The Uphams Corner Charter School, a Boston school that aims to transform struggling students into classical scholars who study Latin as well as rhetoric, is facing closure next year largely because of low test scores.
On Tuesday, state Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll will recommend that the five-year-old school close at the end of this school year, according to a memo state officials provided yesterday. It would be the seventh charter school to close since the experimental public schools first opened in Massachusetts in 1995. The state has 59 charter schools, which have more freedom than regular schools to devise their own curriculum and control their budgets. Charter schools are supposed to be laboratories of innovation with higher achievement than regular public schools, state officials have emphasized.
Closing Uphams Corner Charter would end a tumultuous tenure for a school that had an idealistic vision but struggled with management and financial problems, as well as with student achievement.
Yesterday the chairman of the school's board vowed to fight the Department of Education's recommendation, saying the school had made significant management and curriculum changes particularly during the last year that would probably yield higher test scores in the future. Students and parents had not officially been informed of the school's possible closure yesterday, but rumors already were circulating. Several of the 200 students in the grade 5-8 school were in tears after news spread through the school.
"We're devastated by the staff's recommendation," said Christopher C. Binns , chairman of the school's board and longtime resident of Dorchester's Uphams Corner, where many of the students are from, though the school is in South Boston. "We don't believe it's an accurate reflection of what the school is doing."
The state Board of Education is expected only to discuss the possible closure Tuesday and not vote on it until January, state education officials said. Charter schools are independent public schools that are up for renewal by the state every five years, and Uphams Corner's charter was due to expire next year . The school, which is trying to move to Uphams Corner , shares a building with a biomedical company in South Boston.
The state Board of Education has the authority to revoke a school's charter or decide against renewing it. The school could appeal and ask for a hearing on the matter. In Roxbury, one school fought its closing for months, and ultimately lost.
Driscoll recommended closing Uphams Corner based on the school's record during the past five years. Though a state inspection team found improvements over the past year in student behavior and classroom instruction, MCAS scores remain low. For the first four years, many classes lacked rigor, and teachers didn't teach a curriculum that was aligned with the state's academic standards. A majority of teachers left the school in the second and third years.
On the MCAS last year, Uphams Corner performed worse than Boston's regular, noncharter public schools in math, and similar to Boston in English, according to the state inspection report. Seventy percent of Uphams Corner's sixth- and eighth-graders failed the 2006 math MCAS tests, compared with about 50 percent in Boston and about a quarter statewide. English scores were better -- 49 percent of Uphams Corner's eighth-graders scored proficient in English, the state's goal. In comparison, 54 percent scored proficient or higher in Boston, along with 74 percent statewide.
Most charter schools do the same as or better than public schools on state tests, according to a recent state report, but Uphams Corner has not been performing at that level.
Driscoll could not be reached for comment yesterday. A state Education Department spokesman would not comment beyond what was in the state's documents.
Uphams Corner opened in 2002 with great ambitions for the neighborhood it is named after. Roughly 80 percent of the students are black, and most come from low-income families. About one-quarter are special education students.
Students study Latin and rhetoric and use the Socratic method of asking questions and debating answers. An underlying goal was to empower students to improve their community. Students spend two weeks at the end of each year doing a research project on a variety of topics, including trash collection in Uphams Corner compared with Beacon Hill.
Edward M. Cook , head of the school, said he and the charter school's board first heard of Driscoll's recommendation yesterday during a meeting with Education Department officials.
A teacher said he hopes the state will judge the school on more than standardized test scores.
"I'm frustrated," said Brendan McGrath, who teaches literacy and rhetoric. "The state spends too much time looking at test scores. They need to look at how the lessons are creative and the opportunities kids have to explore and expand their own learning."
While I wonder about the role the special education students' scores played in the assessment of the school's perfomance, I am actually more interested in knowing how many Classics departments have connections to charter schools such as this. Seems like an obvious/cheap potential outreach source.
Jim Stewart scripsit:
I now teach at Sturgis Public Charter School in Hyannis, MA. We are a school that promotes the International Baccalaureate program, but with a twist. ALL of our students do IB in Grades 11 and 12. Even more interesting, all students must have SIX years of foreign language, including at least two of Latin- many go on and do the IB. I am currently teaching 50 freshmen Latin I and 22 juniors and seniors the first year of IB. We have perhaps 10% of our students as special needs kids, but they are expected to do the IB curriculkum, and many do well.
We are just getting into the program, but results have been pretty positive so far (couldn't quote you any stats, as I am the new kid on the block- but the feeling is very positive). There are FOUR of us teaching Latin here, and working together and with colleagues around the country. It is very exciting, and we want to upgrade the Latin program- there have been a couple of changes in recent years, as often happens.
We had an article recently in the Cape Cod Times about our overall program in connection with athletics- even a bit on Latin at the start with one of our students. Here's the URL- good for 7 days, then you have to pay...