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.
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.