The conversation about charter schools

The Senate is considering legislation to expand charter schools in Massachusetts. I am deeply interested to know how parents feel about the proposed changes — I give great weight to parents’ perceptions about what approach will best serve their children.

Boston is the real dilemma. In Belmont and Watertown and many other suburbs, parents passionately support their district schools and any competition from charters would be generally unwelcome.1 In the most disadvantaged districts, like Lawrence and Holyoke, charters seem like a needed alternative. But in Boston, there are conflicting considerations — on the one hand, some parents want more options for their kids; on the other hand, they don’t want charters to drain resources from district schools that they support.

What are charter schools?

Charter schools2 are just public schools that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education licenses and supervises. All public schools are regulated by DESE, but most are directly supervised by a school committee. Charter schools are subject to higher accountability than district schools — they have to be reauthorized by DESE every five years.

Charter schools are non-profit entities subjected to most of the same basic rules that apply to public schools (notably the testing requirements for graduation).3 They differ in a few important respects:

How are charter schools funded?

When students choose to attend a charter school, the school district that they opt-out of has to pay tuition to the charter school.  The tuition is computed based on the per pupil spending level of the sending district.  So, subject to some adjustments, if a school district has 10,000 students and spends $150,000,000 year, if they lose 1,000 students to a charter school, they will send $15,000,000 to the charter school.  Their school budget will have to shrink accordingly.

However, for the sending district, it will not automatically cost less to educate 9,000 students than it does to educate 10,000 students — a sending school district may have to go through some restructuring to be efficient at a lower head-count.  In theory, the state recognizes this problem and offers charter tuition reimbursement to give the sending district time to adjust — 100% in the first year and 25% for the next five years.4  In practice, the state tends to fail to fully fund this formula, so reimbursement comes in at a lower level.  Also, to the extent that the district had some economies of scale at a higher head-count, those economies may be lost.  Larger districts may have the ability to offer more specialized student assistance, advanced courses, etc., but when they shrink, they may be less able to do so.

How would pending legislation expand charter schools?

The number of charters that DESE can issue has risen in a series of steps since charters were introduced in 19935. Currently, the cap stands at 72 statewide. As a further restriction, not more than 9% of any one district’s budget that can be diverted to charters.   In the 10% of communities with the lowest test scores, the budget limit is 18%. In those communities, charters above the 9% level do not count against the statewide numeric cap of 72.  A number of communities, notably Boston which is subject to the 18% cap, are starting to bump up against their cap. A new charter school takes several years to set up. Although, at the moment, Boston has not reached its cap, the growth already in the pipeline is great enough that planning for new charters is subject to uncertainty created by the cap.

The proposed ballot question would allow 12 additional charters per year statewide, without restriction by the district budget caps, provided that the total number of charter seats added does not exceed 1% of statewide enrollment.  Because Boston has relatively high school spending, charters coming into Boston can plan for a higher budget.  There are plenty of schools with low test scores in Boston, so for charters with the laudable ambition to raise test scores, Boston is an attractive market.  Under the language on the ballot, nothing would stop DESE from putting a disproportionate share of the new charters in Boston, substantially destabilizing the Boston schools.  For that reason, I cannot support either the ballot question or the Governor’s similar bill.

The question that remains for me is whether a Boston expansion with some reasonable limits to it is desirable.  Mayor Walsh has proposed a moderate approach that allow the diversion of local funding to rise by 1/2 percentage point each year from 18% to 23%.   That might or not be the right growth level, but the idea of setting some growth ceiling seems necessary.

What do parents want?

The one thing I hear parents in Boston say with clarity is that they wish that they had good quality neighborhood schools — they don’t want to put their kids on a bus every day and they miss the intimacy with teachers and other parents that comes from routine daily contact in pick-up and drop-off.   This is the great advantage that suburban schools have over the Boston schools — the closeness between school and neighborhood.  I am not sure how that consideration plays into the charter debate.

I’d really like to hear from parents about their preferences on the charter issue. Of course, there are many other directions that we should be exploring to strengthen local district schools and I’m also interested to hear parents’ thoughts about other directions.

Foot Notes:

  1. Generally charter schools have not sought suburban locations, in part due to preferences built into the law. Charter schools may not be sited in communities with populations below 30,000 (unless they are regional charters). See G.L. c. 71, §89(i). A list of currently authorized charters can be viewed by selecting Charter Schools on this DESE search screen.
  2. In this piece, I use the phrase “charter school” to refer to what are legally known as commonwealth charter schools.  Horace Mann charter schools are a hybrid construct that can be created under school district supervision. There are only 4 Horace Mann charter schools among the 82 charter schools listed on the DESE website.
  3. Chapter 71, Section 89 defines the law of charter schools.  Section (s) makes clear that the general laws applicable to schools apply (excepting the professional status laws).  Section (v) further clarifies this as to performance and testing.  Section (ii) requires passage of the teacher’s exam, but does not require licensing for charter school teachers.
  4. The tuition computation and reimbursement schedule appear in sections (ff) and (gg) of Chapter 71, Section 89.
  5. The original 1993 reform legislation set a statewide cap of 25 of which no more than 5 were to be in Boston.  The total enrollment was capped at 0.75% of the state’s total school enrollment.  In 1997, the legislature raised the cap to 37 charter schools (and 13 Horace Mann charter schools), not more than 6% of any district’s spending, and not more than 2% of the state’s total school enrollment. In 2000, the legislature raised the cap to 72 charter schools (and 48 Horace Mann charter schools), not more than 9% of any district’s spending and not more than 4% of the state’s total school enrollment.  The 2010 reform eliminated the 4% state wide cap and raised the 9% district spending cap to 18% in the lowest performing 10% of school districts.  Schools added above the 9% level in the lowest performing districts are excluded from the statewide 72 school cap.

If you would like to comment, please visit this continuation thread.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

103 replies on “The conversation about charter schools”

  1. We need to raise the cap on Charter schools. The children of Boston deserve a quality education and should not have to rely on a lottery system to get it.

  2. More charter schools are needed and as soon as possible. Public education in Boston has been a severe disappointment to our children

  3. For me Will the question is what is the strategy behind charter schools? Why do we have them and who are they designed to serve?

    Your note describes what they and how they are managed but you don’t say why we have them. Are they intended to improve education for a few or are they intended to be an alternative which somehow improves education for all?

    It seems counterintuitive to diffuse the limited funding that public schools have unless there is a clear reason for doing so.

    As a parent, who had children attend public schools, I would argue we need to explain the reason for having charter schools before we can decide whether we need more of them. It would also be helpful to understand how charter schools are performing vs the goals they have established for themselves.

