Reasons to Oppose Achievement First in Rhode Island, part 1

The Providence School Committee unanimously voted to disempower itself at last night’s meeting, giving their rubber stamp of approval to the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academy that would, upon full implementation, take 900 students each from Cranston and Providence.  Once again, the appointed Providence School Committee ignored the voices of opposition from parents, teachers and community members–quite in contrast to the election Cranston School Committee, which has consistently opposed this corporate takeover.

In this series, I’m giving the floor to voices of those opposed to the charter school expansion.  To read the ProJo coverage, you’d think we barely exist.  Quite the contrary…

Also, if you’d like to oppose Achievement First (students last), plase come to the rally in Cranston tomorrow.

Now, our first contribution from Brown University student Zack Mezera, who prepared this statement for the School Committee meeting last night.

*****

My name’s Zack Mezera. I’m a student at Brown University, but I come here tonight as a “concerned citizen.”

First, hello Superintendent Lusi. I wish you the best of luck while Providence students are on your watch.

I am here against the Achievement First proposal. I think most people tonight will make the economic argument, and that’s fine, I’ve made that argument myself already. But I have other strong concerns.

1: Discipline. I know taking a hard line against students is in vogue nowadays, but these Charter Management Organizations cross the line. At Achievement First specifically, I’ve seen figures saying 16-22% of students are in detention daily, for benign infractions like dropping pencils or not facing forward in line. This does not prepare students for real life. Would you subject your children to this environment? Word on the street is, neither would official(s) in the Taveras administration.

2: Governance. Look at the proposal. Did you read it? AF, with Fung, chooses the governing board. This governing board, with AF, then chooses the members of the Board of Directors, which Fung chairs. Look at this procedure. It’s very similar to how you yourselves are nominated to the school board. EXCEPT here you’re approved by a democratic body, the City Council. With AF, you would be approved by a corporation looking for profits and self-preservation. And we’ve seen how dissatisfied the Providence School Board is with its own structure; hell, two of you have resigned over it. Yet 1) this is even worse, and 2) Taveras is telling you, again, that you have and should have no power. Now he wants you to willingly relinquish responsibility for up to 900 students?! If you’re supposed to keep watch over our students, voting for this is like handing the watch to a group (Achievement First) you do not fully understand. Or, as Tom Hoffman put it, voting for Achievement First is a vote of no confidence in your own abilities as a board. Supporting this, Sup. Lusi, amounts to an admission of no confidence in your own abilities, even before you’ve really started the job.

3: The only elected member of this proposed Board is Mayor Fung. (See exhibit 10, Achievement First proposal:) If a group of parents have a complaint, they will have to go through AF school administration, the vice-principal, the principal, then the something-like-a regional director, then the Board, which as we have seen by the nomination procedure is non-elected and will have no real incentive to condemn AF’s actions. Parents will then have to turn to RIDE, the Board of Regents, and finally Governor Chafee… We talk a lot nowadays about accountability for students and teachers, but how will the community hold this Board accountable, when the only uninvested elected official who can influence the Board is the Governor? And he’s already come out against AF. In short, this proposed Board will be near uncontrollable. Where are the checks and balances? If, like Councilman Zurier said on July 19, removing contract negotiation abilities from your power as Providence school board is a loss of checks and balances, how much more undemocratic is this proposal?

4. Again, look at the proposal, please. From the page on governance:

“The Board of Directors for Achievement First Mayoral Academies will have the responsibility of ensuring that each school is a high-functioning organization, that the school is an academic success, and that it is fiscally responsible. To ensure these criteria are met, the Board of Directors will

•Evaluate and monitor the school’s academic program; 

•Provide financial oversight to ensure fiscal integrity; 

•Engage in risk management to prevent charter termination and seek charter renewal; 

•Provide legal and ethical oversight – adhering to law, policies, and procedures in place to protect Directors, officers, and employees; and 

•Evaluate the principal and Achievement First by conducting an annual performance review.”

Point 3: What does “risk management to prevent charter termination” mean? Because that sounds to me like image control, like Achievement First’s board is supposed to be as concerned about its self-preservation as it is about student achievement. This is little different any corporation, whose primary responsibility is to achieve the highest profits for its shareholders. Achievement First, indeed.

Point 4: “protect Directors, officers, and employees” …Perhaps that’s why Achievement First defended the allegedly abusive Chi Tsang–who was allegedly too abusive for KIPP and was brought on at Achievement first instead. But Achievement First said Tschang “never hurt a single child”. I leave it to Achievement First to answer these allegations, but it shows extraordinarily poor judgment on their part. And again, if parents had a complaint about an administrator, the Board of Directors is obligated to “protect…employees”.

Again, it is not my job to provide further description on these issues,–although I am willing to provide what little more I can, and don’t hesitate to contact me. Instead, it’s your job as a board member to demand answers to these issues I have raised. If you do not, you have failed your civic duties.

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About riredteacher

I'm a foreign language teacher and socialist in Rhode Island.
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2 Responses to Reasons to Oppose Achievement First in Rhode Island, part 1

  1. Kiersten Marek says:

    I had not seen that part about “risk management” before. That is a huge problem. It seems to me it opens the door for all kinds of manufacturing of PR that supposedly proves you are doing a great job. I would like to know more about what kinds of activities are carried out and funded as “risk management” for charter schools.

  2. Tom Hoffman says:

    Zack,

    Thanks for showing up and using my line. I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to make statements to folks who obviously aren’t going to listen, but I’m glad you took the time.

    Hitting on the discipline point is good. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is a decisive point in the purported success of no excuses charters.

    I think your interpretation of the governance structure is a bit off though. That it is so opaque is, of course, a problem in itself. Also the fact that there are no bylaws should render the entire application invalid, and I hope the Cranston School Board and/or union just sues RIDE if they approve it as is. Even if it costs them a few hundred thousand in legal fees it would save them many times that to even just delay the opening of the schools.

    ANYHOW… my reading is that RIMA chooses AFMA’s board, with the only restrictions (without bylaws) that by statute the chair has to be a Mayor and the rest of the board must be “representatives from” the two towns, which is otherwise undefined. AF and Fung can “advise” on this, but the real power is with RIMA. RIMA will straight up choose eight of the nine members of the board. Mayor McKee has more power over this academy than Fung or Taveras. They’re each 1 of 9. This isn’t so much an issue immediately as when we have future mayors.

    The whole proposal gives both too much and too little power to AF. Too much because, well, a contractor simply shouldn’t be writing something like this themselves. Too little because the whole thing, the whole discourse implies an agreement is being made between RIDE, the towns and AF. It isn’t. AF could be gone in a year, just like Democracy Prep. That’s RIMA’s track record.

    Also, “this isn’t democratic” is kind of a weird angle to come from. MA’s are more democratic than other charters. A mayoral academy is more democratic insofar as if none of the relevant mayors wants to chair the board, it folds. This is fairly likely to happen eventually. Also BVP is more democratic than AFMA’s proposal. In that case the board is made up of four elected officials, one from each town. That’s as democratic as you’re going to get in a charter.

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