Charter School Outlook 2011-2012
The Education Reform law passed by the MA State legislature in January 2011 opened the door to the significant expansion in the number of charter schools in Boston. The legislation was actively supported by Mayor Menino, by Boston Public School Superintendent Carole Johnson and the Boston School Committee.
The expansion of Boston-based state charter schools has vast implications for our school system and our students. Current Boston charters drain approximately $65 million in revenue from city schools each year, and with the addition of ten additional Boston-based state charters in 2011, the dollar loss is expected to rise to $110 million yearly by 2014.
Aside from the harmful financial implications, some charters provide a disservice to all of us as they continue to cherry pick their students. Unfortunately, the state has only encouraged more of the same bad practice.
The Charter School expansion — and the resultant loss of dollars and students from our schools — led to school closings last year, and will predictably lead to more school closings this year or next. This despite the steady of stream of evidence and research that: (1) charter schools do not have a consistent track record in outperforming district schools; and (2) that they do not serve — and retain — the same range of students as those served by the district schools.
The History of Charter Schools
In 1993, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Education Reform Act authorized the establishment of independent charter schools. They were intended to provide more choices to families — especially low income families living in school districts with many under-performing schools. With limited resources to pursue alternatives, charter schools held out another path to success.
Once approved, a charter school has the “freedom to organize around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method.” The promise was that these schools would embrace new and exciting innovations in teaching and learning that would not only enrich the educational experience of their students, but serve as models for improvement in the public schools.
In the 1990s, we saw the first wave of parent and community leaders, educators and non-profit organizations apply to the state to develop schools with a unique curriculum, methods of instruction and assessment, and models for bringing parents and community resources into the public schools.
Charter schools were soon being embraced by a much broader constituency: politicians, wealthy philanthropists, major foundations looking to get into the business of education and conservative education reformers (see MediaWatch), Many of these folks had little or no background in education… their convictions were rooted in ideology, not education experience.
The authors of the book The Charter School Dust-Up note “an unfortunate shift of some charter school advocacy from a pragmatic question to identify school improvement strategies to an ideological prejudice against regular public schools.” A number of claims were made by this second wave of charter schools proponents:
- Charter schools open their doors to the poor, low-income students without any effort to exclude low-performing or students with special needs or challenges
- Charter school students thrive academically and achieve better outcomes compared to their public schools counterparts
- Increasing the number of charter schools and giving poor families more choices in the “marketplace” intensifies pressure on public schools to improve; left to their own devices, school departments lack the will or creativity to improve
A number of studies by a range of well-regarded researchers have now been done which challenge much of this hype on all four points.
- Charter schools frequently do not have the same demographic as the larger public school population. Charters do not educate–either in number by severity-index–a similar demographic of special needs students; what’s more, charters do not service a similar demographic of students for whom English is not their primary language. In all of these measures, charters fall short. In addition, there is the reality that a parent or student who is motivated to seek out and apply to a charter school has already distinguished themselves as a more motivated and engaged parent/student.
- Students clearly show a tremendous range in the achievement of charter school students. On the whole, charter schools do not achieve better outcomes although some charter schools do better…and some do much worse. (See Stanford/CREDO study.)
- Many “high-performing” charter schools have exceptionally high dropout rates. This “improves” their ratings. Meanwhile, many of these students who drop-out return to the public schools who must try to succeed where the charter school failed.
- Whatever truth there may be to the claim that charter schools put positive pressure on public schools to perform better, the downside is much more significant: under the current funding formula in Massachusetts and other states, local and state dollars follow individual students out of the district with the result that the district schools have to do more with less money for the students that they serve.
Read more about charter schools
Read excerpts from the Executive Summary of the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s publication “Charter School Success or Selective Out-Migration of Low Achievers? Effects of Enrollment Management on Student Achievement.”
This study provides policymakers with answers to two key questions: Who is actually being served — and not served — by Boston charter schools? And what are the odds of a student entering a high-performing charter school successfully completing the academic program offered?
Download the Commonwealth Charter School 2010 Prospectuses.