  4. Thanks for the clear and helpful summary. I definitely support lifting the charter cap. I know parents in Boston who are desperate for their kids to get into a charter school, but they didn’t win the entrance the lottery. I can only imagine the anguish of knowing there are good schools nearby, but the legislature passed a cap that prevents the school from letting your kid in. I don’t buy the argument that it hurts kids who stay in the regular public schools. Charter schools have even less of economies of scale. If a charter school can educate a student for the same amount of money as the district average, the district (which is still larger than any charger in it) should have no problem educating its remaining students with the same amount. Parents should be allowed to choose where their kids go to school, and taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for schools parents are choosing against. Let the taxpayers money go to the schools the parents choose. No cap should stand in the way.

    1. the funding of schools by local property taxes is the driving force that perpetuates the system where the affluent get better facilities and can afford better teachers. In addition, the parents will be more affluent and likely more able to assist their kids and hire tutors. I live in Newton, and that’s what we did of course. Nothing will change ( in a major way) until there is less poverty / income inequality. It’s common sense- just look around. Kids from affluent families ( or whose parents are well educated, but not necessarily affluent ) will tend to do better in school. Teachers are important, but nothing outweighs the family situation. Charter schools, Ed reform – it’s a nice try but in the many years it’s now been going on where are we? No much better off.

      1. I agree with this. We’re looking at a society wide problem, not just a ‘school’ problem. Indeed we are not much better off because efforts at ‘school reform’ over past decades did not change the fundamental flaws in the public school system. I am aghast that we still expect to run a single government operated education system. It totalitarian and it stinks. There should be way more choices for families to choose from, not this old tired one-size-fits all system which is part of a huge ‘educational industrial complex’ with a nation wide budget bigger than the defense department (yes, it’s true, just add up all the taxes at all levels of government and so-called ‘education’ outspends the entire military).
        Our education system is OBSOLETE (yes, I’m shouting), and I really wish, for the sake of our children, we stood up and recognized that fact.

  5. Nearly 10,000 schoolchildren in Boston are benefiting from the longer school days and school years, more demanding curriculum, and higher expectations set in charter schools. It makes no sense to limit what is working, especially when so many more families are desperate to have their children attend these schools. Please raise the cap on charter schools.

  6. I am not currently a parent, but I vividly remember the anguish of the busing crisis in Boston. unfortunately, the result was to gut support for the educational system in the city, and it has taken years to recover.
    without a good educational system, it is just about impossible to attract families who will stay in the area, leaving the city to the young singles and the empty nesters.
    further, every child has maybe 10 years to learn the basics. if he or she isn’t given the tools needed to be a productive member of society when the time is right, it is hard to make things up later.
    so I would favor a controlled expansion of charter schools, as mayor Walsh suggests. perhaps there cook be an opt-out option for communities that are happy with their schools as they are. it seems to be a situation where one size does not fit all, but one which urgently needs our attention.

  7. There are too many unanswered questions and unresolved issues about charter schools for me to be comfortable supporting a cap lift at this time. BPS parents have been asking questions about transparency for ages, only to be diverted over and over. While you state that the charters have a formula to follow to ensure that their population is reflective of the district, it has been shown again and again that they are taking proportionally far fewer ELL and SPED students than BPS. Charters are still not back filling seats and the wait list statistics are not accurate either, as per the state auditor’s report. Suspension rates are significantly higher at Boston’s charter schools than in district schools. As a parent who has seen our child’s BPS school’s budget cut year after year, I have to question how we can justify diverting more and more funds away from BPS, when BPS will continue to be required to shoulder the burden of educating the most challenging, expensive children to educate. For those of you on this list, how many of you have children in BPS? I do. I like my child’s school very much. I am tired of our questions and concerns about charters being repeatedly ignored. Please let’s address these issues before considering draining more funding from our district schools.

  8. I don’t currently have any children, but it seems to me that the more options we can provide for parents, the better. In Boston, I often hear about young parents wishing to stay in the city with their children, but they end up leaving because the public schools are lousy (or at least the perception is that they are lousy.) If more charter schools keep families where they actually want to be, I think that’s a good thing. It sounds like having some competition may also entice the people running the Public Schools to continue to improve them or else they’re going to find more and more of their funding being diverted to charter schools.

  9. I am a teacher educator at a local State university. My daughter went through the Boston Public School System.

    I think that all children should be able to get an excellent public education. One of the things that charter schools have in their favor is that these schools are smaller, the teachers know their students, and the students are often held to high(er) standards. The charter schools can also be more selective in their applicant process and pick the more prepared, higher functioning students. When a charter school student doesn’t comply with the standards of the charter school, however, they get kicked back to the public non-charter school, hence, putting more of a burden on the public non-charter school.

    Our public schools should not suffer, financially, b/c there are charter schools around. They should have the facilities and skills and encouragement to be the type of school that students and their parents WANT them to go to.

    An optional idea to more charter schools is a reorganization of already existing schools. What if some of our public schools are encouraged to have more schools within a school where clusters of teachers and students are arranged together to more easily develop the charter school environment and atmosphere within the larger public school?

    Funds could stay within the school, some programs could be shared, small supportive communities of students, teachers, and parents could be developed, and the smaller schools within a school could also take advantage of the larger school community.

    Thanks for your consideration, Mary Ni

  10. While I live in your district, I am the Trustee of a Boston charter. Speaking strictly for myself, I believe the cap debate occurs because not all charters fulfill what I believe was the original intent of charters, namely to test innovative strategies and share the best ones with their fellow public schools. I am proud of my charter’s efforts in this regard and hope some day that every charter will do this. If all charters were driven to help improve public schools, the “us versus them” debate wouldn’t exist. Thus, I vote yes to raise the cap but only to those charters that work to help educate all students and not just the lucky ones who won the lottery.

  11. I have volunteered at the Boston prep charter school and the quality of both the teachers and educational program far exceeded that in the well-regarded public schools I attended. The students are held to a higher expectation for performance and at Boston prep they weave ethics and other elements of respect and integrity into the curriculum. They foster a culture where raising your hand and class participation is not only encouraged but cool. I fully support having more charter schools in Massachusetts and plan to send my daughter to one when she’s old enough. Please support a bill that will do so.

  12. I don’t want there to be more charter schools in Boston. I want there to be good quality public schools in all neighborhoods. Since my daughter has an IEP for autism I would not want her in a charter school that doesn’t have small inclusive classrooms. But on a more city wide viewpoint I worry about how schools in the poorer neighborhoods consistently are closed down and then charters take them over. It doesn’t seem fair to those neighborhoods that they get stuck with charters and can’t have as many good public schools.

