Straight Outta Brockton

Brockton, MA is home to one of the best  urban high schools in the country. But instead of celebrating that success, state officials are considering a massive, for-profit charter school here.

A Massachusetts city says ‘no thanks’ to a for-profit charter school chain.

By Nancy Bloom, EduShyster Academy

Nearly 300 people packed a recent hearing to determine the fate of the public school system in Brockton, Mass. The bulk of the crowd belonged to the system’s defenders; students, parents, elected officials, teachers and union leaders lined up to urge members of the state board of education to reject a proposed charter school. SABIS ®, the for-profit chain behind the school, had a few supporters too—mostly men in suits—but it wasn’t their night.  

Brockton is home to one of the best large urban high schools in the country. People from all corners of this large city seemed to take pride in telling the board of education members that their school system is doing an extraordinary job of educating all of Brockton’s students, and that SABIS ®, which has made two previous attempts at establishing a charter here, isn’t wanted or needed.

Brockton High Senior Lidia DeBarros described coming to Brockton as a Cape Verdean immigrant not knowing any English. Within 18 months of starting school Lidia was fluent in English, thanks to a multi-layered set of programs to support English Language Learners who number 35 percent of the students in the Brockton Public Schools. Lidia’s voice broke with emotion as she described the support she continues to receive from the Brockton teachers. With high MCAS scores, student involvement and an excellent academic record, she is preparing to go to college next year.

SABIS ® supporters at the hearing claimed bragging rights over their flagship school in Springfield, MA, with its comparatively high test scores. But the question is, how would a student like Lidia fare at a SABIS ® charter? Like most charter schools, SABIS ®  International’s record on educating English Language Learners cannot compare to Brockton’s. While 25 percent of students in Springfield are English Language Learners, a mere 4 percent of students at the SABIS ® International Charter School are learning English. SABIS ® supporters, including former mayors of Brockton and Springfield, didn’t mention this.

If approved, the SABIS ®  charter would eventually house 1200 Brockton area students. And the money allotted to those students by the state would follow them to the tune of $15 million would follow them. Many speakers focused on this potential financial catastrophe to the Brockton Public Schools.

“Putting a child in SABIS ®  will take away from what we have earned in Brockton Public Schools,” said a mother from Cape Verde, who described the scores of immigrant children that have flourished in the English Language Learner programs in Brockton.

Brockton High outperformed 90% of the high schools in Massachusetts last year—an astonishing feat given that the school has 4,100 students. But most notable is the school’s stellar success so-called target groups, including special education, low-income and minority students. As a Level 1 school, Brockton High has made Annual Yearly Progress in all student categories on the MCAS without sacrificing specials such as music, sports and art. That’s virtually unheard of for an urban high school, especially one in a community as diverse as Brockton.

Further, the administration and the teachers, who are members of the Brockton Education Association, worked together to develop and institute huge changes in order to turn around a formerly failing high school. Brockton High is famous for requiring writing in all classes, even Physical Education.

SABIS ® teachers, on the other hand, do not create curriculum. Rather, they are required to chant scripted programs that are developed in two regional corporate offices by business people who value efficiency and profit above all else:

“Efficient is the term that best describes the SABIS® approach to teaching,” proclaims the SABIS ® web site. “This efficiency is brought forth by teaching a body of knowledge and skills with minimal input in the shortest time possible.”

“SABIS® Books enable students to develop a solid academic foundation through efficient effort,” trumpets another page.

SABIS ® buildings “target optimal operational efficiency, emphasize durability and safety, and maximize the return on investment.”

Not one speaker at the Brockton meeting mentioned efficiency as the quality they most treasured about their school system.

One of my most important moments as a student teacher came when I had at last hit my stride and presented a really good lesson. Quite suddenly, a fifth grade girl vomited everywhere. She tried to catch it in her cupped hands but there was no saving that wonderful class I had worked so hard to prepare.

Education is messy. And children are complicated and unpredictable and cannot be reduced to efficient, assembly line data.

Nancy Bloom formerly taught at Boston’s largest charter school. She is a member of EduShyster Academy specializing in charter studies. Send comments to nancylbloom@yahoo.com.

15 thoughts on “Straight Outta Brockton

  1. Brockton better brace for assault. They’ve turned down a charter three times now, which has spelled doom for other disobedient – you might say “uppity” – urban public schools.

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  3. I would love to know how Brockton does it! As you probably know, Michigan is not doing well when it comes to fighting off charters, protecting teacher’s rights, politicians trying to gut public schools, rhe list goes on. In fact, I just received a notice from the Michigan Education Association that Pontiac Public schools are in such a deep hole that teachers are dipping in to their own pockets to provide basic classroom supplies. And I’m not just talking papers and pencils. The district is in such bad shape from years of mismanagement by lousy administrators, they can’t even get vendors to deliver toilet paper to the schools. So, I would welcome anyone to lead me to resources explaining how Brockton, along with the state of Massachusetts does so well. We could use the boost in Michigan. Hats off to you and don’t give up the fight.

