The Central Falls Success
An interesting op ed in the NYT by Joe Nocera. Even more than the collaboration between a charter school and a regular public school, it shows the impact that high-quality schools can have, even (or perhaps, especially) with disadvantaged kids.
Central Falls, though, also has one of the most promising reading experiments in the country. The Learning Community, a local charter school, and the Central Falls public elementary schools have joined forces in a collaboration that has resulted in dramatic improvements in the reading scores of the public schoolchildren from kindergarten to grade 2. Given the mistrust of charter schools by public schoolteachers, creating this collaboration was no small feat. And while the city's bankruptcy now threatens it, the Central Falls experiment not only needs to be preserved, it should be replicated across the country. I haven't seen anything that makes more sense.
I have two comments:
A) NOBODY thinks charter schools are THE answer, or that charters can possibly replace the existing school system. But: a) charter schools are taking big market share and making a huge impact in many places including Harlem (20%+ of first graders attend some of the top charter schools in the country), DC (40%+), and especially New Orleans, where the system was basically entirely charterized after Katrina and has shown incredible gains since then; b) top charters like KIPP have been laboratories of innovation, showing what's possible, especially among disadvantaged kids – and how to achieve it. Smart supers like Joel Klein are taking this learning and applying it across the entire system – extending the school day, empowering principals, measuring results, holding people accountable, etc.
B) Nocera is correct that the type of collaboration he writes about is all too rare, but he and/or many NYT readers might not be aware why. I've visited a ton of high-performing charters, many of which share the same building with truly awful regular public schools, and I've never encountered a charter school that was unwilling to partner, share techniques, etc. The problem is that the folks in the regular school are usually enormously threatened by the success of the charter school and retreat into excuses like "they have more money" or "they don't have the same horrible kids or parents that we do", etc. rather than saying, "Hey, what are they doing down the hall that's unique/innovative/successful, what can we learn from it, and how might we partner with them"? Sadly, I have NEVER ONCE heard of the latter happening – and it's not because the charter schools have locked the doors!
I emailed RI Ed Superintendent Deborah Gist to ask for further background on what's happening in Central Falls and she replied (shared with permission):
The numbers look good. Here is a report with data on student proficiency and improvements since the collaboration began between The Learning Community and Central Falls Schools. You can find more general information about the program here.
No matter how you look at it Central Falls (and even the Learning Community) have improvements that need to be made. My agency does too for that matter. However, they are on a path to improvement, and importantly, it is a path that the teachers—after a time of significant initial skepticism—have come to believe in. I am confident that kind of change is what will make the effort and the improvements sustainable in the long term.
And, finally, as you described, it is a great example of the power that having charter schools in a community can have to improve existing neighborhood schools. Central Falls received one of the Gates charter collaboration planning grants, and they are working with several charter schools in the community to collaborate on improving student achievement. Dr. Gallo is the perfect example of the kind of leader who focuses on doing whatever it takes and doesn't get caught up in fights over turf or power or money. She wants what is best for the kids in Central Falls whether they are in her schools or in charter schools.
Imagine if we all operated that way!
January 2, 2012
The Central Falls Success
By JOE NOCERA