  13. No expansion of charter schools. Lot’s of reasons, but the primary one is removing engaged parents from the traditional public school system.

  14. The original intent of Charters was to use them as an incubator to try new ways of learning. There have been some successes but also a lot of disappointment. The overall issue with adding charter seats is its affect on the funding of the public school. Right now the unequitable funding is truly giving BPS a disadvantage. We need to really look at what our public schools need to educate in this century. Make those investments and make sure we provide our city a world class education system that enhances our universities and commerce communities.

  15. Performance is measured on a very narrow range – the Mcas does not test science in some years, and does not test history, geography in any years. Schools have mindlessly increased the amount of time allotted to elementary math and to English, and have reduce the time in all other disciplines.

    The Mcas should be redesigned to be shorter, to randomize questions across test takers, and cover what is in the standards and never gets taught. Open questions should be more prevalent, and multiple choice questions fewer.

    The state should mandate that schools report time spent per discipline, and should normalize Mcas results to the number of hours spent in the subject.

    I don’t have a recommendation regarding the charter school cap. But it is raised, the bar should be raised for charter performance accordingly.

  16. SSpend the money to improve the quality oof neighborhood schools. Establishing nnew charter schools will negatively aeffect the neighborhood schools, as it wwould take money from the schools to pay ftuition for each student who transferred tto the charter school. Teachers in the ccharter schools lose benefits compared to teachers in the regular neighborhood sschools. In wealthier neighborhoods pparents and students are very satisfied with the neighborhood schools. The
    state and federal government have to spend more in the poorer communities to level the playing field.

  17. In Boston Charter Schools require parents to jump through some hoops to get in. They tend to attract more involved parents. They also tend to limit the students with high needs because the school does not have the programs or resources.
    It is no wonder that some schools do better on scores. I do not feel that expansion of charter schools is the answer.

  18. Like public schools, there are good and bad charter schools. Do the regulators and the public know which is which, aside from their students’ test scores? Are facilities adequate? Are teachers properly compensated and mentored? Is there enough financial transparency?

    This article from the Atlantic focuses on charter schools run by the Gülen organization in a number of states. (I don’t know if there are any in Mass.) But some of its findings are more general.

    I would like to know if any of the shortcomings described in the article pertain to charter schools here, or is Mass just better at overseeing and holding them accountable than other states.

    My gut feeling is not to expand charter schools until there are audits of them and more complete reporting from them.

  19. Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for taking comment on this very important issue! As a young adult in MA, I am lucky to be able to see education issues both from the perspective of a student and of a future parent. I have thought a lot about charter schools – the promise the give to families of good outcomes and college readiness, but also the detrimental effect they’re having on our traditional public schools – and I know how complicated the issue is. I, too, have seen that parents want more choices but also desire the intimacy of a neighborhood school.

    I do not think we should raise the charter cap in MA, because raising the cap will let charter schools go too far. Having some charter schools in Boston, to serve students who thrive in them is okay; but charter expansion will be successful at the expense of other unique schools, such as Madison Park Technical and Vocational High School, which also provide a necessary service to students. If school funding and building availability was unlimited, charter schools should be allowed to expand like any other business. But not any other business has the privilege of accessing public funding. This privilege comes with a responsibility to not ruin Boston’s public schools, a responsibility which I’m afraid the charter schools have not always taken seriously. The charter approach – focus on college, “no excuses” education, harsh discipline – is not for every student, and the more public schools that close as a result of funding going to charter schools, the more we’re actually narrowing the choices that families have. Particularly children with special needs or English language learners have suffered from charter expansion in the past.

    School should not be treated as a commodity, but as a public good. The future voters and workers in Massachusetts should be educated in a system that gives them all a chance.

    Thank you again for your request for comment,
    Aja Watkins

  20. No one has explained:

    1. No one ever gave any rationale for splitting one public school system into two separate systems.

    2. If some tactics, strategies, and techniques work better, then those approaches should be adopted for all schools, not just some.

    3. Any evaluation of district schools vs. charter schools has to acknowledge that charter schools pick and choose the cream of the crop students, whereas district schools must accept all students.

    4. There’s no justification for any public school system that gets to reject public school students.

    5. Other states have had disastrous results when chartering separate schools funded with public dollars, so MA should have no charter schools unless there is a complete set of safeguards to prevent that.

    1. The rationale is simple: public schools have failed to educate our children in spite of significant increases in public education funds.
      The tactics and strategies start freedom from unions and union rules that are designed to protect teachers and not to educate children. It would be nice if all schools could achieve freedom from unions, but it’s unlikely.
      Charter schools are not free to pick the best students. Students are chosen by fair methods. Some are rejected because there are not enough charter schools.
      Yes, avoid disastrous results such as the abandonment of children to the existing public schools.

  21. What has happened previously has nothing to do with what the impact of more charters will have in towns like Watertown and Arlington and those in the western part of the state. Funds are not being added to education budgets to create more charters – the money comes out of the shrinking budget of public school systems, already short on funds. As important as speaking to parents in your district who have children in Boston public schools – speak with Boston public school parents in other parts of Boston. Just as you are supporting later hours for Boston restaurants, just as you supported the Olympics – you have little to lose by going against the wishes of those people who are afraid of creating a two tier system. As a member of the Boston NAACP, I stand with them.

  22. I do not favor expansion of charter schools as such an approach takes the focus off of, and funds away from, quality public education for all without regard to placement or intellectual capacity.

  23. I am deeply distrustful of the charter school movement. It has been surrounded by magical claims that importing the methods of the market will fix our problems. Some charter schools work, others, not so much.

    Meanwhile, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is an assault on first rate public education for all.

    That being said, we should welcome experimentation. It seems to me we should be looking for a system where schools (including public schools) are allowed to function as charter schools for some fixed period of time, say five or ten years, and then be folded back into the public school system, adopting the successful innovations.

    We can’t walk away from the public commitment to public education.