  4. It is important to have access to all points of view when one is being educated about charter schools. This article, however, highlights the weakness in Ms. Bloom’s understanding of charter schools. For one, THERE IS NO SUCH THING as a “for profit charter school” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Charter schools are non-profit public schools. They are governed by citizens of Massachusetts. Charter schools are funded according to their enrollment. The tuition money follows the students, as it ought to. Parents in Brockton, just as parents in every other gateway city in Massachusetts, deserve to have a choice for their children. One glove does not fit all. We embrace democracy and freedom of choice in every aspect of our lives in America – two rights that we cherish dearly and that our constitution protects. Yet, we somehow find ourselves arguing about the freedom of parents to choose educational options for their children. How ironic.
    The truth is that charter schools are here to stay in Massachusetts and across the USA. They will continue to be opposed, mostly by teacher unions who care more about the interests of their membership than they do about students.
    Ms. Bloom’s article also attempts to chastise efficiency. When public schools, including charter schools, are responsible to spend tax payers’ money, then they better be efficient. Schools should demonstrate that they are getting the most learning done for every dollar spent! This is the type of school system that America needs. Recent talks about a looming fiscal cliff only highlight the importance of efficiency in spending. The public has no money to waste, and Ms. Bloom conveniently brushed this aspect aside. Brockton needs SABIS. The parents of Brockton need educational options. If the school system in Brockton is satisfying to all Brockton residents, then the proof should be in the pudding: let the SABIS school open and let parents choose. They are free to choose to keep their children in Brockton Public Schools.

    • Thanks for your comment Mr. Saad. Just to clarify: Massachusetts law allows charter schools to contract out their management to for-profit EMOs like SABIS®. I am surprised that this information is new to you as you appear to be the Vice President at SABIS Educational Systems. Some additional information for your files: SABIS® currently manages 2 charters in Massachusetts for which it is paid hefty licensing and management fees. Unlike traditional charters SABIS® also has a sweet deal that enables the company to hold onto annual surpluses. In Springfield, for example, one of the poorest cities in the Commonwealth, SABIS® has collected surpluses as high as $1 million in a single year. But enough with the petty details: let’s talk about choice. The residents and parents of Brockton appear to have made theirs and, alas, it does not seem to include the SABIS® brand of excellence and efficiency. The application that SABIS® submitted to the state included but 2 recommendations for the school, and the vast majority of proposed board members come from outside of Brockton. Why the lack of support? Parents in Brockton understand that SABIS® means choice for some students at the expense of the vast majority of the city’s students. I encourage EduShyster readers to make up their own minds. The full text of the application for the SABIS® International School in Brockton is available here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/charter/finalists/12/icsb.pdf

    • George Saad why didn’t you mention that you are the vice president at SABIS Educational Systems Inc? Of course, keeping that secret was your choice. Just like the people of Brockton have made their choice. They want to keep their tuition in the Brockton Public School. They don’t want your for-profit charter chain in their city. As for efficiency, have you ever been lost in a great novel or derailed by the wonders of the universe? I’m thinking of Pliny the Younger as he watched the top of Mt. Vesuvius blow off from his summer villa across from Pompeii on the Bay of Naples. The great Roman historian was our most important witness to this incredible, literary, scientific, and historic event. There is no test or data that could quantify the experiences my students and I have had while studying ancient Pompeii. We have even gone off schedule and followed new leads. Efficiency is for assembly lines not for education.

      • I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

        Massachusetts does allow charter schools to contract services with for -profit EMOs. That’s absolutely correct. That does not make the schools “for-profit” as was incorrectly portrayed in the article.
        All schools in Massachusetts – private and public – contract out services with for-profit entities. Examples include booksellers, cleaning services, construction firms, bussing services… and the list goes on. That does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make the schools “for-profit”.
        I must have not made my point well if you understood me to try to play down the fact that SABIS is a “for-profit” organization. We make no apologies about the fact that we run an efficient operation and that we can generate a surplus that can go towards our research & development which goes to assist our students’ learning.
        I would love to meet with you at some point, if you are agreeable to that, so that we can share each other’s perspectives on charter schools and on education, two topics which we both are quite passionate about.

        Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I always appreciate a genuine dialogue.

