Featuring Kingston Hill Academy Charter School in Rhode Island
On March 20, 2016, I published this post, entitled, “Charter School Choice Could Involve Forfeiting Student Civil Rights.”
Note that in the title, I included the word, “could.” It is a word indicating possibility, and the details included in my post do support my assertion that both charter approval and regulation tend to be sloppy.
I heard from a concerned Rhode Island charter advocate who called my post “stereotypical” and who stated that what I did amounted to taking an issue from one charter school and generalizing that issue to all charter schools. I am not sure how someone could have read my post and assumed this. However, what I thought I would do is present details on the charter situation with which this individual is connected.
I offer you the Kingston Hill Academy (KHA) in Saunderstown, Rhode Island.
KHA opened in September 2001 with 40 kindergarten students. Its charter is for up to 260 students in grades K-8; however, 14 school years later, the school has not yet enrolled grades 6 through 8. In 2015-2016, KHA serves 188 students in grades K-5. It is operated by the Groden Center. KHA is one of 20 charter schools that serve approximately 6,000 students across the state.
KHA is only one of two charter schools located in South Kingston. It also draws students from North Kingston and Chariho school districts.
KHA is not part of a charter chain; it is not a “no excuses” school, and it does not cater to Teach for America (TFA) recruits. The school is not fly-by-night; it is not for-profit, and it is not hedge-funded, and it is not plagued by scandal.
Let me also note that KHA clearly delineates it discipline policy in its Student Parent Handbook. Furthermore, the policy appears to comply with state regulations and offers an appeals process.
In fall 2014, KHA petitioned the state board to increase its enrollment beyond the chartered maximum of 180 students in grades K-5 and to expand its facility. Again, as of 2015-16, KHA has not expanded to grades 6 through 8.
Now, let’s more closely examine some demographics of KHA and nearby traditional public school districts of South Kingston, North Kingston, and Chariho (Chariho serves the communities of Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton in southern Rhode Island).
According to its state profile for 2015-16, KHA serves a free-reduced lunch population that is low (19 percent) but is roughly in keeping with the nearby districts of South Kingston (22 percent), North Kingston (22 percent), and Chariho (19 percent).
KHA has no ESL/bilingual services; South Kingston has one percent; North Kingston has two percent, and Chariho has less than one percent.
As for special education students, KHA (12 percent) is comparable to South Kingston (13 percent), North Kingston (12 percent), and Chariho (11 percent).
And KHA and the three public school districts are predominately serving white students. KHA has the lowest white population, at 78 percent (10 percent Hispanic; 7 percent multi-racial; 3 percent African American; 2 percent Native American, and one percent Asian). South Kingston is 84 percent white (4 percent Hispanic; 4 percent multi-racial; 2 percent African American; 3 percent Native American, and 2 percent Asian). North Kingston is 88 percent white (4 percent Hispanic; 3 percent multi-racial; one percent African American; one percent Native American, and 2 percent Asian). Finally, Chariho is 92 percent white (2 percent Hispanic; 2 percent multi-racial; one percent African American; 2 percent Native American, and one percent Asian).
Indeed, KHA and surrounding districts do not exactly mirror the state of Rhode Island, which has 47 percent of students on free/reduced lunch, 7 percent ESL/bilingual students, and 15 percent receiving special education services. The state is 60 percent white (24 percent Hispanic; 4 percent multi-racial; 8 percent African American; one percent Native American, and 3 percent Asian).
According to 2010-14 census data, Rhode Island’s median household income was $56,423. Chariho’s was $68,904 for Charleston; $96,533 for Richmond, and $71,636 for Hopkinton. South Kingston’s median household income was $72,021, and North Kingston’s was $80,506.
As for per capita income, Rhode Island’s state average in 2010-14 was $30,765. Chariho’s was $35,091 for Charleston; $37,619 for Richmond, and $34,929 for Hopkinton. South Kingston’s median household income was $33,669, and North Kingston’s was $39,869.
Thus, in many respects, KHA is not a typical American charter school. The traditional school districts from which KHA draws its students are not even typically representative of the public school student population of Rhode Island.
On its website, KHA features its 2015 PARCC results as compared to the state of Rhode Island. In ELA, for grades 3, 4 and 5, KHA advertises 77 percent proficiency, compared to 36 percent for the state. In math, for grades 3, 4, and 5, KHA shows 58 percent proficiency, as compared to 25 percent for the state.
(The KHA-reported state numbers differ slightly than those on the state website.)
However, 2015 PARCC comparisons are not as drastic when KHA is compared to South Kingston (SK), North Kingston (NK), and Chariho (C).
Percentage PARCC Proficiency for Grades 3, 4, and 5 ELA, respectively:
- KHA: 81, 82, 65
- SK: 80, 77, 57
- NK: 60, 56, 64
- C: 59, 69, 68
- RI: 37, 38, 38
Percentage PARCC Proficiency for Grades 3, 4, and 5 math, respectively:
- KHA: 62, 64, 45
- SK: 74, 70, 43
- NK: 56, 44, 45
- C: 49, 46, 49
- RI: 36, 27, 27
Thus, KHA is not a school of choice in which parents are “escaping failing schools”; however, one must wonder about the fiscal tipping point for feeder districts if KHA enrollment expands.
The reality is that as students leave a traditional school district for charters, funding also leaves those districts, and all school maintenance cannot simply be reduced on a per-student basis. No matter if I have 10 students or 30 students in any given class, the cost to run my lights and air remains constant. Therefore, as my enrollment decreases, other cuts must be made– or the lost funding must be designated from elsewhere.
And so, the question looms regarding how far choice can go before the traditional district can no longer sustain itself. It seems that KHA is planning to slowly expand. Furthermore, KHA is only one of a few charters in the state of Rhode Island, a state with a cap of 35 charters. In that regard, Rhode Island is not typical, as many states have no cap on the number of charters allowed.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) takes issue with Rhode Island’s charter cap. NAPCS also takes issue with Rhode Island’s not allowing virtual charters*; not allowing for multiple authorizers; having no provision for adequate authorizer funding; providing no exemption from state teacher certification requirements; having no provision for multiple schools to be linked under a single contract, and offering no laws or regulations to explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extra-curricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at non-charter public schools for a fee by a mutual agreement. (There’s more, but I’ll stop here.)
NAPCS ranks Rhode Island’s charter school law as pretty low: 35 out of 43.
Scandal-ridden Ohio it rates as 23 out of 43. (Some of what NAPCS does not like: “[Ohio charter law] does not provide additional application elements specific to conversion schools and replications. It also does not require authorizers to issue requests for proposals, to thoroughly evaluate each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting, to make all charter approval and denial decisions in a public meeting, and to state reasons for denials in writing.”)
Louisiana, it loves: 4 out of 43. (It would like Louisiana better if the state offered grant or loan programs for charter school facilities, or if the state provided optional enrollment preference for children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, for example.)
New York, NAPCS also loves: 7 out of 43. (It doesn’t like NY’s authorization, though: “The law does not provide for funding for the authorizing work of local school district authorizers and the State Board of Regents, does not require authorizers to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures, does not require a separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school, and does not prohibit authorizers from requiring schools to purchase services from them.”)
Feel free to look up NAPCS take on any of the 43 states allowing charters here.
As for KHA and its home as a Rhode Island charter school:
It truly is among the least of my school choice concerns.
*Update 03-22-16: Rhode Island now has virtual charters.
Coming June 2016 from TC Press: