Making integration work

Is economic integration a feasible goal? By creating high-achieving schools in high-poverty areas, charter networks such as KIPP and Achievement First, derailed the debate on school segregation, writes Dana Goldstein. But Rhode Island is creating charter schools that mix urban and suburban students.

The Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) model, authorized by state law in 2008, lets mayors of neighboring towns and cities create regional charter schools.

RIMA’s first school, Blackstone Valley Prep, is located in affluent Cumberland, but draws elementary and middle students from low-income Pawtucket and Central Falls as well as Lincoln, another well-off town. Fifty-five percent of the students are black and Latino, 65 percent are poor, and 43 percent are English Language Learners.

In its pedagogical methods, BVP is a traditional “no excuses ” charter, with uniforms, an extended learning day, and privately-funded extras, including free breakfast and a gorgeous, newly renovated building. Administrators and teachers greet students each morning with a handshake and eye contact, the kids are expected to line up and walk through the hallways in silence, and there are songs and chants to help the students memorize their multiplication tables and phonics principles. Standardized test gains and scores are impressive.

BVP kindergartners and first-graders “get their wiggles out” after their daily breakfast and morning meeting.

The no-excuses model doesn’t always attract middle-class and affluent parents, Goldstein writes. But there are 299 Cumberland and Lincoln students signed up for BVP’s next lottery as well as 431 Pawtucket and Central Falls students. That should boost the percentage of middle-class students.

RIMA is awaiting approval of five new regional charter schools in a partnership between Providence and the town of Cranston.

Goldstein also visited troubled Central Falls High, a failing school in a failing  town. New leaders are trying to change the school culture, she writes, but it’s hard when the teachers are demoralized after last year’s mass firings. Discipline remains a problem.

“The kids, when they’re here, need to know this is a place of learning,” (math teacher Anthony) Kulla said. “Right now they don’t.”

Central Falls High students are predominantly low-income and Hispanic.

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  1. “The no-excuses model doesn’t always attract middle-class and affluent parents, ”

    Why? The cynical side of me says that it’s because those groups are more prone to foster the “special snowflake” mentality, but honestly…my parents were solidly middle class and I think they would have embraced a “no excuses” model.

  2. I think we should withhold judgement about test scores until there are comparable scores. The standardized tests the school is touting are the Terra Nova which is not given in the public schools here.

    Public schools in RI give the NECAP. Next year will be the first year the school will have NECAP scores since they will then have testing grades.

  3. Genevieve says:

    I would love to be able to send my daughter to a no excuses charter (I live in Iowa where charters are only issued by the school district) if they could assure me that instruction would be at her level. As of yet, our local district (60% free/reduced lunch students) still offers accelerated math starting in late elementary school. Smart children are also relatively protected from disorder because there are still advanced classes in middle and high school. However, this seems to be changing at the middle school.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I think we should all accept that there are at least two legitimate ways to educate a child. The first is highly structured with clear goals — think Sparta. The second is more Dewey-an, extremely rich in content and unstructured. It’s a really poor analogy, but think Athens, at least insofar as it contrasts with Sparta.

    The first (“Sparta”) is useful on pretty much anyone, anytime, but has some limitations: there are certain types of skills that cannot be developed this way.

    The second (“Athens”) is only useful in an environment where rich content exists in the first place. It’s more resource-intensive.

    In other words, Sparta is more universally applicable, but Athens gets better results when it works.

    This isn’t to say that one is “better” — they’re different kinds of tools. And some parents just don’t want to use Spartan methods when they’ve the resources and opportunity to use the Athenian methods.

    The Athenian model doesn’t work so well in high-poverty, low-educational background communities because the educational resources aren’t there in the home to back up what the school would be doing. The Spartan model isn’t wanted in communities that do have the resources.

    But we — not everyone, and certainly not everyone on this blog, but many people — continue to think that there’s one, best method of schooling that should be used in every school.


    What’s more, some teachers are better at one model than another. What makes a great teacher? Well, that depends on what sort of teaching you’re talking about, doesn’t it?

  5. Ricki, you may have a point– while I tend to favor ‘no excuses’ for other peoples kids, at home I seem to drift more toward special snowflake.

    “it’s OK, honey. You can read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we’ll just count that as ‘reading time.’

    ‘Sure, we can study ‘world cultures’ via folk tales!’

    ‘Of course you can write about unicorns in your journal!’

    ‘Yes, you need art and Tai Kwon Do lessons…..’

    On the other hand, as she gets older, I do crack down more than I used to….
    And ‘special snowflake’ works much better when your student-teacher ratio is 4-1 instead of 30-1.

    The problem I see with ‘special snowflake’ is that it’s GREAT for the kids who pick stuff up pretty quickly, have a lot of different interests, and are generally pretty good natured and fun to teach. It fails miserably with the kids who need more of a framework.

  6. the kids are expected to line up and walk through the hallways in silence, and there are songs and chants to help the students memorize their multiplication tables and phonics principles.

    The only middle class or upper income parents who sign up for this have kids who are cognitively deficient.

    Most suburban schools are “no excuses” in terms of learning. But not this. This is adopting an entire value system, and assuming that all kids are incapable of self-control and learning. That’s great for kids who do have difficulty with self-control and learning. But that’s not 90% of suburban middle class or higher kids.

  7. I have no problems with the hall protocol, with strict discipline, good manners (including treating adults differently than peers), direct, teacher-centered instruction as the most common mode, and a structured curriculum (please, DI, Singapore Math, the CK or classical curriculum!) BUT I also feel strongly about homogeneous grouping by subject (politically dicey, especially in this situation), Those kids who need a slower pace, more repetition, more explanation and/or more practice should have that. Those kids who can handle more material, more depth and a faster pace should have that, including acceleration. I find the frequent argument that “these kids do fine on their own” unacceptable and the too-common argument that kids who have already learned the material under discussion should help the struggling kids to be immoral. No kids should have their educational opportunities limited because they are expected to be a role model or a tutor to other students and this situation has that feel. The bottom line is that “successful” suburban schools are the way they are because of the students and, even in a full-inclusion class, the variation in level and behavior are likely to be less than a situation like the one above would show. I wouldn’t choose it for my kids because I can see a lack of academic challenge for many of the kids on the upper end of the knowledge/skills continuum.