  24. I wish those who believe that charter schools are not affecting traditional public school classrooms could see the picture from my point of view as a Boston Public Schools high school English/ESL teacher. This year in West Roxbury, I teach classes with 80 percent high-risk students. That number rises every year as the charters expand.
    Our school was almost closed last year due to budget cuts because BPS is losing students. In ESL, 95 percent of our students at West Roxbury Academy pass the MCAS on their first try. Despite our record, the district was willing to close us down until students and parents intervened.
    Charters are not taking students who need extra help. They are taking the students who have well-developed learning and literacy skills they honed in public schools, and charters are sending back to BPS the students who do not score well on tests. Then they claim victory on test scores!
    Charters cost us in our classroom budget and our transportation budget as well. Charter schools take our students and then they take the buses away from the students we have. Money is so tight our school could not even get a yellow bus for an after-school tutoring program last year to help struggling students. We always had the after-school bus in the past. The closest MBTA bus stops 30 times in the 4.5 miles from our school to Forest Hills, so without school transportation the students’ commutes can be prohibitive. This year we have one after-school yellow bus for struggling students, but the schedule is not the most reliable.
    Oversight of charters is more of a problem than most people think. Even though a charter school’s license is renewed every five years, that renewal process does not mean that charters are easily closed when wrongdoing is suspected. It took ten years to close down the Robert M. Hughes Academy in Springfield Yet from the beginning there were many questions on spending and appropriations at the school, as well as later proof that there was cheating on the MCAS.
    Also, parents are at the mercy of a private board to redress their complaints when they have problems with the decisions made at a charter school. In post-Katrina New Orleans the charters have taken over the district and declared victory with supposedly higher test scores. They fired the entire teaching staff of the district and brought in teachers from outside the city. Today contradictory evidence of their “victory” is making its way through the propaganda. The school standards themselves are revealed to be among the lowest in the nation, according to the New York Times. And … “There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.” (The Myth of the New Orleans Makeover, NYTimes Aug. 22)

    Now this from former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert: “Charter schools were supposed to prove beyond a doubt that poverty didn’t matter, that all you had to do was free up schools from the rigidities of the traditional public system and the kids would flourish, no matter how poor they were or how chaotic their home environments.
    “Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools.
    “None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools. In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous. While originally conceived a way for teachers to seek new ways to reach the kids who were having the most difficult time, the charter school system instead ended up leaving behind the most disadvantaged youngsters.”

    Bob Herbert, an opinion columnist for the New York Times from 1993 to 2011, is a distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank in New York City. This article is an adapted excerpt from Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America (Doubleday), out Oct. 7.
    As teachers, we are asking the Legislature to let the public decide the charter school issue directly in a referendum. There is a growing awareness that these charters are forming mostly in the poorest districts of the nation, making big promises they can’t keep, and profiting off of the most vulnerable in education through land acquisition at public expense and through expensive contracting licenses without the same high level of oversight standards required at public schools.
    Please do not lift the cap. Please let the public decide.
    Thank you,
    Dolores Wood

    1. Ms. Wood, thank you for pinpointing public policy and operational issues with charters and their impact on people like you in the trenches. I hope Will takes careful note of all you have said.

  25. I do not support charter schools for two reasons: (1) charter schools drain the budgets of public schools who pay for students opting to attend charters; and (2) charter schools have a demographic that does not represent the general public. Specifically, they have been reported to cherry pick their students by expelling those who do not score high enough on standardized tests to make their teachers appear successful. Charter schools are the scourge of public education in the United States.

  26. The unfortunate framing of the question (“should we allow more charter schools thereby defunding regular public schools’) takes focus from the critical issue of whether our state is willing to pay for high expectations for all students.
    As a parent and Scl Com member (tho’ not in Boston proper), my experience tells me that either we foot the bill for universal education, or we accept a 2-tier system that allows better-off families more choice.
    Given prop 21/2, I reluctantly agree that charter school caps should be lifted …as long as charters are accessible by all. And as long as they do NOT drain funds from public systems. That said, I wish teacher unions would adjust their perspectives so charter schools might not be such an attractive alternative. The issues mentioned above about the higher percent of special needs students in public schools are certainly valid. BUT is is also true that it is nearly impossible to manage substandard teachers in public schools under current contracts…and parents definitely are affected by this, and the perception it creates.

  27. Please resist further establishment of charter schools which only destroy the public education system by denying them funding and erode teachers’ unions (their real purpose).

  28. As I understand it, the problem with charter schools is that they can be more selective than public schools. Therefore, public schools end up with the kids with learning disabilities and behavioral problems that the charter schools won’t accept, and the public schools are overwhelmed with learning disable students and little funding. Also, as a union member, I would be concerned because charter school teachers are not unionized.

  29. I support the expansion of charter schools because I believe that the teachers unions are the biggest obstacle to education reform and improvement and charters offer an alternative to parents in lower income communities for a quality education they cannot get in the public schools. My experience in Watertown is that the union leaders are usually some of the worst teachers and that tenure serves mainly to protects the teachers who should not be in the profession. Basing teacher pay on seniority also skews school budgets from rewarding quality teachers to rewarding only based on longevity.

    Charter schools get education out from under the yoke of the teachers unions and should be allowed to expand even if it destabilizes the existing school systems for a while. Their success will hopefully shed light on the problems in the public schools by comparison and as public perception increasingly points to the unions as the problem, will force change and reforms within them.

  30. I think charter schools take money away from regular public schools without serving the whole student population. I am not in favor of any charter schools.

  31. I am a retired public school teacher from the suburbs. I believe in public education but also in competition to inspire us to be better. My concern is that schools cannot adequately make up for lack of family, parental involvement and education. Until we address early education for all children, birth to K, and education on parenting ( eg reading to children), urban schools will continue to fail. Another major initiative needs to be family planning so low income people do not have more children than they can parent and support. All of this comes before action on charter schools.

  32. As an educator, homeowner, business owner, and parent of young children in your district I love the idea of more students who can’t afford other schooling opportunities having access to innovative models of education (supported by all our best research in the field) that Charters often adopt. However, I think our public schools could get closer to these ideals of modern progressive education with better funding. Currently the problems with schools in Watertown is our lack of budget to deal with an ancient infrastructure of buildings and properties that can’t support our students. Top on that the enormous amount of money pouring out of district for specilaized education that could be better supported by the State. I would prefer any monies that would go to broadening the charter system going instead directly to the special education supports, infrastructure grants, and incentive funds for innovative interventions like longer school days (Unions need to grow up on this issue, but we need to actually PAY teachers what they are worth for a longer day!) etc.
    Thank you for voicing our concerns on the floor and with your colleagues.

  33. I do not support charter schools because I think they take resources away from public schools, and they promote unequal opportunity.

    In my view, the problems with education have more to do with parents than the schools. We need more support for low-income families, including universal pre-K and more afternoon programs for kids. In France I was told that kids stay at school all day. This makes so much sense. Schools are supposed to be a community resource. I don’t understand why the school day ends so early. It just makes it hard for parents and kids.

    Kids learn better when there is less stress and violence in the home. This is why we need to raise the minimum wage and invest in good jobs.

    I think too many people blame the public school system for failures, but in many communities it works fine. Why is that? The answer is not more charters.

