the numbers that quite literally jumped off the page are these:

Likely voters were asked about policy issues currently in the news. Asked whether they support or oppose the expansion of charter schools in Rhode Island, a strong majority, 59 percent, support the expansion, while just 21 percent oppose. Support for the expansion was consistent among all demographic groups, with the strongest support coming from non-white groups.

Sometimes it’s as if our legislature doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or is so influenced by special interests, that they are quite literally incapable of doing what voters want them to do. While the public wants charters to expand, those in power do not.  

As has become custom in the Rhode Island General Assembly, multiple anti-charter bills have been filed this session, sponsored and cosponsored by the usual suspects who seem to have zero concern over student outcomes since they rarely, if ever, talk about them. They sit on committees and spew wildly inaccurate information about charter schools while ignoring the elephant in the room: Rhode Island’s chronic academic under-performance.

They dig in mercilessly to the 990s of charter schools in the state, desperate to find that “gotcha” detail about an exorbitant salary or fancy sounding administrator title (which they inevitably have misinterpreted because they don’t know how to read the document) and they quickly become yet another vessel of misinformation about the schools of choice that are in great demand and are putting up pretty remarkable results for kids.

When it comes to the schools Rhode Island lawmakers don’t like for political reasons, they at least attempt to “know stuff.” Sure, they get most of it wrong because they’re scanning for what they want instead of reading to understand, but at least there’s a shred of effort.

Where there is no effort is around schools about which they need to “know stuff”, schools they should be thinking about every day, schools that need them desperately. But, tragically, they seem to lack any drive or curiosity about  “knowing stuff” about the schools that, on their watch, consistently have below 10% of their students reading or doing math at grade level.

Yes. These lawmakers who make sport of throwing rocks at successful schools never mention the fact that they have done nothing, absolutely nothing, to improve Rhode Island’s schools in ways that change outcomes for kids. On the contrary, their unwillingness to buck the unions or change state education policy has made things worse for kids.They probably can’t even name the schools that, on their watch, have fallen to single digit proficiencies and if they can, they most definitely don’t talk about them or bring it up in hearings when they’re too busy playing “gotcha,”.

No. The problem in their mind is a school that beats the state average by double digits in every category because, simply put, they don’t like its governance model.

The elephant in the room. Student outcomes. Ignored, again.

Last year I made the following claim in a Providence Journal Op-Ed:

“Of the 10,000 Rhode Island children in charter school lotteries for the fall, more than 70 percent are poor …. In addition, a majority of them are students of color.”

Politifact checked it out and gave it a “mostly true,” with the caveat that the numbers could actually be even higher than I had asserted.  According to the Brown Poll out yesterday, support for charter expansion is highest among non-white voters and that is true in national polls as well.

So here we are. Thirteen months later. The newest round of applications to charter schools has reached a record high of and 59 percent of Rhode Island voters support charter expansion while only 21 percent oppose it.

Snap out of your self interest, lawmakers. You have work to do for your people. Now.

What do you think?

One thought on “Rhode Island Voters Overwhelmingly Favor Expanding Charter Schools

  1. Wonder if the question added "even if it means paying higher local taxes" how it would go?

    The problem is charters are viewed as a single entity so all charters good or bad, etc.

    But, let's put some of this back on RIDE.

    What RIDE *won't do*

    (1) Do a by school comparison. You can't say an aggregate charter's student performance is better or worse than entire school districts unless the demographics are representative since we know performance is impacted by socio-economic characteristics. The better measure would be to say "this is school the child would have attended and here is how students of that (gender, race, poverty level) characteristic do. RIDE *refuses* to do this.

    Why? Maybe because it will show some schools, especially the ones who are *non-representative* actually under perform?

    (2) RIDE was supposed to set financial standards in 2013 and publish financial ratings for charters. Why, 3 years later, do those not exist? If losing $355/student will bankrupt a charter, let's see the financials! I can find my town's single audit on public sites, why won't RIDE publish the 990s and audits of charters?

    While I agree some look for silly items to question, you also find things like a $100K payment to a charter board member..who is also the owner of the parent company of the charter. Last I checked no school board member made $100K for being a board member.

    (3) Charter schools are supposed to be factories of innovations. Charters are supposed to list innovative practices in their annual reports (I know, who knew those even existed outside of RIDE and charter school principals?). Why won't RIDE publish those?

    Why won't RIDE produce a report "innovations learned" (other than yes, a longer school day and waiver of mandates help) from charter schools? Not scientific, but any teacher of a public school I have ever asked on what they have learned from a charter school that helps them improve pedagogy or student learning answers "nothing".

    (4) RIDE's person in charge of charters for several years got hired by the LT Gov – a well known advocate of charters..hmm, think that would be the case if RIDE's charter school office ever produced anything "negative" of charters? Actually enforced some rules (like financial reporting – one charter went 4 years without doing mandatory financial reporting; one charter has NOT passed a budget by the start of the FY for two consecutive years; one charter held an illegal lottery, etc.

    Yes, "traditional" schools have issues too, but there are many checks and balances..the people guarding the chickens are the foxes when it comes to charters..

    (5) RIDE refuses to analyze the impact of the sibling policy. So, for a diverse school, that policy may be useful. But how about charters that are already white and higher income? Sibling policy actually works against the point of charters — one charter this year had 65% of slots *already reserved* for siblings..who were of course all white and non-FRL.

    Perhaps the GA and others go too far, but let's be honest in that RIDE has NOT been an impartial body in providing supervision/accountability and the charter schools themselves (although I understand this is harder) don't police themselves. They know the ones that are under performing or bringing scrutiny on the entire charter school community due to questionable practices – yet it's defend all and not police ourselves (no different I suppose than unions!)

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