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Christine Lopes Metcalfe: Rhode Island Parents Want Choice

Friday, March 21, 2014


The message is clear: Rhode Island parents want choice

After more than a decade since opening the first public charter school in Rhode Island, it’s important to recognize the contribution that public charter schools make to the educational offerings in RI and the opportunities they provide families. A recent article in GoLocalProv reported the astounding 2013 public charter school lottery numbers – over 11,800 applications were submitted for around 1,300 open spots. Those numbers, almost double the number of applications seen just two years ago, are a reminder of how important it is to provide high quality public school options for students across the state.

Let’s start with the basics. We often hear misconceptions and misinformation about public charter schools, what they are and who they serve. First, public charter schools are just that: public schools. They are approved through the state Board of Education and are accountable to the same standards, assessments and transparency as any public school. They operate with some freedoms and flexibilities from certain laws and regulations in order to create innovative models and in turn, they are held to a greater level of accountability, requiring a rigorous review every five years. Because Rhode Island laws prohibit any for-profit entity from operating a public school, all of our public charter schools are run by non-profits and governed by a board that’s required to conduct public meetings.

Charter School Audience

Who do our public charter schools serve? Charter schools provide the opportunity to create programs and curriculum to serve a variety of student populations and experiences. Our public charter schools in Rhode Island have diverse and innovative models focused on, for example, the arts, trades, languages, engineering, college-prep and blended learning. The Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter High School attracts students looking to get a head start on their nursing career, enrolling in both high school and college courses to put them on a path to a viable career in healthcare. Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy serves students from four communities in the Blackstone Valley, intentionally bringing together urban and suburban students to create a culture of high expectations for all within a divers school setting.

Our public charter schools also serve a diverse student body, conducting a state-mandated lottery only when the number of applications exceeds the available number of seats in a given school year. Despite the misconception that charter schools somehow take only the best students, all of our public charter schools are required to accept any student that applies, and as stated above, only when demand is larger than the number of spots available is a lottery conducted. Since demand has risen, the lottery process is generally always a part of the process, but the public charter school is still required to accept any student who applies and receives a spot through the lottery.

And the numbers speak for themselves – as awareness and availability of public charter schools openings increase, so do the number of families seeking them out. As encouraging as it is to see those rising numbers, it is equally disheartening to know how many of those families have been placed on waitlists.

Call for Expansion

Christine Lopes Metcalfe

So why should we continue to expand public school choice for families in Rhode Island? I’ve seen examples of parents that have one child in a public charter or mayoral academy and the other child in a traditional public school. The reason? Each child thrives in different settings. If one shoe does not fit all, why do we assume one school type will meet the needs of all children? Shouldn’t we be able to provide more options rather than fewer? The opportunity to create more innovative models not only benefits the thousands of families who sit on waiting lists but also the traditional public school districts that serve the majority of our students. By sharing best practices and pushing for excellence alongside our public charters, perhaps we can create a climate where the demand for choice spills over to all public schools. Our public school students could have the opportunity not just to attend their neighborhood school but maybe any school in their district or neighboring community. With a small physical footprint and diverse school offerings and models, expanding public school choice in Rhode Island can be a win for every student in our state. Our families have sent a clear message – it’s up to us to act.

Christine Lopes Metcalfe is the executive director of RI-CAN: The Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, an education advocacy organization working to enact smart public policies so that every Rhode Island child has access to a great public school.


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Here's the choice I know many parents want - their actual public schools to be funded appropriately. In Cumberland, Mayor McKee's BVP is taking $$ away from public schools to the tune of an additional 570K this year (total - 2.9 million away from our public schools and given to the private charter). A recent Valley Breeze article indicated how the actual public schools in town are going to get $219/child more, but BVP will get $1440/child more this year. How

Charter schools are also allowed to expel any student for any reason (parents don't participate enough with homework? Could be expelled. Too many learning disabilities? Could be expelled. Not "trying" hard enough? Could be expelled) They are NOT public schools - they have been ruled - by the courts - to be private entities. See below:

There have been quite a few cases where charter schools have been ruled by the courts (and have defended themselves in court) as being "private entities". In NY there was a case just decided (in favor of the charters) which stated that the state comptroller could not audit charters' books because they were not a state entity:


And in CA, last year, it was ruled that charters were private entities.


"And, most importantly, the court cases and administrative agency decisions make clear that these private officers and employees of the nonprofit corporation are not subject to Penal Code section 424 – because these nonprofit corporations are private entities, with private employees, expending private moneys (i.e., not “public moneys”)."

Comment #1 by RI Mom on 2014 03 21

Does this article seem self-serving to anyone else, given the incestuous relationship between the author, her employer and the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies? "Christine first connected with RI-CAN through her work with the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, RI-CAN’s trusted partner in the effort to attract, support, and scale up high-performing charter schools in the Ocean State. As RIMA’s chief strategy officer, she worked alongside the RI-CAN team to bring an Achievement First Mayoral Academy to Rhode Island, helping to raise awareness, organize parents, and ultimately give families the great school option they deserve." - See more at:


On Michael Magee, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies co-founder and CEO, "Magee’s brother runs a national educational reform organization called 50-CAN,and his sister-in-law worked as senior director of curriculum and professional development for Achievement First."


Comment #2 by Digging Deeper on 2014 03 21

Great comments RI Mom and Digging Deeper. Scratch a school "choice" advocate and you'll find someone who wants to deprive others of the choice to send their kids to a true public school. They're rigging the system in favor of a narrow slice of "acceptable" kids at the expense of broad and equal education for everyone.

Comment #3 by John Onamas on 2014 03 21

Wait a minute, are you telling me that the charter schools can produce better results because they are picky or just smart about how they teach the kids in their schools. The charter schools actually try to make each kid learn, set examples, engages with the parents as a requirement, has non performance and lack of learning initiative on the students part as a measurement to continue or get demoted to a pubic school where one can waste away but still allowed to pass to the nest grade?
And the teachers in the charters are rated on how well they do or do not hit goals (they actually have goals) as part of their continued employment. Charter teachers actually feel good about their contribution because they are making a difference in the planning and results. Unfortunately in the public schools, teachers are tied down to mediocrity by the UNIONs and the school administrations that are all part of the current problem.

Comment #4 by Gary Arnold on 2014 03 21

My contention is that charters are able to kick kids out for *any* reason, real or perceived. And not all charter schools are alike nor are all of their teachers alike. Heck, at BVP, not all of them even had a teaching degree when they started - they had to get a quickie certification. And sure they are idealistic at the start, but I'd love to see data on their turnover. Oh, but wait, as a taxpayer, I can't see that data - it's private.

Public schools are "graded" on ALL children in their schools... they can't arbitrarily kick kids out for whatever reason. Another reason why charters are not public schools.

Privatizing education is not the answer. Fixing the public schools - and more accurately assessing public education - is the answer. Valuing teachers, providing enough funding to the schools to enable them to actually purchase supplies for their kids, teaching the to the individual - not to the test, putting in place programs to help ELL and poverty-stricken families, not standardizing everything into a one-size-fits-all approach, etc. is what works.

Comment #5 by RI Mom on 2014 03 21

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