by David Safier
Here's a cautionary tale. Cityview Elementary in Minneapolis was closed because of low test scores, and the school and its students were given to the charter school, Minneapolis School of Science. The school's special ed children -- students with autism and Downs syndrome -- were supposed to stay. But after one year, the charter school said they had to leave.
Last week, the district began working its way through a long list of phone numbers, informing parents that their mostly North Minneapolis students would have to cross the river this fall to attend Pillsbury or Sheridan elementary schools in Northeast.
The school rationalized getting rid of the special needs children by saying it didn't want them in the first place, and it can't take care of their needs and raise the achievement of other students at the same time.
MSS school board members say they were reluctant to agree to mainstream the students. “We almost chose not to come to this building because of it,” said board member Gene Scapanski. The charter’s goal is for 90 percent of its academically struggling, mostly low-income and non-white students to earn proficient scores on state tests within three years. “To bring children to that level of growth and then to have in addition that other challenge, it seemed like more than we could handle. We didn’t know if we could be successful.”
Charter school advocates claim their schools can provide a better education than traditional district schools for less money. Statistics tend to disprove their claim. A Stanford University study said students in Arizona charters perform a little lower than similar students in other public schools, and nationwide the achievement scores are pretty much a draw. And now we have a Minneapolis charter school admitting it can't do what the school it replaced was expected to do. This isn't unusual, by the way. The number of special needs and ELL students in charter schools is dramatically lower than in the other public schools in their areas.
If charters are a way of getting the Republican elephant's privatizing trunk into the education tent, they're doing a great job. If they're leading the way for more "school choice" in the form of vouchers, they're successful in that area as well. But when it comes to improving the education of children, they haven't yet demonstrated they are any more successful than other public schools.
SONORAN SCIENCE/GULEN SCHOOLS BONUS: For those people out there who worry about Sonoran Science Academy and other charters in the Tucson area and around the country because of their connections to Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen (I don't share their deep concern), you might be interested in knowing Minneapolis School of Science is part of the Concept Schools chain which has ties, direct or indirect, to the Gulen movement.