  34. The charitable take on the origin of charter schools would be to say that they were created to experiment in ways that could lead to benefits for the general public school population.

    If we accept this charitable take, then we can draw a few conclusions.

    (1) There is no reason why charter schools should function outside of a district. An arts academy or science academy functions differently than a general, college prep school. A vocational school does as well. If there is experimentation, it should be within the system to benefit the system.

    (2) Charter schools should be non-expansionary by nature, and charter “chains” should not exist. If the goal is experimentation to help the general school population, then there should be no need to expand the charter schools. Anything good that they have learned from their “experimentation” could be passed on to the general school population, thus rendering them obsolete.

    (3) Charter schools should be held to the same standards of transparency, oversight, and democratic accountability that “public schools” are. Their populations should reflect the wider school populations as well. If this is not the case, then the “experimentation” yields little in the way of replicability.

    Unfortunately, charter schools rarely operate in these ways and instead siphon money from the broader public school system and weaken the concept of “public goods” that we need to be reinforcing and celebrating.

    Our goal should be to offer high-quality public education to all students. The concept of “choice” is rendered incoherent by this goal (with the exception only existing in the case of vocational/specialization-focused schools). Charter schools are a distraction from this goal.

    1. Jonathan, you said it better than I was going to. Add to that what others have said about cherry-picking students, special education,family involvement and learning readiness, and we wouldn’t see so many public schools overwhelmed with children who have already fallen behind and spending so much time for discipline and remediation. Charter schools should not be allowed to eat our lunch.

  35. I am in full support of expanding the charter cap. Many high-performing charter networks, such as Edward Brooke, Roxbury Prep, UP Education, Excel, and KIPP provide exceptionally better programming and education to students that do many traditional public schools in Boston. It is silly and unfair to restrict proven charter providers from expanding to meet demand and giving students the education they deserve. Over 30,000 students are on charter school wait lists–what other proof point is necessary that the families of many urban communities, Boston included, want greater access to the strong educational opportunities proven providers consistently deliver? Would this type of restriction–holding back successful providers while propping up consistent under-performers–happen in any other type of industry? Of course not. Funds should be allocated to schools that are doing the best job educating students. I encourage you, Senator, to visit any one of the schools from the networks I listed above–all are extremely receptive to outside visits–and then visit a traditional public school in Boston. You will be amazed at the difference. It is not fair and unwise to make this decision without visiting each set of schools and seeing the difference yourself.

    1. Charter schools seem good but they don’t keep the students who enroll. Viewed in this light they are a failure, often with drop out rates surpassing their host district.

  36. I am concerned about the increasing challenge to the constitutionality of charter schools, which operate outside of review of any elected or appointed government agency such as a school board.

    At least one recent state supreme court decision (in Oregon or Washington state, I believe) has found that charter schools are not constitutionally public schools, and thus not entitled to state funding, as they are not subject to supervision and the authority of elected officials.

  37. I would like to add my voice to Dolores and others, who have given heartfelt testimony as to the damage charter schools are doing.

    I am concerned not only about the diversion of funds and transportation infrastructure, but about the disciplinary model in charter schools. It seems to be often the case, from my reading, that charter schools impose a structure of discipline that in some cases is consciously designed to provide a paper trail to justify the exclusion of students who might drag the charters’ scores down. I used to be attracted by charters in concept; but in practice, they seem to do more harm than good. Please oppose an increase in the cap.

  38. I am a Boston parent. I do NOT want charter schools to expand here. Charter schools do not reflect the student populations of their host district (WB’s report here is misleading).

  39. HI Will

    Both my older children attended the MATCH charter on Comm Ave near Packards Corner. My older daughter chose it over the exam school she was accepted by. The number of parents wanting charters way exceeds the number of slots so an expansion would be terrific.

  40. Raise the cap on Charter Schools. There is demand for more seats at Charter Schools because they are doing a great job and should be available to any and all parents/students. They are able to educate without spending huge amounts of unproductive time on negotiations and (sorry) politics. All students should not be held to the same level of education in the name of public schools.

    1. By this line of reasoning, we should privatize public works departments too, because of unions and “politics.” Sorry, but politics is how things happen in the public sphere. And if we diminish the public sphere, whoever takes over its functions will be less transparent and accountable (i.e. corporate). There will still be politics but you just won’t hear about them.

  41. From a very basic perspective, competition is good. It seems our educational system has become less flexible, and hence, less effective in preparing the next generation to succeed in our ever more global environment. Besides the impact on the teachers unions, it is not clear to me why we would not encourage more Charter Schools.

  42. Why Charter Schools? Why can’t the assumed benefits of Charter Schools be found in public schools? While not a current parent, as a teacher with 34 years experience in public and private schools, my concerns are valid. Society expects the best from schools. Perhaps whatever professional freedom Charter Schools have in establishing hours, curriculum, standards should also be given to public schools.In addition, the Charter dropout rate is important to note. Public schools do not have the option of allowing such dropouts.
    I was fortunate enough to work in a fine system nearby with a principal who recognized the skills of his staff and allowed us to do what we knew was ‘right’ in our teaching, in spite of commercial programs purchased by the system that were obviously not developmentally appropriate. He would call our curriculum and methods “pilot programs” and give us his complete support. The results were always excellent.
    The current pressure on public schools with testing, inappropriate demands on teachers that ignore all we know about how children learn makes teaching nearly intolerable. Finally the most serious component of a child’s success is the home life and parenting.
    Tthe basic question remains: if Charter Schools show successful results in student achievement,analysis of why and how should guide decisions that can be applied to public schools rather than lead to more Charters that draw off funding. Giving public schools more freedom with the same oversight that Charters experience may well be a financially and educationally wise decision that benefits all students and teachers. Attention to public schools rather than more Charters is vital.

  43. My issue is that the money does not follow the student. So when the student does not make it in a charter school, the money does not follow that child back to district. Why not make a monthly payment to the charter, and if a student no longer attends, the district does not pay. That seems equitable.

  44. Thank you for asking — I hope the cap on charters in Boston and statewide is kept as low as possible. As a Boston parent, I saw how few choices are available for the average student. Diverting funds to charters only narrows these choices more.

    The tendency in Boston has been to create lots of small schools – pilots, charters and various types of small “boutique” type schools. My comments are based on my own family’s experience with a pilot school, and many anecdotes from parents with children at pilot, charter and similar boutique schools. There is a strong tendency for these small schools to be narrowly focused and to be constantly striving for positive external appearances and statistics.

