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Rhode Island: The “New Age Charter Model” and Governor Raimondo

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Recently, while looking for the links between Governor Gina Raimondo, Corey Booker, and Charter Schools, I discovered this interesting critique of charter schools.

That article cited one by Pete Adamy, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, who pointed out that the original purpose of charters was to give teachers the freedom to innovate within their own schools.

Professor Adamy wrote:

“While there are certainly pockets of innovation in Rhode Island’s charter schools, as there are in most public schools in the state, our charters are not “laboratories of innovation,” as some have called them. Rhode Island’s charters have simply been better able to implement reforms that researchers have been pushing for decades: smaller class size, more teacher and administrative autonomy, curriculum that is linked across grade levels, increased parental involvement, community outreach, a coherent and consistent mission, etc.”

He wondered why the state did not take these successful strategies and apply them in public schools. Why benefit a few while ignoring the needs of the many?

The essay that led me to Professor Adamy was written by Robert Yarnall in “Progressive Charlestown,” and he cut right to the heart of the problem with charter schools, the distance the concept has traveled from the original idea of a school-within-a-School run by teachers.

Yarnall writes:

“Virtually every charter school in the state functions as a taxpayer-funded private school, with near-private school levels of control over admissions, student behavior, and parental involvement that are not available to traditional public schools.

“Teachers working in traditional public schools know it, teachers working in next-generation charter schools know it, and the bevy of charter school advocates- the politicians, the privateers, the parent groups- know it.

“This little chunk of inconvenient reality is the tenuous bedrock that the architects of new age charter schools hope to continue to exploit.

“New Age charter school networks react defensively to criticisms that they do not deal with the same sets of challenges as public schools. They routinely publish rebuttal dialogues using the popular “myth v. fact” format in professional marketing campaigns meticulously crafted by the research divisions of prestigious conservative think tanks.

“Their end game, beginning innocently enough with ventures like Rhode Island’s “mayoral academies,” is a gradual for-profit privatization of public education via a post-industrial Ponzi scheme masterminded by a consortium of ideologically conservative legislators, investment firms, and grassroots political action committees intent on exploiting the inherent weaknesses of a public education system struggling to cope with growing pains unleashed by the imperatives stipulated by The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.”

Yarnall briefly reviews the federal legislation that protects children with disabilities and the bullying that these children sometimes encounter in school because of their differences.

He sees how charter schools fit into the picture:

“A child’s physical and emotional welfare in school is the self-evident primary concern of parents. Academic achievement is important as well, but it necessarily takes second place in any conversation about school choice.

“Columbine and Sandy Hook changed American education forever. Those images lurk in the back of every American parent’s mind. Every time a son or daughter comes home from school with a story about a confrontational incident in school, a parent shudders.

“Some parents believe that New Age charter schools can make those bad thoughts go away by leaving the disruptive children behind in the real public schools. They believe that New Age charter schools, freed from the burden of managing behaviorally disabled children and instructing children with moderate to severe special needs, will produce superior academic gains for their children.

“So unless a child is one of the lucky 5% to pull a winning ticket stub, he or she will not be climbing aboard the charter express. Instead, they will join the other 95% on the regular bus. As Harry Chapin often said, “There’s always room in the cheap seats.”

“The school privatization investment crowd, fronted locally by Governor and former Wall Street hedge fund manager Gina Raimondo, First Gentleman and Director of Industry Learning for McKinsey & Company Andrew Moffitt, and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, founder of charter school chain Achievement First, Inc.

“They are further advised by Lieutenant Governor of Charter Schools Dennis McKee, former mayor of Cumberland who was instrumental in crafting legislation allowing charter schools to ignore a range of regulatory policies and practices applicable to traditional public schools, some of which are in violation of procedural rights accorded to special needs students by virtue of federal legislation such as PL94-142 and get the attention of advocacy groups because of this.

“The Raimondo Administration is well aware that Rhode Island public school teachers are catching up with their pernicious Wall Street pranks. Once the general public, especially parents of children who choose to remain in traditional public schools, become aware of the real tune that Gina & the Gypsters are having them dance to, the only things being left behind will be derailed political ambitions and a pathetic legacy of financial malfeasance perpetrated by a scurrilous band of Wall Street pirates.”

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