FOUR YEARS ago, state and local education officials blocked the opening of a for-profit SABIS Educational System charter school in Brockton. Will SABIS meet the same fate this month when it tries to bring its proven educational model to Lowell or expand its presence in Springfield?
SABIS has earned the right to expand in Massachusetts. While the for-profit business model may offend some local sensibilities, SABIS students in Holyoke and Springfield consistently outperform peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds in their home districts. More importantly, SABIS is closing the achievement gap between its mostly minority student body and white counterparts in the suburbs. In Springfield, for example, 88 percent of SABIS 10th graders scored advanced or proficient on the 2011 MCAS math exam, compared to a statewide average of 77 percent. SABIS is also coming on strong in Holyoke, where its students placed in the top 25 percent of schools statewide based on the percentage of Hispanic students who scored proficient or advanced in math in grades 7 and 8.
Charter schools, whether run by nonprofit or for-profit organizations, receive the same funding through the state’s per capita formula. If SABIS—the only for-profit charter school operator in the state—were trying to cut corners for business purposes, it would show up in the data on student performance. Instead, its students excel. And waiting lists for the SABIS schools grow along with the schools’ reputations.
In 2008, an excellent SABIS proposal in Brockton was beaten back by powerful local politicians who didn’t relish competing with charter schools for students and resources. Similar efforts are now underway to block SABIS from opening its K-12 Collegiate Charter School in Lowell. There appears to be less resistance in Springfield, where the Springfield Technical Community College seeks to form a partnership with the proposed new middle/high school.
Education commissioner Mitchell Chester is expected to make his charter school recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of the week. If he puts the interests of urban students above local school board politics, the SABIS schools should rank high on that list.