The Achievement First charter chain (also in NY and CT) wants to greatly expand in Providence, and the decision will be made soon. Providence’s internal auditor has conducted an analysis and “estimates that the district public schools will lose between $28 and $29 million annually by the time Achievement First reaches full enrollment [if the proposed expansion goes through]. The analysis by the Rhode Island Department of Education estimates that the district will lose $35 million, of which $8 million comes from the city in local aid. The rest comes from the state.“
Despite serious misgivings and recommendations against the expansion from Providence City Councilmen Bryan Principe and Sam Zurier, the Providence School Board, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and Providence Public Schools, RI Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner is pushing for it.
“Wagner wrote that Achievement First, once it expands, will create almost 2,000 new ‘high-quality educational opportunities’ for the roughly 15,000 students who attend historically low-performing schools in Providence.” What needs to be kept in mind, though, is that the labels high-achieving and low-performing are based almost exclusively on students’ scores on the fatally flawed PARCC assessments, which are based on fatally flawed ELA and Math Common Core State [sic] Standards and curricula.
Wagner’s claims of the benefits to Providence from the expansion are based on “an analysis by the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab at Brown University [which] reported that if approximately 2,200 more students attend the charter school from kindergarten through grade 12, these students will cumulatively generate between $590.6 million and $727.3 million in mean lifetime earnings.” [and all of these earnings will be spent in Providence?]
There is no guarantee that students enrolled in the elementary level Achievement First charters will continue through the proposed middle and high school levels and graduate from Achievement First. There is no evidence that scoring high on the PARCC in elementary school will in fact turn out to translate into college admittance, retention, and graduation. Even if the majority of the elementary students enrolled in Achievement First now do eventually achieve the goal of college graduation, who can say that there will be good paying jobs for them when they graduate? Many of today’s college grads are underemployed, or unemployed, despite their college degree, and burdened with obscene college loan debt that they will never be able to pay off.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t at all see what the potential life-time earnings of AF grads has to do with the impact on current students in the Providence Public Schools. What is the benefit for the 13,000 students who will be left out? Isn’t that what a fiscal impact statement is supposed to address? Wagner chooses to disregard the carefully presented opposition view from Providence’s internal auditor and from RIDE itself that adding 2000 students to Achievement First, primarily from Providence, will have a devastating impact on the remaining 13,000 students. Apparently these 13,000 unlucky students will have had the same chance as any others to apply for the 2,000 additional slots, so that is as much of an advantage in this business as they can expect.
The report that Wagner referred to and is relying upon, prepared by the RI Innovative Policy Lab at Brown University, was apparently spear-headed by its Director, Justine “Hastings, who has declined numerous requests for an interview [from the Providence Journal reporter, and who] is a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
“Among her numerous publications are articles on school choice and college attendance, school choice and academic achievement, and the effect of school choice on motivation and academic outcomes.
“According to her résumé, she has received grants from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which promotes decentralized school leadership and more school choice for families.”
Rhode Islanders may remember that the same (Enron alum) John Arnold whose foundation awarded grants to Justine Hastings was a huge contributor to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political ambitions, and a huge fan of her pension manipulating scheme while she was state Treasurer that cost retirees their COLAs and gave huge fees to hedge funders. So is it just a coincidence that Wagner relies on a report by someone with a charter/choice mindset and pushes for a charter expansion that could have disastrous results for the students and taxpayers of Providence and the state of RI?