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Educator Extols Charter Schools To Y's Men Of Westport Weston

Dacia Toll, Co-CEO of Achievement First, recently spoke to the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston.
Dacia Toll, Co-CEO of Achievement First, recently spoke to the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston. Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTPORT, Conn. -- The head of a charter school group recently heralded the Y's Men of Westport/Weston with stories of success from the Amistad Academy in New Haven. 

In June 2013, 25 students graduated from Amistad Academy, an Achievement First public charter school, said Dacia Toll, co-CEO of the group.

All were accepted to a college—and 85 percent of college-age AF students continue in college, she said.

But of the 64 students who began in the academy's ninth grade in September 2009, 39 dropped out, 11 for what the school’s administrators called “acceptable reasons," the rest were “losses,” she said. 

Although her interest is in “creating opportunities for low-income students,” her talk was more far reaching, Toll said.

AF is a nonprofit organization that operates 29 charter schools in New York City and Rhode Island, as well as 11 in Connecticut. AF educates 8,100 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, with 85 percent receiving free or reduced lunches. 

Charter schools, alternatives to district schools, are designed to serve low-income and minority students whose parents want a better education than they believe is offered at their neighborhood schools. Entrance is by a blind lottery.

Every state has a “devastating achievement gap by income level,” but “Connecticut has the largest in the nation,” Toll said.

Upper income students in the state are among the best in the nation, she said. But the lowest income students rank 47th of 50, with a gap of 3.5 years by high school.

“We need to regain our national leadership,” Toll said. The state should establish a rigorous national standard and at least one rigorous national assessment; have great teachers; and offer more choice and competition in education, she said

Toll used Achievement First as an example. It admits a significant number of fifth-graders who enter at 47 percent proficient. By 8th grade, they have improved to 75 percent—higher than Connecticut’s average. 

Later on, effective teaching means ”82 percent of AF’s graduates receive college degrees, against 9 percent of U.S. low-income high school graduates,” she said. 

More more choices and competition are needed in education, Toll said, calling for more charter schools. Six were initially approved almost 20 years ago, but 16 have been authorized since, she said. 

Toll said she is now fighting a bill before the General Assembly that would place a moratorium on additional charter schools in Connecticut. 

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