Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Comments before Council on the proposed charter school

 Good evening, Mr. Chair. 

My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick; I live at 135 Olean Street; I am a member of the Worcester School Committee, which is what brings me alongside my colleague and our educators before you today.

I am here to address item 13A, your resolution that the Council go on record opposing the creation of the Worcester Cultural Academy Charter School. I would ask that the Council stand united with the Worcester School Committee in opposing this threat to publicly funded and publicly accountable education in the city of Worcester.

As the Council is aware, it was only last year that the long-awaited, long-fought for reform of public education funding finally came to the Worcester Public Schools. You, Mr. Chair, alongside the Council and School Committee, were prepared to sue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on behalf of the schoolchildren of the city of Worcester to address this unconstitutional inequity. Due to united action by our delegation working with unanimous votes in the both chambers of the state legislature, that was not necessary.

But we are only two years in on a six year implementation of that funding reform. There is much work to be done, and many, many needs still to be met. While this is crucial work is led by Dr. Monárrez, to at this time,when we finally stand on just below the summit towards which we have worked, have that sucked away by a poorly designed proposal that will not meet the needs of Worcester students is infuriating and unfair to our students, as well as to all those who fought on their behalf.

It is important to note, Mr. Chair, that as the city of Worcester moves forward together under the leadership of City Manager Batista, who rightfully cites diversity, equity, and inclusion as among the focuses of his leadership, that charter schools nationally have been demonstrated to increase school segregation. The proposal put forward demonstrates no track record and poor understanding of the needs of the multilingual, multicultural, lively rich array of families that we in the Worcester Public Schools are proud to serve. 

I would ask that you not only unanimously pass this resolution tonight, but that you, Councilors, and Worcester residents join the Worcester School Committee, Worcester Public Schools administration, and the Educational Association of Worcester in testifying on Friday at 4 pm in the Herbert Auditorium at Quinsigamond Community College in opposition to this proposal. 

To say nothing at this time is to fail our school system.

Monday, December 5, 2022

What DESE needs to hear from you at the charter hearing

 The single page PDF of this is here. Slides are here. Video of slides is here.

I plan to testify against the proposed charter school in Worcester…

What does the state need to hear from me?

If you are a student:

The state needs to hear of the choices you have available to you in the Worcester Public Schools; of the partnerships your school has with museums and other cultural institutions in the city; of how your academic differences are supported in your school; of how you as a learner and as a person have grown in your experience with the district.

 

If you are a parent or caregiver:

The state needs to hear of the different choices available to your family within the Worcester Public Schools; of how your student’s different learning needs have been met by the public school system; of the experiences your family has had with Worcester’s cultural institutions through the school system; of how your family has been supported through the district; of how your students have succeeded through and beyond the Worcester Public Schools. 

 

If you are an educator:

The state needs to hear of how your school and our district meet the needs of diverse learners; of innovation that is ongoing within the district; of the high quality teaching and learning that is happening in the Worcester Public Schools; of the ways in which there are ongoing efforts to make our curriculum more culturally responsive; of the social-emotional and multi-tier system of supports for students; of the rich community partnerships that your school has; of the ongoing work to improve the work we do for our students.

 

If you are a community member: 

The state needs to hear of how the district is moving forward under new leadership that is focused on building relationships with families, educators, and the community; of the strong array of options available to families in Worcester for public education; of the lacks of connection and experience with needs of students, families, and the city demonstrated by the proponents; of the extractive nature of the proposal. 

Join us for public testimony:

Friday, December 9
4 pm

Herbert Auditorium, Suprenant Building

Quinsigamond Community College


Sunday, December 4, 2022

The stories we tell and who tells them

 I said the following on Thursday at the Worcester School Committee meeting:

I was reflecting as I was reviewing the presentation that there's power in story. 

And there are a lot of people in Worcester who are accustomed to telling Worcester Public Schools' story for us.
There is now corresponding discomfort that we are both telling our own story and changing what that story is.
I was thinking that even before you, Madam Superintendent, this morning were at Centro conducting a caretakers' session in Spanish, which I believe is something that has never happened with a superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools before.

And that makes some people uncomfortable.

