On Thursday, November 15, the Hampshire Gazette published a guest editorial by Richard Alcorn, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (PVCICS). PVCICS has applied to the state Board of Education to expand its numbers, even though they have not filled the slots they currently have and have certainly not met their pledge to be representative of the communities from which their students come. We, eleven Superintendents from area school districts and the Director of the Collaborative for Educational Services, find one of the claims by Mr. Alcorn to be especially egregious. He claims that PVCICS is a “model of how regional charter schools can provide integrated educational opportunities.” This claim must be subjected to critical analysis and in doing so, we find the opposite to be true – PVCICS may be contributing to the alarming trend in American education to re-create the “separate and unequal” pattern that so many of us spent our careers striving to undo.
So let’s look at the facts. Mr. Alcorn bases his entire claim on the sole fact that Springfield is the community with the second largest number of students attending PVCICS. This begs the question whether those Springfield families who make the 40 mile daily round-trip commute to Hadley are representative of those who remain in the local public schools of Springfield.
In its Charter Analysis and Review Tool, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education identifies 55 Springfield schools as comparison district schools for PVCICS. If PVCICS is truly an engine of integration, helping to mitigate the patterns of residential segregation that impact our region, especially for the students of Springfield, we would expect their student demographics to fall somewhere between the Springfield comparison schools and the other communities served by PVCICS. The data says “not even close.”
One important subgroup are students identified by the Commonwealth as economically disadvantaged based upon their participation in state-administered programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or MassHealth (Medicaid). Seventy-nine percent of students in the Springfield comparison schools are economically disadvantaged. Thirty-six percent of students in the comparison schools from other communities are economically disadvantaged. For example, Northampton has a quarter of their students in this category. If PVCICS were serving the goal of integration, its own economically disadvantaged population would fall somewhere between the 79% Springfield average and the 42% average for the surrounding communities (via DESE’s Comparison Index). Only 16% of students at PVCICS are economically disadvantaged. 16%! How can Mr. Alcorn claim that PVCICS is a “model of integrated educational opportunities” when the data so clearly shows that the school presents barriers not only to the economically disadvantaged students of Springfield, but also to those of the surrounding communities. Unfortunately, similar patterns are found for other student subgroups such as students with disabilities.
Equally concerning is the fact that PVCICS has had a decline of 28% in their progress towards the state’s target for them to narrow the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students. We recognize that PVCICS is a preferred option for some students and families, but let’s not pretend that it is a model for educational equity.
We note with pride that Horace Mann, the first Secretary of Education in Massachusetts, was a pioneer for universal public education. In 1848, he wrote that “education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of (all people), the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Integration and equity that is truly in service to this vision of education requires more than simply enrolling students from a broad geographic region. It requires an affirmative effort to ensure that the learning opportunities provided in a school or program are accessible to ALL of the students who live within that region. In this, Mr. Alcorn, the data says you have failed.
John Provost, Superintendent, Northampton Public Schools
William Diehl, Executive Director, Collaborative for Educational Services
Michael Morris, Superintendent, Amherst Regional Public Schools
Karol Coffin, Superintendent, Belchertown Public Schools
Allison LeClair, Superintendent, Easthampton Public Schools
Darius Modestow, Interim Superintendent, Frontier Regional and Union 38 School Districts
Michael Sullivan Superintendent, Gill-Montague Regional School District
Sheryl Stanton Superintendent, Granby Public Schools
John Robert Superintendent, Hatfield Public Schools
Tari Thomas Superintendent, R.C. Mahar Regional, Orange and Petersham Elementary Schools
Nicholas Young, Superintendent, South Hadley Public Schools
Marlene DiLeo, Superintendent, Ware Public Schools