Guest columnist Richard Alcorn: Support integrated K-12 public education in Massachusetts

  • Richard Alcorn, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, Tuesday in front of the school in Hadley. SARAH CROSBY

Published: 11/15/2018 7:57:05 AM

The Northeast United States has the most segregated public schools in the nation, according to a recent analysis in The New York Times. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) data shows many urban Massachusetts school districts have steadily grown more segregated over the last 25 years. In 2015, the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Boston After Busing” opinion series advanced the notion that black and Latino students in Boston are best served by urban chartered public schools with few white students. While urban-only charter schools play an important role, integrated regional charter school models should also be embraced by the state.  

The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (PVCICS) is a successful model of how regional charter schools can provide integrated educational opportunities to a combination of urban, suburban and rural students. Students come to PVCICS from over 30 Pioneer Valley school districts. After Amherst, Springfield sends the most students to the school. PVCICS is an engine of integration for students and public-school staffing in Hampshire County, where we are located.

For the third time in as many years, PVCICS is asking the state to allow the school to expand. For most of the history of PVCICS, the school has not been able to accept all of the students who have wanted to enter the school in kindergarten. At the beginning of this 2018-2019 school year, families of 69 kindergarten students had to be turned away because of lack of seats. The proposed kindergarten expansion is fully within the state cap on charter expansion, but the school has faced fierce opposition, especially from the wealthiest districts in our region of service. Our latest detailed expansion request is available from DESE.

The families who were turned away chose to apply to PVCICS because they thought that PVCICS would be better able to address the educational needs of their children than their own school districts would. The MA DESE has repeatedly ranked PVCICS as a Level 1 district at “meeting gap narrowing goals.” Standardized test scores and college matriculations of PVCICS graduates have been quite strong. Most importantly, PVCICS is addressing the opportunity gap by giving ALL students in the region access to learning Mandarin Chinese, which is identified as a “critical” language by the U.S. Department of State.

Over the years, it has become clear that state officials are very hesitant to allow charter schools to expand outside an urban box. The state, though, is obligated to serve ALL students, whether the school they choose to attend is situated in an urban, suburban or a rural area, and it is clear from the wait list that exists for kindergarten entrance to PVCICS that many families believe that their students would benefit from experiencing the rurally-situated but integrated education that PVCICS offers. State officials need to respect the needs and desires of these families. More broadly, state officials need to encourage the creation and expansion of integrated regional K-12 chartered public schools across Massachusetts.

Richard Alcorn is executive director of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

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