Here in Connecticut, public charter schools have been flat-funded by the state for four straight years. This meant that thousands of low-income students of color were essentially told that they were worth less than other students. However, new data from the state’s Smarter Balanced Assessments in reading and math shows that despite these disadvantages, public charter students have gone above and beyond what society expects them to achieve.
Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport– a public charter school where I serve as president — achieved higher student growth scores than any middle school in Connecticut. Even more importantly, we also led the state in growth for high-needs students. Overall, Capital Prep’s growth scores were 57 percent better than our local district schools’, and more than 16 percent better than wealthy communities like Greenwich and Fairfield.
These results weren’t easy to achieve, and they happened because of an uncommon level of dedication from Capital Prep students, teachers, staff, and parents. The process started by establishing clear, aggressive metrics for student growth. Each student would need to improve by 1.5 years per year in both reading and math in order for them to reach grade level by the end of the eighth grade.
Once our goals were in place, we focused on creative ways to reach them. One of the great advantages of the public charter school model is our ability to be flexible to the needs of our students. Instead of being locked into a staffing and curriculum structure with layers of oversight, we can adapt our approach based on what helps our students learn best at a particular moment.
In this case, we drilled down on what we knew was most important: more time in the classroom, a focus on nonfiction writing to boost literacy, a common teaching strategy across disciplines, and an emphasis on supporting students through advisory programs.
However — if our flexibility in staffing and curriculum was our greatest advantage, our greatest disadvantage remains the deep structural inequity in how Connecticut funds public charter schools. Despite delivering outstanding results for families, our schools have been flat-funded at just $11,000 per pupil for four straight years, and public charter schools are not included in the same funding formula as other public schools. These factors combine to make us among the most underfunded schools in the entire state.
In my time as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and CEO in Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and California, I often dealt with challenging funding situations. No public school would call itself “overfunded.” But the inequity in Connecticut is among the worst that I have seen.
In Washington, the network where I worked employed 33 support staffers for four schools. Capital Prep has just four support staff for three schools. In Washington, we had three instructional coaches assigned to each school building, to mentor and support developing teachers. At Capital Prep we have zero — across our entire network.
So while I’m proud of the results our students have achieved, I also cannot help but think about what could have been if our school was given the funding we need to truly thrive. While I’m proud to be back working in Connecticut, educating children in the state where my career began, I can’t help but be frustrated that my home state would be so regressive when it comes to funding our highest-need students. If parents weren’t looking for better options for their children, there would be no need for charter schools.
I hope that state legislators will see that public charter school leaders want only to be a part of the solution for communities that we care deeply about. We have proven through our results that we are able to help students overcome the bigotry of low expectations. But in order for our schools to truly thrive, we need our leaders fund our students fairly, and allow more success stories like ours to lift up Connecticut’s children.
Joan Massey is the President of Capital Preparatory Schools.