Buffalo’s struggling school system is considering public boarding schools to give round-the-clock attention to students and to allow students to be separated from the poverty, troubled families, and truancy they face everyday.
Carolyn Thompson, writing for the Associated Press, explains that supporters believe a dramatic step like this one could help students focus on learning and the effort would be worth the costs, an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 per student annually.
“We have teachers and union leaders telling us, ‘The problem is with the homes; these kids are in dysfunctional homes,’” said Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino.
Paladino’s plan is a charter boarding school in Buffalo where even first and second grade students would have the assurance of proper meals, uniforms, after-school tutoring, and activities. This and another proposal for boarding schools have been circulating the city, in which only 53% of students graduate in four years. Both English and math proficiency are around 20 points below the state average, and most of the city’s public schools are considered by the state to be failing. Along with these problems is the fact that 80% of students meet the federal guidelines for free and reduced lunch.
The other public boarding school proposal is being pushed by Tanika Shedrick, a former charter school dean, and would be called the Buffalo Institute of Growth. The school would provide a “college-style academic schedule with life skills and social activities that would keep students on campus seven days a week” and have as its goal sending 100% of the school’s graduates to college or a vocational training program.
The expensive student cost would be paid by public funding and fundraising, says Shedrick, who plans to submit a charter school application to the state within this year. The state of New York’s charter school allocation per student is approximately $12,000 per student.
The Buffalo Board of Education committee is looking at Paladino’s proposed plan, which would explore the possibility of a Washington, D.C.-based SEED Foundation school. The foundation opened its first boarding school for poor and academically at-risk students in 1998 and opened a Baltimore school in 2008, as well as a Miami school in 2014.
SEED Foundation co-founder Eric Adler said that the per student cost is expensive, but added that there are many children who need a school like this and who would probably not make it without the support a SEED school offers. Founder Tasha Poulson said that she knew she had to have a different school for her daughter, but was resistant to having her sixth-grade child living away from home. Her daughter is now headed to North Carolina Central University.
The Journal of Labor Economics published a study of SEED last year and discovered that changing a student’s social and educational environment through boarding significantly raised student achievement in math and English.
“Next year, we’ll take in another 6,000 kids to our traditional public schools,” Paladino said. “Eighty percent of those kids are condemned to a school opportunity that will not teach them. It will just put them on the streets at some point.”
An editorial in The Spectrum, the independent student publication of the University at Buffalo, states that lawmakers are pushing for mayoral control over the Buffalo school district. This move will require approval from the New York State Senate and the Assembly and should be supported by anyone in Buffalo who cares about the city’s educational reform, The Spectrum says.
Mayor Bryan Brown is a passionate and dedicated leader, say the writers, and might begin a level of organization and control that has been sorely missing in recent years. A similar policy is in effect in New York City, where former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then Mayor Bill de Blasio were put in charge of the city’s schools. This move transformed city schools, resulting in the highest graduation rates in 10 years, lowered dropout rates, and much-improved test scores.
Still, other cities, like Detroit and Cleveland, have tried the same tactic and did not succeed in improving struggling school districts. However, it is apparent that the current policies are not working, and perhaps a new leader can take the helm and achieve the improvement that Buffalo needs.