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State of Mass. Education: Charter school popularity

by WGGB Staff

REGION (WGGB) — While inner city schools struggle to beat the odds to provide quality education, charter schools seem to be thriving.

Dissatisfied with the offerings at Springfield’s public and parochial schools, Lorna Lewis enrolled her children at the Sabis International Charter School. “They would come home and in 5 minutes time they were done.  Homework was done and they would get an ’A’ and that to me was kind of too easy,” she says.

As more public schools fail to make the grade, parents are opting to give charter schools a try. Nationally, students attending charters has tripled. Here in the Bay State, it’s doubled over the past decade, with the number of schools increasing from 40 to 63.

The lure of high test scores and graduation rates has parents signing up. Located in Springfield, Sabis International is the largest charter school in the state. For the past 16 years, it has educated students in Grades K through 12, averaging about 120 students per grade level.

The school offers AP classes, foreign language lessons in kindergarten, music, art and physical education, all of which aren’t dependent on state funding. The school monitors student progress through pacing charts and a testing system, where children can be tested in a subject every week.

Results are posted on the school’s website within 24 hours for parents to see. When it comes to MCAS scores, Sabis 10th grade students score higher than any school in western
Massachusetts. Graduation rates are 98 percent, compared to Springfield’s 54 percent.

That success translates to a waiting list of 2,700 with some waiting as long as eight years for an open slot.

But charters can be selective when it comes to special education, most catering to only a handful of students. Statewide, 50 percent of students enrolled in charter public schools are students of color.

Charters aren’t forever. The head of Sabis says that schools have to demonstrate they lived up to the promises in their mission statements in order to stay in business.  Not everyone is in agreement that charter schools are the silver bullet solution to the failing education system.