And I think that we as a School Committee have a responsibility to remember that that's part of what's happening here, too: we're changing, and that's great for our students and for our staff, but there are people who that is going to challenge.
In some cases, it's going to remove some authority and power that they thought that they had, and that's okay.
That's in fact, I would argue, exactly what we voted for last spring.
But I think that we need to remember that some of what is happening here is also effectively a backlash. And I think that we should treat it as that. 

Friday, December 2, 2022

Worcester Public Schools administration on the proposed charter school

The item on the agenda last night was:

To submit public comment regarding the proposed "Worcester Cultural Academy Charter School" as designated under MGL Ch. 71, sec. 89 (h), which reads "Before final approval to establish a commonwealth charter school, the board shall hold a 4 public hearing on the application in the school district in which the proposed charter school is to be located and solicit and review comments on the application from the local school committee of each school district from which the charter school is expected to enroll students and any contiguous districts."

linking to Instagram for now, as there were sound issues with the WPS video of the meeting on YouTube
Full text is here.

 And I couldn't put it better than Aislinn:


Please plan to join us Friday, December 9 at 4 pm at Quinsig to speak against this. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Talking points and an invitation on the proposed charter school

 I was asked if it was possible to pare down to notes on the proposed charter school in Worcester to talking points. I've done that here:

...which you can find in my Dropbox here. It is on Facebook here and on Instagram here.
Those slides can be found in my Dropbox here. Those are on Facebook here and on Instagram here
And my giant blog post on this is here.

There will also be discussion and further information shared at tomorrow's Worcester School Committee meeting.



Monday, November 28, 2022

And only because I found this irritating...

 The charter school application opens with this: 

So, a couple of things:

I think it's great we have a statute of Major Taylor downtown. I know it is crucial that kids see themselves depicted in heroic and marvelous ways through images of history and fiction and all we bring to them.

I know well that we have enormous amounts of ground to make up in who we depict as worthy of representation in public art, as well as much else.


But this, to me, is a frank demonstration of this application not being from Worcester.

You see, Worcester isn't a city of statutes; by the public art records, we have 21 statutes in Worcester.

Of those, eleven depict a human being, and of those eight depict a historic person* (and that's counting Isaiah up at Holy Cross!). The only one of those that's a woman, incidentally, is Abby Kelley Foster, and that one isn't built yet.

What we do have is growing amounts of public art that do depict Worcester, its people, including its children, in all of its variety, most notably in murals across the city. 

Major Taylor is not the only such depiction in public art of an African-American in the city. Far from it.

And if you knew our city, you'd know that.


_____

*one of them, of course, is Christopher Columbus
Full rundown on the application over here

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Let's talk about this charter school application for Worcester

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this year is considering a single application for a new charter school, and it's in Worcester. You can find the application online thanks to the MTA (not on DESE, as would, you know, actually make sense); the notification the Department gives is that the application is in, and they'll be holding a hearing, as required by MGL Ch. 71, sec. 89(h) here in Worcester:

4:00–6:00 p.m. on Friday, December 9 

the Hebert Auditorium, Surprenant Building, Quinsigamond Community College

You can also email your comments to charterschools@doe.mass.edu by January 4.

First, an overview of charter schools in Massachusetts, in case this is a new conversation for you:

Now, if you're brand new to charter schools entirely, let me recommend this piece from John Oliver from 2016, keeping in mind that a) it's from six years ago and b) it's a national look:


One thing that often is touted in Massachusetts is that all charter schools under MGL Ch. 71, sec. 89, are chartered by the state: applications go to the Commissioner for consideration, who then recommends (or doesn't) charters to the Board of Ed, who then awards (or doesn't) the charter. A parallel process is followed for renewals. While this means we have dodged some of what has happened in other states, let me note that Massachusetts isn't immune to some of the issues other states have seen; the ongoing issues, dating back at least a decade, of Mystic Valley Charter (up for renewal in February, incidentally) is probably the extreme, but please note that Worcester did have a charter that collapsed in October (!) of 2013 for exactly the financial reasons the Worcester Public Schools said in public testimony were going to happen when the state first considered it in 2010. (Search "Spirit of Knowledge" in the sidebar if you'd like the whole history of that.) 
The part that will always stay with me about that experience is attending a meeting in the Mayor's office with parents of students at Spirit of Knowledge who were begging the Worcester School Committee to do something, anything, to improve their children's experiences, and being entirely powerless, as charter schools answer only to the Board of Ed. My testimony before the Board of Ed on that experience is here; I also testified before the Joint Committee on Education in 2015 about that experience, calling for local authorization, if funding that impacts local districts is being used.

