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Why do district superintendents oppose charter schools?

Posted by Jim Stergios  March 1, 2013 05:34 PM

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When you ask that question, the usual answer is something about the kids, equity, and the unfairness of all the flexibility that charters get. It's hard to get a superintendent to go beyond the platitudes.

Perhaps the superintendent will raise all the good work that's going on in the district. There may in fact be lots of work going on, but without a judgment on whether it is good or not so good of work is really dependent on results. Otherwise, such statements are simply assertions of exertion.

With the closing of ranks in Brockton by the Brockton school superintendent and the district's school committee in opposition to a proposed high-quality charter application, I got to wondering: Why? Why such opposition? Why such opposition when Brockton's elementary and middle schools are declining in (their already low academic) performance? Why opposition to a proven provider (SABIS), which runs very successful schools elsewhere in the state? After all, the 2010 education law called for an emphasis on proven charter models -- and SABIS is definitely that.

Hmm. Well, at a recent event, former Brockton Superintendent Basan “Buzz” Nembirkow, who is certainly a very accomplished district superintendent (but who is no longer works as a full-time superintendent), opened up about the motivations for their opposition to charter schools.

Buzz would know. When in Brockton, he led the charge against a strong charter application back in 2008 that garnered broad support in the community and also from the Boston Globe. The Globe called the applicant, SABIS,

one of the few educational systems in the state where minority students not only perform on par with white students, but outperform them, as well.
At an event in the fall, he noted the following:
“I think [SABIS] is an excellent model”

“When I looked at the SABIS model, the instructional model is sound.”

“SABIS has done a good job of taking what works best and putting it together, dealing with training teachers and administrators so there is a unified system.”

“From my perspective on schools, SABIS is a good model.”

When asked by the moderator of the panel he was on, “Given the SABIS school in Springfield was a strong school, why wasn’t that good enough for you to support their coming to Brockton [in 2008]”? Nembirkow acknowledged:

My title was Superintendent of Brockton Public Schools, so right off the bat there’s an enlightened self-interest involved in that…. Basically, the issue was finance and politics. It had nothing to do, or very little to do with the quality of the [SABIS] program.

When SABIS came [to Brockton] we saw it as a financial threat. Simply as a financial threat. It took money away from us, which was about $4-5 million. Based upon that, our progress in BPS would have been substantially affected.

So my job in defending the Brockton Public Schools, as the Superintendent, was to do whatever I could to stop that particular threat at that time, so we mounted a very good political campaign.

Buzz noted that his opposition to the SABIS school application was “almost 90% finances.”

When asked whether SABIS' being a for-profit charter management was an issue, Nembirkow responded: “I have no issues with that.”

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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