In November, because our state government has abdicated its responsibility to research and make a decision about the expansion of the already troubling charter-school program in Massachusetts, the citizens of the Commonwealth are going to be voting on ballot question #2, whether or not to allow an increased number of new charter schools and additional seats in existing charter schools. We live in a Republic - a representative democracy - for a reason, most notably because of the difficulty citizens have doing the research and objectively understanding issues.
I want to explain how charter schools are adding to the devaluing of our public schools and why it’s important to not just vote against the expansion ballot, but also to dramatically improve, and potentially even reverse the systems within which Massachusetts charter schools exist. I speak not only with the emotions of a parent and public-school advocate, but also as a professional educator of 18 years and a current school-committee member. I work and live in towns being negatively affected - economically and politically - by charter schools.
Even though I am against this legislation, I want to be clear that I hold no malice against people who work in charter schools or send their children to them. I know some very talented educators who teach in and run charter schools. I have friends and relatives who send(t) their child(ren) to charter school(s). I also don’t at all kid myself and think that public district schools and our systems don’t have a lot of room to improve.
For clarity’s sake, I’m planning on releasing a few separate blog posts on this topic. I need to write about the legislation itself to start. Then I will write about its lottery admittance system and why charters are absolutely not serving a representative cross section of our student population. This series will also discuss how and why this inadequate admission strategy divides communities. Another post will discuss the economics.
About the question:
- “Charter School” means so many things to so many districts. There are different approaches, different charters, different levels of success, different locations (local and regional), and other differences that make a discussion about charter schools as a whole a dangerous proposition. They were designed to support local school districts - to be labs of innovation, strategy sharing, and improvement - and should therefore be approved only - if at all - by local communities. A statewide ballot means that people who have no knowledge of how they work or connection to them at all will be voting on something that has big consequences for other places.
- While I don’t doubt that there are some people who will spend the time to fully investigate and understand the issue at hand, I wonder if you feel that enough people:
- Know why charter advocates and opponents disagree on whether or not charter schools are public schools.
- Know how per-pupil spending formulas work and why opponents don’t think they tell the whole story
- Know how charters are paid and the percentage formula the state uses to reimburse the sending districts.
- Know the philosophical foundations for establishing charter schools in Massachusetts
- Understand the processes required to apply into different charters’ lotteries.
- Actually know who attends charter schools. Advocates and opponents disagree on whether or not charters actually serve a representative sample of all student demographics (race, special education needs, English Language Learner needs, socio-economic status, homeless, etc).
- Even the name of the question “An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools” ought to give people pause. The propaganda in it is implying that access to charters isn’t “fair,” which is actually one of charter opponents arguments. What this questions seeks to do is to allow “increased” access to charter schools. In my future posts (coming soon), I will deconstruct why the words “fair” and “public” in this question are so controversial.
Without even reading any more, I hope I've helped you to understand why this process and this ballot are troubling. My other posts will come soon. As always, I welcome and look forward to your comments and feedback.