Thursday, March 4, 2010

Give charter more time to succeed

Below is BCP Board Chairman George Hess' letter to the editor from today's Baltimore Sun.,0,2836886.story

The editorial "School board test," (Mar. 3) did not provide a complete picture of the issues related to the charter school renewal application for Dr. Rayner Browne Academy. Unlike most charter schools that are newly created, Rayner was an existing Baltimore City public school long before it became a charter school. The school was on the state's restructuring list because it was failing when the Board of School Commissioners approved the request of parents to convert the school to a charter school to be operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project just two and a half years ago.

The conversion of existing, low performing schools is as difficult as it is unusual. While such turnaround schools are a primary focus of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top competition, he and many others in the education community recognize that there is limited capacity to do this work nationally. Across the country, there are few organizations willing to do this work both because of the difficulty of the task and the time it takes to accomplish such reform.

Baltimore is fortunate to have a local non-profit committed to the work of turning around some of the most difficult schools in the city. The Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) is not only committed to this work but has demonstrated success in doing it.

Rayner is one of five schools operated by BCP. Between 2007 and 2009, the share of students scoring advance or proficient on the state test at the other four BCP schools has increased from 55 percent to 78 percent in reading and from 45 percent to 71 percent in math. Since BCP began working with its original three schools (City Springs, Collington Square and Hampstead Hill) at least eight years ago, reading scores at those schools have increased by an average of 66 percentage points.

The Board of School Commissioners approved BCP's method of educational reform at Rayner through the approval of their original charter application in 2007. Since BCP has operated the school for less than three years, BCP and the Rayner Browne community respectfully request at least two more years to achieve significant improvement.

George Hess, Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore Curriculum Project board.

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