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.