Boston Charter Schools: Give The People What They Want

Something you hear a lot from charter school opponents is that they’d be OK with charters if  the schools more consistently produced gains for students. Yet in places that have done a good job with charter quality the opposition from special interests remains.  Some new polling data that will probably become public this coming week in Massachusetts casts a light on this issue.

The poll of 625 registered voters in Boston found that just 23 percent of respondents supported keeping current limits on charter schools while 64 percent are in favor of expanding charters. 66 percent think the city should lease vacant buildings to charters and 67  percent think charters should get state funding for construction and renovation.  Perhaps most interesting, 73 of voters said they support allowing charter schools with a proven record of success to expand – essentially a “smart cap” idea (pdf).

As opposed to some jurisdictions the performance of Boston’s charters really isn’t in question.  A number of studies, most recently a CREDO analysis earlier this year (pdf), have shown that overall (there are low-performing exceptions, of course) the city’s charter sector outperforms comparable schools.

In other words, the debate over expanding charters in Boston (and Massachusetts more generally) shows how this debate is less about an empirical concern about quality for kids than it is about politics.  And short term politics based on pretty narrow economic interests at that. Over time a good way to help maintain or grow support for public education – in its birthplace no less – might be to give the people what they want instead of positioning public schools to be at odds with the wishes of a majority of voters.

9 thoughts on “Boston Charter Schools: Give The People What They Want

  1. EduShyster

    This “poll” is one of the most cynical exercises I’ve ever come across. Basically the marketing firm hired by Education Reform Now takes the hopes and fears of Boston parents and then figures out how to translate them into “supports more charters.” What’s more, the pollsters explain repeatedly that this is actually their goal. The number one concern cited by parents was budget cuts and the elimination of programs–yet the pollsters never let on that the rapid proliferation of charters in Boston is one of the main causes of both. As for concern about the fact that charters don’t serve English language learners (a full 30% of the Boston Public Schools) and students with disabilities, the pollsters have an innovative way to convince respondents that the opposite is true. The full poll can be found here: http://www.edreformnow.org/Education%20Reform%20Now%20Boston%20Poll%20Report%20final.pdf It’s worth a detailed read as it’s a revealing look at the state of the education reform “debate.” I predict that Education Reform Now will regret having made this poll public…

  2. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    The originial idea for a charter school was to allow parents and teachers to be free of bureacratic rules so they could try innovative ideas with little interference from above. Of course such schools would be strictly non-profit and subject to strict financial oversight. These schools, like all public schools, would be open to children in the neighborhood without any restrictions, except for the ones shared by all schools (vaccinations, etc.)

    Somewhere along the way, the idea of the charter school was commandeered by investors who saw the opportunity to make money. So now charters are privatized schools that are under the direction and ownership of individuals or “chains.” Once the charters are granted, the taxpayers lose all control over them because they are considered private schools, even though they are supported with public money. (How this ever became legal is beyond me).

    These schools almost always require parents to apply and to agree to contracts. Research informs us that charter schools have fewer children with learning, language and behavior problems and/or differences. In states with many charter schools (e.g. California) there is rampant fraud and cheating. The state is trying to crack down now, but once these charters get started, it’s very difficult to close them down.

    In countries that have gone the charter route, we can see the consequences of this approach. Almost all parents of means, enroll their children in charter or voucher schools, while the common government schools became depositories for the poor, the neglected and the disabled. This is the worst possible outcome for a democratic nation.

    Our public schools have been the bedrock of our democracy and the path to the American Dream for many of our citizens. They must be improved so that all can have access to a quality education, but to destroy them is a huge threat to our way of life.

    Please support one of our greatest American institutions: our public schools.

  3. Chris Lubienski

    I’m hesitant about giving much weight to any of these broader public polls about charter schools since, as indicated again with this one, a large section of the public is unfamiliar with, or misinformed about, these schools.

  4. mathteacher

    Linda/Retired Teacher

    While your comment…

    “Somewhere along the way, the idea of the charter school was commandeered by investors who saw the opportunity to make money. So now charters are privatized schools that are under the direction and ownership of individuals or “chains.” Once the charters are granted, the taxpayers lose all control over them because they are considered private schools, even though they are supported with public money. (How this ever became legal is beyond me).”

    …may be true in some states, it’s not true in Massachusetts. Stop spreading lies.

    MA charter schools public schools, authorized (and reauthorized) by the state department of education, and run by non-profit organizations.

  5. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    One more point:

    In most cases, the ordinary taxpayer has no control over these charters, profit or non-profit. They pay taxes to support them but have no representation over how they are run. Do citizens know this?

  6. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    Mathteacher:

    You need to read about charter schools in general and California charters in particular because that was the subject of my post. However, I would characterize your remarks as “misinformation” or “lack of information” and not “lies.” Most schoolteachers would never accuse someone of “spreading lies” unless they were certain that there was a deliberate intent to mislead.

  7. mathteacher

    Linda,

    My apologies…you’re right, I should have used the term “lies.”

    However, the post was about Boston (where I teach in a charter school), so my assumption was that you were talking about Boston.

    I guess my point is that it is not your post, it’s Andy’s post. If you want to hold forth on the evils of California charter schools, start your own blog, don’t commandeer his. Or, just stay on topic.

    I don’t doubt that there are issues with charters in lots of places. I have done plenty of reading about the sector, and I’ve heard about many of the issues. There’s corruption in all aspects of society. However, MA has been lauded time an again for the quality of our charter school laws, so don’t conflate two different things.

    PS…Andy, love the math-centric CAPTCHA

  8. PhillipMarlowe

    On page 14 of the poll, which edushyster linked, we read that
    85% of the respondents believe funding to be a problem for Boston Public schools,
    85% for lack of parental involvement in their child’s education
    88% safety,
    85% over crowding (like 40 kids in middle school algebra class)
    78% too many students who don’t try
    72% teaching to standardized tests
    72% overworked teachers
    71% standardized tests
    54% too much attention to weak students,

  9. PhillipMarlowe

    D3. What is your ethnic background? n=445
    White 59% (+12%)
    Hispanic/Latino 9% (-8%)
    African American 16% (-7%)
    Asian 2% (-7%)
    Other 8%
    Don’t Know 5%

    Boston Demographics:
    White 47%
    Hispanic 17%
    African American 23%
    Asian 9%
    Other 4%

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