As examples in New London and Norwich show, charter schools work and deserve support
All kids − regardless of family income, race, or ZIP code − deserve a high-quality education to reach their fullest potential. As we celebrate the completion of National School Choice Week, we are reminded of the more than 10,000 children across our state whose lives have been transformed through the opportunity to attend a public charter school. Our organization is proud to advocate on behalf of such schools, two of which have helped to provide life-changing educational opportunities to families throughout southeastern Connecticut for more than 20 years: The Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich, and the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London.
Like all of Connecticut’s public charter schools, both ISAAC and Integrated Day are motivated by a shared belief that educational excellence is achieved through a diversity of excellent educational options. By offering fresh approaches to learning, these public charter schools reach students in innovative and unique ways to best meet student learning needs − understanding that not all kids learn in the same way. And that is the benchmark of the school-choice movement. It’s the belief that every child is unique, and to maximize each student’s potential, families should be able to choose the learning environment that is best suited for their children and helps them become the leaders of tomorrow.
Recognizing the unique needs of the greater New London community, ISAAC is committed to maintaining a diverse, multicultural learning environment. Through the arts and communication, ISAAC students are encouraged to become global citizens with an eye for social justice. And through their use of the highly successful Expeditionary Learning (EL) model, ISAAC goes even further by sharing best practices with more than 150 fellow EL schools across the country. ISAAC students are motivated not only to be successful in the classroom, but to be good citizens, devoted to good character and stewardship.
In Norwich, Integrated Day has made a name for itself by rethinking what school can look like for its students. Their school model integrates the arts into every subject, from math to science and beyond. Students are encouraged to become socially responsible citizens and lifelong learners, and to make an impact on the world around them. Connecticut’s State Arts Agency has recognized Integrated Day as a Higher Order Thinking (HOT) School, noting their strong commitment to arts integration, as well as their dedication to democratic principles.
Families all over the U.S. overwhelmingly support the right for families to be able to choose schools like Integrated Day and ISAAC. But most importantly, the data proves that as a public school of choice, charter schools work. In Connecticut, over 80 percent of charter students scored higher in both Math and English Language Arts than their district school counterparts on the 2016-17 Smarter Balanced assessment. And on average, Black and Latino students attending charters outperformed their district school counterparts on state tests. It’s no wonder why the parents of more than 10,000 children have chosen to send them to charters in Connecticut.
Even as schools like ISAAC and Integrated Day transform public education in our state, however, and even as thousands of names sit on charter school waitlists, our schools must still fight year after year to have the same fair shot as other types of schools. Between harmful legislation, resistance from charter school naysayers, and increasingly tight state budgets, it’s a hard-fought battle protecting the rights of children and families in our state to choose charters. But as long as families continue to demand this choice, and as long as our schools continue to prove their value through undeniable results and educational outcomes, we’ll keep up the charge right alongside them.
Yamuna "Yam" Menon is the Connecticut state director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.