    Some students will do well, while those who do not fit in will be excluded from the start, or pushed out. Students who don’t fit in are often treated harshly by staff and teachers. It can be confusing to hear reports from parents — one parent says their child had a great experience while another parent says that the their child was bullied by staff and teachers. But it becomes clearer when you hear from a family with more than one child, with the first sailing through school happily and a subsequent child treated harshly by the same school.

    I’ve wondered for a long time whether it is inevitable that charter and pilot schools would be so narrow? Probably yes — I think that the structure and the quest for profits and “reputation” create a built-in incentive to emphasize external appearances over real quality.

    As you look at the statistics from charter schools, you can see odd patterns — look at mobility rates, differences in class size from the younger to older grades, and at the mismatches in demographics between the charters and the city as a whole.

    Thank you for the chance to comment — I’m sure you are hearing lots of opinions!


  45. As a Boston resident and BPS parent, I’d like to thank you for your attention to this complicated issue. I’d like to address a couple of points regarding the statement that, “Charter schools are just public schools that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education licenses and supervises… charter schools are subject to higher accountability than district schools– they have to be reauthorized by DESE every five years.”
    The question of whether charter schools are public schools is still open to debate, despite the fact that they call themselves public in most public realms. We know, however, that in Washington state they’re not considered public. And in multiple cases across the country, charters themselves have argued that they’re not public (in NY re. audits, in Chicago re. labor laws, in CA re. first amendment rights).
    But the biggest red flag for me re. their status as public is in the way that they’re governed, a model that does not seem at all public. Charter school boards are privately appointed, and have little accountability to the communities they serve. They are mostly comprised of members from outside the school communities who have little experience in education, though they have lots of experience in finance and real estate development. Boards rarely include parents or actually community members and some cases schools have outright refused to have parents on the board. Boards often meet at times and in places inconvenient to parents or community members and in most charters there are no mechanisms for parents to redress grievances through these boards. (To redress school-based decisions, parents must go directly to the state board.)
    On the other hand, in public schools, school committees or school boards are made up of publicly appointed or elected members. They are accountable either directly to the public or the mayor that appoints them. Parent/public voice is valued via mandated parent councils and site councils. And parents can access information and share input about district decisions via local school committee meetings. It is a publicly accessible and publicly accountable system.
    Regarding the statement that charters are subject to a degree of “higher accountability” because they must be reauthorized every five years, a review of the records of charter schools shows that almost no charters have been closed due to poor performance; most have been closed because of gross negligence or financial malfeasance. The state DESE can barely manage to oversee 400 different districts it already oversees and adding more charter schools means adding more individual districts to their list.
    Finally, we know that parents across most of the state highly value their school public systems and the accessibility, accountability and sustainability they provide. Though parents do and will make individual choices in Boston to send their children to charter schools when their district school is a poor choice (though not as willingly as many would think… see page 8 of, I believe it’s a mistake to think that we don’t want what other districts want: a strong publicly funded, publicly governed and publicly accountable system of schools.
    Thanks again for your work on this!

    1. Thanks, Megan. Every state is different in how they define charters, but I’m hearing from this statement that the charter boards you have dealt with are inaccessible — that is an important datapoint. Thank you.

      Also a good point that the state has limited bandwidth to oversee charters — it is clear that DESE has a lot on its plate.

  46. Will,
    As usual, you have provided an excellent summary of the specific issue in question. However, it would be helpful to know something about the track record of existing charter schools. Among the students who have completed at least the last 4 years of grades 1-8 at those charter elementary schools with at least 10 years of history, did a higher proportion of those students who go on to complete high school, and did they enter high school with higher test scores? If so, tolerating some “destabilizing” of the existing, broken system might be justifiable. It is naïve to think that what works at charter schools can be transferred to conventional public schools because one of the crucial differences is the fact that parents Choose to send their child to a charter school. Hence, the charter school population is a self-selected group of students with more committed parents; parents who create a home environment more conducive to learning. You can’t legislate parental commitment, but you can provide havens where such parents can send their children to learn.

  47. Senator, your “fact” sheet is very biased, disingenuous and misleading.

    Have you looked at the charter school numbers for SPED and ELL students? Have you looked at the rate at which the student body shrinks each year as they drive out the low-scoring students? They throw out as much as half (or more, depending on the number of grades they serve) of the starting numbers.

    Have you looked at the incredibly high rates of suspension — which is known to drive students and parents out of school?

    Are you familiar with their draconian behavior codes, which demand that children act like obedient robots, who, when they get to college, passively wait to be told what to learn?

    Don’t you know how many of their teaching staff are untrained and inexperienced Teach for America and Boston Teachers Residency temps?

    Don’t you know that they cumulate lists of parents who apply, or even who ask for information, forever, to pad the “waiting list” — but seldom if ever call in “waiting” students to backfill seats of students they’ve pushed out?

    Don’t you know how much financial fraud has been discovered in charters, which run like private corporate fiefdoms awash in public and private money?

    Don’t you know how the university “studies,” funded by charter promoters like the Boston Foundation and Gates and Broad and Walton and NewSchools Venture Fund and other corporate promoters, have been rigged and misrepresented to favor charters? The Boston Foundation’s 2013 report, “Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice,” buries among its glowing statistics an astounding statement that is cleverly omitted from the Summary and Conclusions: “Does charter attendance also increase high school graduation rates? Perhaps surprisingly, the estimates in Table 6 suggest not, or at least, not be enough for a statistically significant result.” Isn’t that something those eager would-be charter parents might like to know? Isn’t that something YOU should know?

    Don’t you know that charters are a big tax-credit boondoggle and a big hedge fund investment vehicle?

    Don’t you know that suburban communities don’t want charters because they have all the resources needed to make their schools as good as they want — which is easy because they serve self-selected segregated parents and well-off, relatively easy-to-teach students who speak English, get enough to eat, and have family and educational support systems, including paid tutors if needed?

    It is only in center-city communities that charters can pull their hoax — limit their enrollment, use the lottery system to draw in the most engaged parents and advantaged kids, and then, with impunity, throw/push/drive/counsel out each year the kids who don’t “fit” the schools’ single need: high MCAS scores. Sometimes it is exposed:

    Do you know that only a relative handful of black boys graduate annually from the five most excellent and stellar Boston charter high schools — aggravating, not closing, the “achievement gap”?

    Yes, you thoughtfully oppose the wholesale destruction of the Boston public schools implicit in the Governor’s bill. But you support a “reasonable” annual increase which will in time accomplish the same thing. Every charter creates a new “waiting list” to wave around at public hearings, ginning up false demand for more. Every limit has been only a stepping stone to more charters. It’s the old “how to cook a frog” story: turn up the heat slowly so they don’t realize they should jump out of the pot.

