No, Governor, the evidence is not overwhelming

Governor Baker cares about the education of all the Commonwealth’s students. He cares so much that whenever he talks about education the only thing he can talk about is charters.

In an address on Friday, he stated that the “evidence was overwhelming…” that “charter schools in Massachusetts have delivered a very strong and high-quality product to kids here in the Commonwealth.”

But if he read the state auditors report on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Oversight of Charter Schools, he would see that the opposite is true. According to the state audit, the demographics of the kids in charters schools are different

Drawing at the ICA Boston
Drawing at the ICA Boston

from the demographics of public schools. Charter schools are not educating the same proportion of special needs kids and English language Learners. And because of this, it is impossible to know if any academics gains are because of student population as opposed to the schools themselves.

Furthermore, there is reason to believe that charters “cook the books” by pushing out students who do not test well. Here is a link to a series of graphs that show that the rise in MCAS scores strongly correlates to high attrition rates at the schools. Some charters push out 75% of the cohort by graduation time.

This hardly seems like overwhelming evidence to me, Governor Baker.

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What was lost

Death, Sex and Money is doing a series of podcasts on New Orleans and what has changed in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina.

I was particularly struck by one woman’s comments who had lived through the storm and the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Terri Coleman tells the reporter:

Progress and change comes at a cost, I think in the narrative of progress told by outsiders there’s not an appreciation for what we lost in order to make this progress.

I think this stuck out for me because we are hearing so much about the New Orleans Recovery District. After Hurricane Katrina, the school systems was essentially scraped, the teachers fired, and the entire district was converted to charters. And yes, the children’s test scores have risen in the last ten years.

But of course, that isn’t the whole story. What the people of New Orleans have lost is a seat at the table. The parents have lost their voice because there is no real “district.” There are only autonomous schools so there is no one to go to if you are not being heard.

The school district has been made over by people who are not from New Orleans. The teachers do not represent the community. The administrators are making decisions without community engagement.

This is particularly problematic for English Language Learners and families who have special needs kids. And indeed, the district is being sued both by parents of non-English speakers and families with kids of special needs.

There are also student walk outs from students who feel as if the harsh disciplinary practices are not preparing them for college but are preparing them for the military or prison. http://media.nola.com/education_impact/other/Carver%20Students%20Demand%20Letter%20(2).pdf

I have noticed that there is a dividing line in folks who are interested in education. There are those who believe that test scores are the only things that matter. Therefore, any and everything is justified by the raised test scores.

But there are folks like me who believe that test scores are only one marker of a school’s success. And a school district is not a success if you have taken away a community’s right to be actively engaged in the education of its children.

The End of Public Schools in Boston

Currently, charters schools are allowed to take up 18% of a school districts budget. A new ballot measured has been filed that would allow for 12 new charter schools a year above and beyond their current allowances.

The governor is also going to file legislation to lift the charter cap. And well-heeled lawyers (whose children most certainly are not in public schools) have promised to sue if the charter cap is not lifted.

This is a coordinated attack on our schools system and can lead to the dismantling of BPS if parents do not fight back.

You might think:

BUT my kid goes to a good public school. This most certainly won’t affect them, right?

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The downward spiral of school closures and charter school expansion

The problem with charter schools is that they affect all schools in a district. A classroom must be 87% full in order to pay for the teacher of that classroom. The remaining 13% contributes to the cost of special programming like art, music and Spanish. It only takes a few kids leaving from each classroom to destabilize the entire school.

That’s when the downward spiral begins.             Conditions worsen at the public schools, parents leave for charters or the suburbs, the push for more charters begins until slowly the foundation of the public schools has completely rotted away.

You only have to look at the situation in Chicago and Philadelphia to see this play out in real time.

The pro charter lobby will talk a lot about parent “choice.” But if the choice is between well funded charter schools and a broken public schools – that is no choice at all. That is a choice that has been made for you.

I spent $100 on Back to School supplies for 2 kids

There are many ways in which the defunding of public schools is felt by parents and teachers but may be hidden from the general public.

For instance, teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on school supplies.

From my perspective as a parent, I’ve seen school supply lists increasingly grow year after year. My children will be going to two different schools, and I received two supply lists in the mail.

I was a little surprised at some of the items. Parents have always been responsible for things like folders and binders. But this year, both lists included pencils, crayons and glue. Even more concerning, the lists asked for copy paper, paper towels, and rulers. These are items that I would expect a school to be able to purchase.

The lists were so extensive, I ended up going to two different stores to buy everything.

Toys R Us was up first. Here is a pic from the haul there.

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I spent a whopping $75.00.