And that is how charter schools are funded in Massachusetts: the foundation budget amount of each student that attends the charter school PLUS $1088 for facilities (increased due to the Student Opportunity Act) PLUS any amount over foundation that the district spends (calculated as a percentage) comes straight the Chapter 70 state aid of the district in which the student lives. If you like playing with spreadsheets, you can download the projected FY23 district by district amounts here.
That spreadsheet also includes the calculation of what is most often misunderstood about charter school tuition: there is a transition amount. When a student, for example, leaves a district school for a charter school, for the first year, 100% of the amount of state aid being transferred comes also as reimbursement to the district; this tapers to 25% for the following three years. This was fully funded for the first time ever this past year (also thanks to the Student Opportunity Act). Note that it is the INCREASE, not the ongoing cost, that is reimbursed, and only for the transition.
The argument has been that this gives the district time to make the adjustments needed to their budget due to the loss of that individual student. Given a moment of thought, however, the inapplicability of this argument becomes clear: a district doesn't lose an entire third grade class, and so can cut a teacher to save that cost. A district loses a few students here and there across grade spans, and generally there is no "savings" at all.
And a charter school in a town or city is granted by the state district-funded transportation for all in-town or city students at the same status as the district's own. Thus the charter's existence itself increases a district cost, with no benefit to district students. You can see how much this costs on a per pupil basis on this spreadsheet; for Worcester last year, it was $2771 per student, or $5.7M.

Also, possibly a discussion for another time, I continue to wonder about the constitutionality of charter schools at all in Massachusetts, given the outlines of the dismissal in 2016 of Doe v. Peyser; in particular, as I quoted in that earlier blog post
The education clause "obligates the Commonwealth to educate all its children." [McDuffV. 415 Mass. at 617]. This obligation does not mean that Plaintiffs have the constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education, whether it be a trade school, a sports academy, an arts school, or a charter school. Even if the court were to deny the instant motion, thereby allowing substantial discovery to follow, Plaintiffs' action will always be addressed to the question of whether the Commonwealth is obliged to provide more of one flavor of education than another. This decision - how to allocate public education choices amongst the multitude of possible types - is best left to those elected to make those choices to be carried out by those educated and experienced to do so.

A bit about where we are with the state process:

As noted on the MTA's Policy Minute, initially there had been three applications for new charters in Massachusetts. That link also covers the proposed expansion of current charter schools. Two things that could maybe be relevant here:

  • the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion group was not invited to apply for their proposed central Mass twin school (My personal opinion is that could be due to their continually turning up at Board of Ed meetings to try to get them to overrule the Commissioner on pretty basic stuff around their enrollment, but that's based on nothing other than attending Board of Ed meetings).

  • Old Sturbridge Village Charter, which is the same administrative oversight proposing the new school in Worcester, was not moved forward for their proposed expansion into high school. 
Expansions and additions are governed by the state law on charter school spending: up to 9% of a district's required spending can be pulled out by charter schools, with up to 18% being pulled out of the lowest 10% of districts. This is the charter school "cap" which the state overwhelmingly voted to retain by rejecting question 2 in 2016. 
Because I will share this map any chance I have to: a look at exactly how unpopular lifting the charter cap was, courtesy of WBUR

Much like everything else, this list lowest 10% list, which is based on MCAS scores, was impacted by the pandemic, and so it has been frozen for 2021, 2022, and 2023 with the ratings of based on 2018 and 2019 MCAS scores.
And yes, Worcester is on that list, just. We had moved off the lowest performing list (download them and check!) for a number of years, but the 2020 list dropped us back into that group. This was never discussed at the district level; the previous administration never really did much sharing of the state accountability information, let actual reacting to it.
And that is the group that is now frozen.
We would have space under the charter cap, in any case, as 9% of Worcester net school spending does not go to charter schools, thankfully.