    And your oh-by-the-way championing of Boston parents’ wish for “good neighborhood schools,” as if it is some who-wouldn’t-want-that goal, unrelated to charters, is just an indirect way of supporting the shut-down of neighborhood public schools and handing their buildings to charters. Which is exactly the Mayor’s plan.

    The regulations you cite are just words on paper, and have nothing to do with reality. You should know better. I think you do.

    You are using your parent outreach capabilities not to “listen” and not to teach, and not to encourage critical thinking by parents — if that were your goal, you would cite evidence on both sides of the story — but to spread charter propaganda to desperate parents who trust you. Then you can say, “Look, I’m just listening to the parents. They want more “choice,” they want more “excellence,” and how can we not let them have it?” I think this is cynical, and you owe the people you serve something better.

    There is a lot at stake here. Public education is the foundation of a democratic society. You are helping to undermine it. And that is why I, who am not a parent of a Boston student, have standing to speak as a “stakeholder” (in the management consultant lingo); these children are all our children, and our future.

  48. Though my children have long since graduated from the Belmont public schools I know a few people from other areas who have their children inn charter schools. The parents seem to have very frequent contact with the faculty, who are dedicated to watching and guiding the students in their smaller classes. Charter schools are a necessary way to help kids get a good start. Since faulty in low-performing schools have tenure it would take many years to get those schools to a high enough level. Children lucky enough to have parents who care about educational quality should have the opportunity of a better chance.

  49. I was an educator in the Belmont Public Schools and I am a huge supporter of a public education. I would not feel comfortable supporting what the DESE is proposing. I would, however, consider an expansion with more reasonable limits. I have seen projects such as the Horace Mann Charter Schools work very successfully and I do feel we need to be open-minded. I have had Boston students who were not a good fit for our suburban schools for a variety of reasons find success in a smaller charter school environment. Hopefully we all share the same goal, seeing students find success at whatever school they attend and to do this we need to provide a variety of settings and approaches that are done thoughtfully and not to the detriment of the overall school budget.

  50. If you live in a town with good schools your kids are fine. If you are wealthy, and you don’t like the district schools you send your kid to private school.But many poor parents are sending their kids to schools which are failing them and they don’t have any choice.

    In Boston’s district schools, only 31% of 4th graders are proficient in English; only 38% proficient in math. This has been so for decades.

    The solution is legislation that helps the districts schools improve and an increase in the charter cap in districts that need them, so parents have some hope.

  51. I do not support expansion of charter schools. There are many issues within Boston Public Schools regarding funding and creating more charter schools creates opportunity for the issues in BPS to be “pushed under the rug”. There will always be students who need to attend public schools. There will always be higher numbers of ELLs and SPED students in public schools. I think Boston needs a major reorganization of its public school system, yes. But I do not think charters are the answer. We need to acknowledge the real problems like kids being bused across the city every day, like students on free and reduced lunch not receiving satisfying meals, like limitations on technology and school supplies, like lack of counseling resources, before we can begin to even dream of another cent being put into an outside cause.

  52. Dear Representative Brownsberger:
    I write in opposition to the expansion of the number of charter school charters.

    The combination of ideology and distressing lack knowledge about the history of education has led me to distrust the claims of charter school advocates. The clear record of abuse of the public trust on education by many corporate charter school providers seems to have inspired a model, even exemplary, law here in Massachusetts as outlined in your communication.

    I decided to do some reading on outcomes and have spent the most time comparing the CREDO study at Stanford funded by the Walton Foundation with the Mass Teachers Assoc CEEP study. While both have limitations and possibly bias, I was struck by how the CREDO study only provided abstract statistics, never the raw data; and provided little context for evaluating conclusions. The CEEP study gave the raw data and the full thought process to their conclusions.

    My conclusion is that charter schools do not provide a social benefit that justifies the profound damage to public school system quality and stability.

    Ed Richard

  53. I am a Boston resident, and I anticipate having school-age children in upcoming years. It is my hope that investments will be made in our BPS schools rather than investing in charter schools. Please help move us toward making the BPS a world-class/model urban school district for the kids I want to send there–a district not just for any kids my wife and I have but a district that provides a quality education for ALL students.

  54. Thank you for the opportunity, Will,

    I am against privatizing public goods like education. Charter schools often make bottom-line decisions that involve pushing away disabled students, who may require more resources. The current situation with charter schools is much like the insurance industry before mandatory pooled coverage. “Creaming” the cheapest customers creates inequality and should not be promoted by the state, which must be for everyone.

  55. Dear Rep Brownsberger,

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I am a BPS parent and a BPS teacher. My kids’ schools (my two kids have attended a total of six BPS schools — one graduated last year) have seen their funding cut and cut over the past 14 years, and opportunities that are regularly afforded kids in suburban districts, such as athletics, arts, and electives, are in short supply. As a teacher, I talk to many families who have left the BPS for Charter Schools, and over and over again, those kids who are “difficult,” who don’t do school easily the first time, who are wiggly, or oppositional, or outspoken, or impulsive, are made so miserable through retention and suspension, that they leave. It’s simply not fair and not quality educational practice.

    One of the great strengths of American public schools is that they are traditionally a level ground for all kids, and that has increased in recent decades. No longer do we let immigrant kids drop out and ship kids with disabilities off to hospitals. We have high expectations for all, because that is an ideal of our nation and our society. If we want schools that educate all kids together, we can’t create a semi-autonomous system of semi-private schools. Our kids need and deserve a strong and well-funded public school system with transparent and democratic governance.

    Please do not lift the cap and cause my school system to lose any more than the $121 Million we currently lose to charter schools. It’s killing our schools, and crushing the dreams of too many of those kids who don’t fit in to the expectations of schooling too readily.

  56. I can see no reasonable long-term goal for charter schools given our constitutional responsibility to provide equitable and sufficient education to all our students. Charters are a distraction from the difficult and expensive work of providing a good education in all public schools. If charters have any benefits such as smaller classes, fewer regulations; clean, safe and updated facilities with adequate resources, technology and staffing, it is criminal to deny all public schools the same advantages. Surely we can’t tell parents that it is impossible to provide good educations in our public schools. It is not impossible, just expensive and difficult.