        • Greetings sir: sadly my busy schedule doesn’t allow for a trip to SABIS® headquarters in Minnesota or Beirut… Perhaps we might make use of the Internet as a more efficient option? What would you think about doing a Q and A with me? I have some questions I’d love to ask about your many best practices (I imagine some readers would like to weigh in as well) and am happy to answer your queries as well. Of course I understand that you must be careful not to reveal proprietary information ;) Thanks for reaching out and I look forward to a brisk exchange of views!

          • Ms. Bloom,
            I would love to answer your questions. We engage in ongoing dissemination of our best practices and this would be one more welcome opportunity.
            I am often in MA, and would love to invite you to visit a SABIS school in MA; then you can write with first-hand knowledge.

          • Greetings sir: I think a tour would be an excellent idea! In fact, why don’t we call it our “tour of excellence”? The product of public schools, I’ve had few opportunities to witness best practices in practice. And while I look forward to visiting some SABIS® schools in Massachusetts, I’m also happy to play the role of tour guide. It would be my pleasure to introduce you to some of the communities in which your schools are located. For example: did you know that more than 30% of the students in Lowell are still learning English? I suspect you didn’t as your application for the soon-to-open SABIS® Lowell Collegiate Charter School budgeted for just 1 English as a second language instructor.) In other words, សុទ្ធ​តែ​អន្ទង់​ពេញ​ទូក​ហោះ​យើង or “my hovercraft is full of eels,” as they say in Khmer, the first language of 12% of Lowell’s students. Another stop on our tour: Brockton High. Did you know that Brockton High outperforms 90% of the high schools in Massachusetts? And unlike a SABIS® school they have to accept any student who walks through the door, even if the student announces: “N ta papia somenti Kriolu.” (That means “I only speak Creole,” the native language of Brockton’s huge Cape Verdean population). And yet despite these challenges Brockton High offers, not just college-prep classes, but an acclaimed International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. We’d better schedule our tour soon though! The proposed SABIS® school in Brockton will divert $15 million away from the city’s public schools, which will have to compensate by cutting back on specialized offerings like these….

  5. We in D14 in Brooklyn have been vehemently fighting the anti-democratic process of approving and housing charter schools willy nilly without regard to city planning or community input.

    What you are describing, Mr. Saad, are charter schools as neo-vouchers. The more we learn about “school choice,” the more we learn that it is a new way to segregate, intentional or not.

    The choice all parents REALLY want? A neighborhood public school with small class sizes, meaningful curriculum, enrichment, afterschool programs, wrap-around services, trained and experienced teachers, strong leadership, and the opportunity for engagement with parents.

    If your industry would just get out of the way, we could spend our resources fighting more successfully for the reforms that are proven to be successful for our students.

    You say: “When public schools, including charter schools, are responsible to spend tax payers’ money, then they better be efficient.”

    What parents and the public wants, even more than efficiency with the use of public dollars is public accountability. Charter schools are accountable to an outside Board of Directors with no input from parents or community members. Profit may be YOUR bottom line, but educating the whole child is ours.

    • Please note that the accountability under which charter schools are held is defined by the state and is of utmost strictness. Charter schools are held to high performance standards. Brooklyn is home to successful charter schools.

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  7. @edushyster2012, nothing like catching a snake oil salesman in the act, eh? Hey. Mr. Saad, the only people opposed are teacher unions? Nice, perpetuating BS on forum pages. The reason most of the world has not adopted a corporate system for education is because IT DOESN’T WORK! I’ve traveled to numerous countries and have seen how the public school systems work there. They all do tracking and only test their top 20%! The public schools attempt to do the best here in the US trying to educate 100% of the student body. Unfortunately, with one of the highest poverty rates in the industrialized world, that makes it a little harder in certain parts of the country. So the selective charters that have profit as their main goal (you can stop spinning, we see what has happened with private-run prisons) will fix all of the problems? Some of us that live in suburbs where our schools produce fantastic results have turned against these charters and have made it our mission to expose you fraudsters. We know that you guys in the charter school “business” are in cahoots with Republican politicians (and Michelle Rhee) that want to privatize public education to make money and de-professionalize the teaching profession. Because there’s no way teacher unions care about kids, right? Maybe you can tell that to the teachers that died at Sandy Hook while you’re at it. Of course some charters have shown progress, why? Because you have parents that have to drop their kids off to school instead of riding the bus in many areas which means right off the bat- “motivated parents.” So what happens to the other kids? Simple, send them back to the public schools, see their funding cut, then step in as the solution. Brilliant! The more people like us find you folks, the more we will hound you and expose the fraud that you are trying to perpetuate to the American people. Trying to scapegoat teachers in public schools as the problem because the “unions” cost too much and are opposed to reform has been a brilliant strategy, only the problem is that parents are catching on because some of the best teachers in those schools have awoken and are really motivated now.