What's the deal with Old Sturbridge Village and charter schools?

The charter being proposed in Worcester essentially is a sibling to the Old Sturbridge Village Charter School in Sturbridge, which opened in 2017, after being rejected the previous year. It has 320 students in grades K-8. For FY22, it pulled $4.8M out of the districts of Brimfield, Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Spencer-East Brookfield, Sturbridge, Tantasqua, Wales, and Webster, though $1.8M of that came from Southbridge alone, where close to half the student body comes from. Southbridge is one of the three districts deemed chronically underperforming by the state. It has been under state receivership since 2016.
The dates being the same as when OSV first applied to open a charter school is in no way a coincidence. The state law is constructed such that this sapping of resources of the districts that are often only minimally funded and most need every dollar to do better is incentivized under the argument of giving families, essentially, an escape hatch, as the state has thrown up its hands (at least until recently) around actually doing its job in ensuring the constitutional requirement for a fully-funded education for each student is met.
As a side note, there is no evidence that state takeover of school districts in Massachusetts has been effective. 

It's also not a coincidence that it's Old Sturbridge Village that has been, I believe, the first and only museum to take advantage of the provision that allows for a charter to be filed jointly by (MGL Ch. 71, sec. 89(d)) "a college, university, museum or other similar non-profit entity," given who the President and CEO of OSV--who also serves as Executive Director of OSV Charter and who also is proposed to serve as Executive Director of the Worcester expansion--has been since 2007: Jim Donahue. 
Donahue, as this profile in Worcester Business Journal from 2011 notes, came on as OSV's President at at time when it wasn't entirely clear that OSV was going to make it. That changed under Donahue. Donahue's background, though, is not from the museum world: he's a charter school director.
Donahue was the director of Highlander Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island. Donahue also recently ran for City Council in Cranston, RI (there were three seats open and he came in fourth), as well as serving as co-chair of Allen Fung's campaign for the Second Congressional district in Congress (both men are Republicans; Fung lost to Magaziner).

In both the case of OSV Charter and the proposed Worcester school, Donahue serves as Executive Director under a management agreement with Old Sturbridge Village; he is appointed to that position by the OSV board. The proposed management agreement for the Worcester school, which is 28 pages long and is included starting on page 278 of the application, looks to these non-lawyer eyes like it is pretty difficult for the charter school to ever get out of; look at what "termination" spells out, starting on page 297.
The agreement states that OSV will be responsible for:

  • Providing general business operations
  • Providing leadership and management support to School Leaders as necessary to achieve goals as outlined in the Accountability Plan and mission and vision of the Charter;
  • Preparing entitlement grant applications and reporting;
  •  Recruiting School Leaders, teachers, and other administrators; using best practices for attracting a qualified, talented and diverse faculty and staff, and ensuring compliance with the provisions of MGL c. 71, §38G;
  • Training and coaching of the School Leaders by the Executive Director;
  • Preparing the evaluation of the Principal for the Board’s review and approval;
  • Preparing a budget and monthly financial statements for the Board’s review and approval;
  • Providing payroll and accounting services;
  • Assisting with the selection of an independent auditor to be retained by the Board;
  • Coordinating and implementing contracts with prior Board approval, consistent with the School’s policies and procedures;
  • Preparing selection of benefits plans for Board approval for employees of the School governed by the Board;
  • Assisting with the maintenance of human resource files for employees of the School to the extent permitted under State and federal law;
  • Facilitating the purchase and procurement of all required School materials, equipment and services consistent with the School’s Fiscal Policies and Procedures and in accordance with all applicable Massachusetts statutes and regulations. An employee of OSV will be designated as procurement officer and such person will attain a Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Official (MCPPO) certification. OSV will ensure that at least one School employee will attain the MCPPO certification;
  • Assisting School Leaders with the preparation of drafts of required government reports, including, but not limited to the annual report of the School for review and final approval by the Board;
  • Administration of transportation services contract for students
  • Facilitating student recruitment through community based outreach, parent information sessions, direct mail, social media, and person to person conversation. Facilitating fundraising through the identification and submission of grants proposals;
  • Providing marketing and advocacy for the School under the direction of the Board;
  • Administration and oversight of food services for students;
  • Oversight of procurement of custodial, supplies and equipment for leased school facilities;
  • Providing resources to support School goals related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA); and
  • Information technology support for staff and students including but not limited to; network and communications and set-up and support for all staff and student computer devices
All of that is spelled out in greater detail in the pages that follow in the management agreement. 
There are two things to note on this: the first is that the oversight of the school remains pretty firmly under OSV: the Executive Director is to provide "training and coaching" of the principal; the principal's evaluation is to be prepared by OSV. The second is that all of the finance and operations functions are done by OSV; from the minutes of the current school, one can infer that this will be led by Tina Krasnecky, Vice President of Finance and Human Resources. 
The opening discussion outlines the relationship as follows (p. 83):
Because the accountability of the Management Organization is essential to the foundation of this partnership, and because the responsibilities of the Principal are critical to the success of WCACPS, the Board of Trustees will delegate to the Management Organization the authority and responsibility, consistent with state law, to make recommendations for recruiting, hiring, evaluating and terminating the Principal. Actions regarding the Principal must be approved by the Board. The Management Organization will provide the leadership of the Executive Director who is responsible in assisting the Board in holding the Principal accountable for managing the school’s day-to-day operations and will hold them accountable for meeting established goals that ensure the success of WCACPS.
For all of this, the school will pay OSV $12,500 per month until June of next year, and then 7% of all tuition payments once the school is operational. As the budget projects tuition being $3.3M for the first year, rising to $6.7M in year five of operation, that's a fee of $233,955 rising to $470,531 over the term of the charter.
(The budget starts on page 236. Don't worry; we'll get there.)

Now this made me curious as to how this has been working for the current school at Old Sturbridge Village. As the school doesn't post their budget online, the state doesn't publish spending broken out by account code for charter schools (which would only do us so much good, anyway), and the school doesn't include an annual budget or financial statements in their minutes on their website, this is not clear. Old Sturbridge Village also doesn't make this clear in their 990 filing (page 9 is revenue).
However, if you look at the pretty vague financial statement on page 28 of the FY 22 Old Sturbridge Village annual report, you can find a line for contracted services: 

That isn't a line that appears in the OSV Annual Report prior to the opening of the charter school. Is that $464,816 all coming from the management agreement? We can't tell without filing public document requests (with the school; the museum isn't subject to public document laws), but 7% of the $4.8M the school gets in tuition would be $336,906, so if its agreement is similar to that of the proposed school, at least most of that is chapter 70 aid, funding the museum.
Additionally, the rental line is also at least in part from the school. The modular classrooms that OSV has along the edge of their parking lot are charged rent by the museum. In the April minutes of the charter Board, we find the cost has been $323,952 (page 4), but the total cost will increase in FY23 to $687,362 (page 7), because OSV plans to rent the Oliver Wright Tavern and the Village Conference Center to the school next year for the middle school. 
...which means that OSV has been getting $650K from the school, rising to nearly a million dollars next year. 
To that, then, they'd be adding another $233K next year, rising to $460K the year after, largely for providing the financial bookkeeping, along with Donahue's executive coaching, to the Worcester school. 
While that isn't the make or break for a $12M a year institution, I imagine it doesn't hurt.
For this, by the way, Donahue makes $242,626 as of the last filing (page 7 of the 990) from Old Sturbridge Village; as best as I can tell, this is the only payment to him, as the management agreement, at least of the proposed school, makes no additional allocation. 

How does the budget work for the proposed charter school?

The proposed budget for the charter school starts on page 236 of the application, but let's start not with spending, but with revenue.
Let's start with what they're spending now:
Old Sturbridge Village is currently leasing a building in Worcester that the founding team is using as a base for our outreach efforts in the Worcester community. This is funded by a private donor that we believe will also continue to generously give to WCACPS. If a charter is granted, the WCACPS Board will have the option to assume this lease from OSV.
This is the former You, Inc. building at Holy Family Parish on Hamilton Street. 

