Charter school successes pose challenge to city

Mayor Thomas Menino was joined by charter school leaders to celebrate the signing of a compact that will lead to more collaboration between Boston charter and district schools. Mayor Thomas Menino was joined by charter school leaders to celebrate the signing of a compact that will lead to more collaboration between Boston charter and district schools.

As the city’s school department and teachers’ union squabble over a new contract, a report shows that charter schools are set for a significant expansion in Boston, with eight new sites possibly opening in the next two years, and the number of students who attend charters expected to increase by 55 percent over the next four years.

That could lead to the amount of tuition money the city pays to charters increasing to $90 million in fiscal year 2015, up from $55.1 million in fiscal year 2011.

“The rise in charter enrollment among Boston students comes at a cost to the City of Boston,” according to a report from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-backed nonprofit.

“State aid follows Boston students who attend charter schools,” the report notes. Over the past decade, as BPS enrollment has dropped by 6,380 students or 10.1 percent, the BPS has struggled to right-size the system in a timely manner. Challenges come from uneven enrollment losses across schools and the political difficulty of closing schools.”

Much of the prospective charter gains can be attributed to the “Race to the Top” law legislators passed in 2010 in a bid for a pot of federal education dollars. The law raised the state limit on charter spending in districts with underperforming schools and opened to the door for “innovative” public schools, such as the Roger Clap, an elementary school in Dorchster that was converted into an “innovation school” after parents successfully protested against its proposed closing.

Dorchester is home to a number of charter schools, including Neighborhood House, which focuses on high school prep; Boston Collegiate, which has a focus on college prep; Codman Academy and its focus on social justice and the arts; Smith Leadership Academy which emphasizes leadership development; and Dorchester Collegiate Academy, another college prep school.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who represents some of Dorchester and co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee, said she didn’t want to “pre-judge” the outcome of the reforms. The committee is holding oversight hearings in late October on the law, and other education reform measures passed on Beacon Hill in recent years. “There’s no silver bullet in education,” she said. “Charter schools are one part of the puzzle.”

Chang-Diaz, a former teacher, said charters were more like “incubators for best practices” and not meant to be set up as “a parallel [education] system to district schools. They are independent and each school has a different governance model. You see there’s a real variation in the results we’re getting,” she said.

Mark Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said that Chang-Diaz offers a narrow view of charter schools. “Charter schools first and foremost are providing public school choices for parents in Boston, especially those who might not otherwise have those choices,” he said. “By providing the choice to parents, it does force the district to change in order to keep the students in the district school.”

Both Kenen and Sam Tyler, the head of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the figures in the report point to the district needing to make adjustments in the contract it has been hashing out with the teachers’ union over the last 17 months. “There’s a real urgency for this contract,” Tyler said.

Comments

Mark Kenen is “especially concerned for parents in Boston, who might not other otherwise, have those choices.”

The first change I would like to suggest is that charter school students be really chosen at random, no gate-keeping application process. That random selection could be done electronically by the Massachusetts Department of Education. The selection process could be computerized to factor in the Ell and Special Education students so that charter schools population would reflect the demographic of the Boston Public Schools. Charter schools are not “private schools,” they receive public funds and charter schools should reflect the populations of the communities they are taking funds away from.

If a student’s family selects a charter school, it should be with the understanding, and commitment, that the student would have to remain in the charter school network. If a student was found “not to be the right fit,” for a particular charter school, they would have the option of transferring to another charter/pilot school, in the charter/pilot school network. No dumping students back to traditional public schools a week before the MCAS. At the very least, if a charter or pilot school returns a student “who is not the right fit” back to a traditional public school, send the tuition check, lunch subsidy, and transportation money back with them.

Lets take a look at Boston Collegiate Charter School (BCCS) located in Dorchester. It is reported by the Massachusetts Department of Education to have 554 students in grades 5–12: 57% are white (316), 27% are African American (150), 11.7% are Hispanic (66), 1.4% are Asian (8) and 2.5% are Multi-Race (14), Non-Hispanic! BCCS only has 16 students whose First Language is not English, and only 1 student who is Limited Language Proficient in the whole school!

At BCCS there are 89 special education students but no indication as to their IEP or disability. There is a BIG difference in a resource room student who may need a little extra help in math or English, and a student who is Severe Academic Remediation (SAR) or has Learning Adaptive Behavior (LAB) designation. It is time that the Massachusetts Department of Education elaborates on the SPED designations of students that are serviced by Charter and Pilot Schools.

The 5th and 6th grades at BCCS start out with 100 students which starts to spiral downward to 98 in 7th grade, 94 in 8th grade (MCAS year), 53 remain in 9th grade, 43 in 10th grade (MCAS year), 41 in 11th grade, and 25 students are left standing in 12th grade! What happened to the other 75 students BCCS started with? They are returned to the Boston Public Schools traditional classrooms.

As a teacher in a traditional Boston Public School, I hope the BPS does make changes. I am tired of being a dumping ground for the charter and pilot schools. The students banished from these schools are emotionally shattered from having lost their community, and have real problems adjusting to a traditional school, they have been indoctrinated into believing is, “less than,” we are not. This takes away from the students already in my class.

Mark Kenen and Sam Tyler feel “a real urgency for this contract,” because they represent quasi private schools called “charter schools!” They know a fair and equitable contract between the Boston Public Schools and Boston Teachers will mean less “race to the top” money for them. You only have to look at the IRS 990’s of Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and Boston Municipal Research Bureau and see how much money they are spending to advance their agenda! They also know that their secret is out, the days of charter schools cherry picking and dumping students back to traditional schools are numbered. I welcome giving ALL Parents a choice, but I want more accountability, and definitely more transparency from the charter schools network before they take money earmarked to service ALL Boston’s children and use it to “significantly expand” charter schools who only service a selected few.