February will be decision time for another round of Massachusetts charter-school applications. In 2012, the focus will be on “Gateway Cities” — middle-sized cities outside the Boston area.
As part of a successful bid to win federal grants, state leaders last year doubled the number of charter seats in low-performing school districts. But the additional seats are only available to “proven providers” that already operate successful charter schools. No entity fits the bill better than SABIS, an educational management company operating schools in Springfield and Holyoke.
In Springfield, 30 percent more SABIS International Charter School students scored advanced or proficient on 2011 English MCAS tests than did students in the surrounding district. The difference was 31 percent in math. SABIS International has been recognized by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best high schools.
Another SABIS school, the Holyoke Community Charter School, outscored all that city’s district schools in English and math for grades five through eight.
Given this track record, you’d think the state would welcome pending applications for SABIS-managed schools in the Gateway Cities of Springfield and Lowell. But Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville’s views about charter schools remain ambivalent at best, and he appears to nurse a particular grudge against SABIS.
The same month those words were published, Harvard and MIT researchers for the Boston Foundation revealed that in middle-school math, academic gains from a single year in a Boston charter school are equal to half of the achievement gap between black and white students.
On 2011 MCAS English, math and science tests, charter pupils who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches scored 17 to 23 percent higher than low-income students in the districts from which they came.
Agnostic would be too kind a description for Reville’s view of SABIS. In 2008, with Reville as chairman, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for the first time rejected a charter school recommended for approval by the commissioner of education. Discussion about the proposed Brockton school that would have been managed by SABIS centered on a 2005 Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) letter that identified problems at SABIS’ Springfield school.
Days after the new school’s application was rejected, a 2006 DESE letter surfaced that said the Springfield school had successfully addressed all material issues the department had raised. SABIS officials were at the board meeting and could have clarified the situation, but Reville refused to let them speak.
Despite the company’s exemplary performance, two more SABIS-managed charter applications failed to even make it to the final round last year.
Recognizing their desperate educational needs, the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled an education initiative that targets Gateway Cities. Come February, we’ll learn whether the needs of families in those cities outweigh Reville’s longstanding animus against charter schools in general and SABIS in particular.
Charles Chieppo is a senior fellow and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute.
Also seen in Lowell Sun and Boston Herald.