In this planning year, their budget is $750,000, of which $500,000 is half of a million dollar planning grant that they would expect to receive from DESE if the charter were awarded; the other $250,000 (p. 87) is "a private foundation grant of $250,000" which they haven't yet received:
The applicant group has applied to a private foundation for a $1,000,000 grant to fund the start-up of WCACPS. The funder expects to make a decision on this request at its Board meeting in November 2022. Based on conversations between Jim Donahue and the foundation we are confident of receiving at least $500,000 which would be disbursed during the pre-operational period ($250,000) and the remainder in Year 1 and 2 to help fund building improvements, the purchase of a bus and other start-up costs
In other words, they're already spending money that they don't have. As the lease of the building is being carried by Old Sturbridge Village at this time--and gosh, I'd sure have some questions there if I were an OSV Trustee!--this is clearly OSV making a gamble on the finances here with ultimately there being a reward to that risk.
And note that the early years of operation likewise are dependent on this funding source to make the books balance.

There's also, throughout the application (this is from p. 96): 
The foundation discussed above is also exploring the creation of a philanthropic ecosystem through which they will make grants to the Expedition Institutions of central MA to support their development of programs in partnership with the Worcester Cultural Academy.

The crux of the program for the proposed school is the museums, but they don't have funding for this part of the program. And where is the funding for that going to come from? The Worcester donation ecosystem is not that large, and the non-profits--museums included--depend on that pool of funds in order to keep things going. Unless this somehow expands the funding involved, one could easily hurt the very institutions cited.

The allocation is WILD. First up, remember much of what we might call administrative overhead is being done through the management contract with OSV. For the first year of operation, that's budgeted at $233,955.
To that, the plan adds an administration of a principal, a vice-principal, for a total of $261,581.
As the full budget for the first year of operation is $4,090,017, they've budgeted 12% of their budget for administration.
While some of that is due to the size of the school, because the management agreement is a percentage of the tuition, that drops but only to 10% of the total budget in year five. 

Looking through the rest of the education salaries, they appear to have 10 classroom teachers, 3 English learner teachers, the science enrichment teacher, the wellness teacher, and the learning expedition coordinator, and possibly the math time math coach (?) all coming out of the lines totaling $888,080; for student support, a full time adjustment counselor, plus full time nurse, plus half time psychologist, half time OT, half time PT, if that's all "student support services" (because I can't figure out where else it would go?) totals $156,000.
And there are four paraprofessionals in a line budgeted at $133,620.

The salary line for custodial is $70,000 for TWO custodians. 

There's just not enough money in here for salaries, in any case, but in this current state of affairs, I just don't see how this gets staffed.

What exactly is the program being proposed for Worcester?

My quip to my homeschooling friends when OSV charter opened was that this was homeschooler bait: send your children to school at the Village! They can wear bonnets and milk cows and feed chickens and learn to make shoes! And of course, there are plenty of photos of that, though that is not the bulk of the experience at that school.

In the Worcester case, there is a significant amount of attention to a two hour block once a week for students for what the application refers to as "Learning Expeditionary Field Study." (Schedules start on page 228 of the application.)There are several mentions of the "short drive" to OSV (from the proposed school location on Hamilton Street, it's a 40 minute drive), and ongoing references to proposed partnerships with Worcester museums.
This is another place where it gets interesting: one can, of course, bring students to museums all one likes. There is, though, no evidence, that any actual partnerships with Worcester institutions, which the applications refers to as "Expedition Institutions" in fact exist. The application says, for example:
We anticipate that this type of relationship can be replicated at other Central Massachusetts cultural institutions such as the EcoTarium, Worcester Art Museum (WAM), Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and more, in addition to the partnership with Old Sturbridge Village. The founding group is continuing to forge relationships and find potential opportunities within Central Massachusetts that fits our criteria for partnerships
As much as the names of Worcester institutions are featuring prominently in some of the advertising of the school, it is not Worcester museums proposing this charter, nor should one read into their names being used any support of it, as much as the application and surrounding documents lead in that direction. The only actual thing we know is that there have been initial meetings.

