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Recent controversies spark charter school debate once again

Rhode Islanders are talking about charter schools after last week, when plans to open a new charter school were delayed and Beacon High School was found to have committed an admissions violation. These events have reignited the long standing  debate between proponents of charter schools and critics who believe that charters hurt the success of district public schools.

Last Wednesday, Achievement First, a Providence-based charter school network that manages 32 schools, announced it was delaying the opening of a middle school next year, according to the Providence Journal. This postponement comes after a controversial 2016 announcement that the organization plans to triple its enrollment in the two Providence public schools that it manages in the next decade.

The same week, Beacon Charter School was found to have denied a number of rising ninth graders from enrolling because of their failing grades in math and English, without approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The law states that public charter schools must admit students regardless of their background or academic performance. In light of their selective enrollment, RIDE determined that the school would be given a three-year renewal, which is shorter than the five-year renewal that most charter schools are granted.

Last Tuesday, some members of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary education brought into question the overall effectiveness of charter schools. According to the Providence Journal, some asked if the school’s high academic performance was artificially constructed by their selective admissions process.

Some officials argued that a one-year renewal for Beacon may have been more appropriate, pointing to the violation as a serious mistake worth further scrutiny to prevent from happening again. However, RIDE Commissioner Ken Wagner stated that “a one-year renewal would be a death spiral for the school”, according to the Providence Journal.

In a RIDE Renewal Recommendations Overview, the Commissioner went on to state that “A 3-year renewal enables RIDE to verify Beacon’s track-record of academic achievement commensurate with the amount of time in which the unauthorized qualified applicant policy was in place. The sustainability conditions further ensures the charter maintains equitable admissions and enrollment practices throughout the duration of the charter term.”

In recent years, Providence has gone through several rounds of debate about charter school expansion, and these incidents only highlight that the debate over charter schools is not over in Rhode Island.

The next council meeting on charter renewals will take place on November 21.

 

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