Toys R Us has a Back to School section but they didn’t have everything on the list. So next stop was Staples. I only spent $25.00 there.

IMG_3139

Luckily, we had a yard sale the day before, and the money I made from it off set some of the cost. In the end, I spent $100 and some change, and I didn’t get the optional items like disinfectant wipes. Honestly, I felt a little bit like crying at the end.

Public school is a necessary public investment. And I’ve heard over the years that belief that are schools are swimming in cash. Much of that is due to the dishonesty of public officials who refuse to acknowledge the budget shortfalls that schools have been fielding year after year.

And what happens to kids whose parents cannot afford to drop $50 a child? I don’t know. But they have a right to a well supplied education as anyone. The public’s unwillingness to fund education shouldn’t fall on their backs.

The problem that never went away, integration in BPS

I was speaking to a neighbor of mine about the time I was enrolling my son in Boston Public Schools. I asked what she was planning on doing with her daughter of the same age, and she said that she would “never” enroll her child in BPS. There is collective resentment against the school system about busing even though that violent chapter of the city’s history is over 20 years old

I was thinking about her comment because This American Life recently had a podcast on school integration. It’s an amazing episode and very hard to listen to because the racism in the story is incredibly raw.

Integration is the one solution that has proven to help close the achievement gap. In fact, at the height of integration in 1988, the achievement gap was halved.

BPS has been moving away from integration and busing and moving towards neighborhood schools. From 1988 to 2014, BPS used a “zone” system with the city cut up into 3 zones. It was a compromise between those who wanted full integration and those who wanted neighborhood schools.

Boston is a highly segregated city, and certain areas of the city have a tendency to get the mayor’s ear. Many of the most desired schools were located in West Roxbury, a historically white area of the city. Before Menino left office, he decided to reformulate the assignment process. The formula now being used is not easy to explain. It was created by a gentleman at MIT, and it is designed to get kids into the nearest school but still insure that families have “access” (note: not assignment) to a quality school.

Since Boston is such a segregated city, going to school closer to home means less integrated school schools. There is a lot of talk in our city about closing the achievement gap. What politicians mean by that is usually opening more charters even though its been shown that charters contribute to segregation.

I believe city and school officials are sincere in their desire to close the achievement gap but any serious discussion would have to look at school diversity. It’s very hard to imagine any politician willing to reopen that painful chapter of our city’s history.

My idea to desegregate the schools is to use the complexity of the current system to your advantage. Every year, just slowly rejigger the formula so that families would be considered for an increasing “circle” of schools each year. No big pronouncements. Just quietly open up more and more of the city to integration.

Where I make some unfounded (but perhaps true) accusations.

The Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank in Boston, recently held a forum on school vouchers. Currently, Massachusetts does not have school vouchers, and there are legal impediments to allowing them.

They recently had a forum where they discussed a proposal to allow families within income guidelines to access vouchers worth $6,000 for K-8 and $10,000 for high school.

You can read more about it here: http://pioneerinstitute.org/featured/study-proposes-school-voucher-plan-for-10000-low-income-mass-students/

So what do I think about all this? I think this isn’t a serious proposal.

Why? Because you can’t send a kid to private or parochial school for $8,000. Listen, ladies and gentlemen, this entire place has been gentrified. You can’t buy a taco around here for $8,000, let alone private school for a year.

Look at these at tuition rates for Private and Catholic Schools:

Private

Buckingham Browne and Nichols
$42,000 (Grade 9)

Roxbury Latin School
$29,000

Beaver Country Day
$43,000 (Wowsa!)

Catholic High Schools in Boston

Boston College High School
$18,700

Cathedral High School
$15,000

Cathedral Memorial
$17,900

I found these tuition rates by clinking around on the websites of schools that come to mind when you say “Private High School” or “Catholic High School.” I quickly grew bored of this so it is by no means an exhaustive list.

But I found these proposals do not come close to meeting the tuition of these schools. So what is this all about?

This is where I make some unfounded accusations. Catholic school attendance has nosedived in the last 10 years. Much of that has to do with the sex abuse scandal in the church and the subsequent closing of parish churches. But the scuttlebutt is that charter schools are also tapering off the group of folks who wanted nothing to do with traditional public schools.

I think this is a bone being thrown to the catholic schools. In effect, an attempt at divide and conquer, by making it look like the state would fund catholic education if it wasn’t for those pesky anti-school choice types. And maybe the state would fund catholic education. But first you would need to double or even triple the worth of the voucher.

As an aside, my mother was amazed of my fondness for plaid as an adult since I was forced to wear it every day through my elementary years. Indoctrination cuts deep.

I'm not in this photo.
I’m not in this photo.