The proposed Worcester charter, like the one in Sturbridge, essentially would contract out their curriculum to EL Education, for which they would pay $75,000 a year for the first three years, then $40,000 a year thereafter. It seems clear from the application introduction that this is based off a visit Jim Donahue had with Ron Berger (who now is an executive at EL Education) when Berger was teaching in Shutesbury. Knowing that, the passive voice here is...a choice:
With that in mind, it was no surprise that EL Education was recommended to the museum as a school-design partner for OSACPS.
Surely someone did the actually recommending?

They plan to use iReady math, which is fairly common. 
Concerningly, their assessment grid also says that they also plan to use Fountas & Pinnell for grades 3-8, which WPS just managed to extricate itself from and has been widely noted to not follow what is known about what works in reading instruction.

What about the students?

This, of course, should really be the crux of the matter. Who is this school designed to serve? 
And that's actually a really good question. 

The school application is coming in as a "proven provider": the argument here is Jim Donahue (and those coming over from OSV Charter--about half the proposed Board is from there--have experience in running a charter school and so that gives the school a leg up.

But take a look at who OSV Charter has as students
OSV Charter: 4.1% African America; 0.3% Asian; 17.8% Hispanic; 0% Native American; 76.3% White;
0.3% Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander; 1.3% Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic
Worcester Public Schools: 16.9% African American; 6% Asian; 44.7% Hispanic; 0.2% Native American;
27.9% White; 0% Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander; 4.3% Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic

Very much not the same, and you'll see something similar in comparing selected populations:
Here's OSV Charter:

OSV Charter: First language not English, 5.3%; English language learner, 3.8%; Low income 43.8%;
Students with disabilities 19.7%; High needs, 55.6%



Worcester Public Schools: First language not English, 58.9%; English language learner, 28.3%;
Low-income 74.3%; Students with disabilities, 21.1%; High needs, 84.1%

Thus in addition to being a much whiter and a much wealthier student population, the student body there has very few students who are learning English, and very few students whose first language isn't English. Not only is their percentage of both well below Worcester's; it's even below the state average (which is really saying something). 
In fact, they serve so few English learners, that their results for such students are not reported because there are so few students.

We literally cannot see how they do with their (less than 20) English learner students.
And as a side note: they're also nowhere near Southbridge Public Schools' demographics, either.

This, of course, speaks to lack of experience with students who are multilingual learners. While there is a section of the application (p. 60ff) designed to address English learners specifically, it opens in part:
This model is an ideal school environment for ELLs, which the leadership team has already established through OSACPS, that will enable them to overcome language barriers.
...which isn't something one can see from the student body actually being served in Sturbridge.  They don't have the experience to know that at all.
There is a heavy dependence on supplemental materials and differentiated instruction. There is not a great deal of evidence of understanding and experience of the actual needs of multilingual learners (who are not referred to as that, incidentally) in a school whose advocates envision it serving a student population that's between one- and two-thirds students who are learning English.

The application also speaks of the students in ways that strike me as worrying: the school has "a unique opportunity to serve children who fit a typically urban profile" (p. 27) in a section set aside to describe the student population served. That section instead pinballs from the proposed Board members to MCAS scores, to student demographics, to the housing authority, to rates of mental health issues, of which the section says: 
WCACPS would create a pathway for better outcomes when it comes to mental health and wellbeing for students by connecting them to cultural institutions, social services, and community organizations in the city and beyond at an early age.

And yes, the article cited does briefly review a few pieces relating mental health and museums, but this is a concerning focus when not presented in connection to further supports for students, which in this section, it is not.

There is of course much more one could say; the application is over 300 pages long, and the arguments on which it depends are larger than that. One could compare MCAS scores, but current MCAS scores are not even being used for accountability purposes, so there's not a great deal of use there. 

What we can say is this: we have a charter proposed that is not integrated to the Worcester community, that does not have the experience needed to serve our kids, that is predicated on a curricular model that is off-the-shelf, that uses a model to teach reading that is problematic, that legally binds the education to a non-profit oversight financially and administratively, and that will pull millions of dollars out of the local school district, just when the state has finally implemented the reform that would appropriately fund the district to the level constitutionally required.

We need to say no. 

Let me also note the following for Worcester residents: there are petitions going around in support of this expansion coming directly from the proposed Board. First, please don't sign or share them; second, please push back on the narrative accompanying them.
Oh, and a note on the opening of the application, which I found irritating.