Why hold a grudge?: Ed czar won’t accept success of SABIS charter schools

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on


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.

Reville has long described himself as “agnostic” on charter. schools, and it seems no evidence will sway him from that position. Less  than three years ago, he wrote that with a few exceptions, charters haven’t been  successful in closing achievement gaps.

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.