12 to Watch in 2012: Achievement First

Friday, December 30, 2011


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Defining Rhode Island's education battle in 2012: Achievement First.

Depending on which side you’re talking to, the Achievement First Mayoral Academy will either save public education in Rhode Island or ruin traditional public schools beyond repair. 

Neither is the case, of course. 

The charter management organization, which hopes to begin opening schools in Providence in 2013, will do nothing to change the fact that the majority of Providence public school students are not proficient in reading, writing or math. But building a few new schools that will come with longer school days and uniforms also won’t suddenly force the students at Mt. Pleasant High School to fall even further behind either. 

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The truth is the debate over Achievement First will mostly shed some light on how the state as a whole plans to deal with charter schools as part of its reform plans moving forward. If 2011 was a year for thoughtful pause, 2012 will need to be a year of action if the state hopes to follow through on the promises it made in exchange for $75 million in federal Race to the Top funding.   

The concern among education reformers is that if a well-regarded organization like Achievement First is shunned by Rhode Islanders, the message will quickly get out that the state is closed for business for all of the prominent charter operators around the country. 

As it stands now, it looks like the Board of Regents will support Achievement First opening a set of schools in Providence. But winning over the public will be a whole other battle. Education reformers in this state have spent too much time whispering to each other about how wrong the “other side” is rather than actually getting the message out that having more choices for schools isn’t such a bad thing. 

The opponents, meanwhile, have been more organized and quite frankly, effective when it comes to voicing their criticism. And with a growing cast of parents, community organizers and union officials, the anti-Achievement First sentiment isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. 

Now the stage is set for another education battle in 2012 and only one question remains: Has anyone asked students what they think?


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