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 email@example.com.