    Beyond concern for the education of our students, I am alarmed by the law’s requirement that charters are accredited by an appointed, not elected, state board that is legally barred from considering the resources of sending communities during that accreditation process. The only other situation in which I have ever heard of a mandate not to consider the resources of the community is when making plans for students with special education services. Those students have an entitlement under the federal IDEA law. What makes charter schools deserving of such consideration? Local elected school boards have absolutely no power to audit charters or monitor their pedagogy and treatment of students. I question the constitutionality of a law that forces communities to give away their tax money to abide by the decisions of a state-level appointed board that is compelled to ignore local concerns. As charters continue to infiltrate middle class districts, I expect their constitutionality to be brought to question.

  57. Dear Rep. Brownsberger,
    A couple of years ago, I attended a forum on Charter Schools. There was a Board member of one of these schools, and he loved his Charter School so that he could fire teachers at any time. No help for the teacher to make her/him better. Just out the door. Charter School for this parent was private school for this children using state money.
    There is always an undercurrent to the Charter School movement. The Right Wing want to dismantle our public school system because of the dollars and cents private Charter schools will glean from the School budget.

    I want every child to have a good education. No Us vs Them. Charters are far from perfect. Because they do not answer to a community, some of the practices like weeding out students who are SPED and will bring down scores are “encourages to leave.” There is a high turnover rate of teachers. Early charter philosophy was three years and out. The longer a teacher stays at a job, the salary should go up. No raises. It was all about the profit.

    Too me, Charters is the new separate and a new equal.
    Keep the cap. Public schools have absorbed many cuts. Money should be directed to the public schools not more Charter schools.

    Thank you for this forum. So many thoughtful comments.

    Lois Jacobs

  58. We certainly do not have all the answers as to how to deliver first class education to our children. Charter Schools are a laboratory from which we can learn — if the public schools would only be open to sharing ideas and strategies. I think we should raise the cap.

  59. I’m not a parent. I see their point.
    What happened to the PTA? Wasn’t that an organization that brought both parents and teachers together for the education of children.
    – I’m with the parents on this issue.

  60. Ever since the Edison Project and Channel 1, the movement to privatize public education has been ongoing. Charter schools were originally intended to develop new, creative approaches to teaching and learning; they were never intended to replace public schools. But we keep hearing the chant: “Our education system is broken” (Melissa Gates of the Gates Foundation), an unexamined statement that has served to propel the charter school movement. These schools can cherry pick their students; public schools must accept every child. These reformers are not educators. They are introducing corporate organization into education in ways that have little to do with children’s learning. The hedge funds are salivating at the chance to pull in profits. Let’s invest our money in public education, especially in urban areas where schools have been neglected. Public education, like public libraries, is a crucial aspect of the “commons,” the community-centered activities and services that everyone can participate in. I say cap the number of charter schools; reinvest seriously in public schools, facilities, buildings, faculties, children.

  61. Will, thanks for the thoughtful framing of the issues. I am very much in favor of expanding charter schools in Boston. If you go visit one of the really good charter schools, like Roxbury Prep, you might be too. They take the same kids that go to the public schools, put them in uniforms and provide them with excellent teaching and a welcoming, safe, supportive atmosphere that involves the whole family, and they turn out happy, educated kids. Charter schools do not drain off the best kids, as some detractors say. They are part of the lottery. I read all of the arguments that preceded my comment. I acknowledge that there are some charters that don’t do as good a job, but that’s not a reason to restrict all charters. That’s a reason to support the best performing charters and take a look at why the underperforming charters aren’t working as well. It’s also unrealistic to say we should abolish charters and put the money back into the public school system. The whole reason that charters came about was the poor performance, one size fits all approach, of the public school system. There is absolutely no reason to think that if we abolish charter schools the money will magically appear to fix the public school system. There are too few good public schools in Boston; we have to create better schools, and charter schools is the way to accomplish this, in my opinion.

  62. This is a complicated question mainly because of the funding situation and limits on student acceptances. I don’t see why we can’t keep education public and open to all students without resorting to private charter schools or by siphoning off the more motivated families out of the neighborhood schools. Why can’t we use the Horace Mann models to do school experimentation and then apply lessons learned to all public schools instead of setting up a dynamic where private charter schools are taking sorely needed money away from the rest of the public school system? If you set up a system where one school functions by taking money from the other system (but that system ends up handling the most expensive special needs kids) then that is not going to work over the long term. We still need to educate all of the children. It seems to me our focus should be on coaching teachers to be the best they can be and make sure kids get the right learning program for them instead of pitting school systems against externally governed schools.

  63. Dear Representative Brownsberger,

    Thank you for asking. I am a public school teacher in Newton and a parent of two boys in the Boston public schools, I’d urge you not just to keep the cap, but to move to close failing charters.

    The practical reason is obvious: nearly everyone I know who is a BPS parent has seen his or her school lose resources and staff over the last five years. At the same time, brand new charters open up in new buildings. I don’t begrudge any Boston resident a shot at a beautiful, fully funded school. But we can’t help all of our kids by pitting them against each other, which is what is happening.

    In the end, I am bothered by much of what I see in charters. They purport to be public schools and promote their successes, but I see little honest reflection of their failures. Pacific Rim touts its graduation rate, but says nothing of its failure to enroll any ELL students. 30% of BPS is ELL.

    City on a Hill has a 40% suspension rate. MATCH has 157 full time teachers; 12 of them are over 33. These conditions would be anathema in every high performing suburb in the state, but they are models for how to educate our poorer, darker children?

    BPS is far from perfect, but it offers a variety of successful public schools with lengthy waitlists. Many parents move, pay for private school, or apply to charters only after they fail to get the public school they want. I’d suggest that expanding or duplicating these schools, though difficult, is a far more sensible way to proceed.

  64. Others have expressed this sentiment already, but I’ll say as a perplexed parent of Kindergarten-aged kids, that I perceive at least that there may be a tendency for charter schools to cherry-pick the most motivated students (and most motivated families) and drop out the ones that can’t keep up. As a theoretical laboratory of innovation, it sounds great. As a means of pulling funding away from desperately underfunded school programs, not so much. Having said that, I also find myself wishing that there was a better public school method to help nurture and develop high achievers, in addition to bringing up the challenged ones.

  65. Thank you for your support of charter schools. they have made a huge difference in the lives of many, many families across Massachusetts one the past 20 years in large part due to the leadership of people like you.

  66. As a working parent, I very much WANT buses. There is no option for dropping my daughter off at 9:30 and picking her up at 3:30 as I am away at work from 7-5. I don’t know what wealthy parents you speak with, but 74% of our students live below the poverty level and one assumes that means their parents are also working at least one job. The whole fantasy of dropping the kids off and then baking cookies until it’s time to pick them up again is a remnant from a bygone era. Working parents want high-quality schools with affordable extended learning time and safe transportation options.

  67. When an acquaintance of mine received an autism diagnosis for her son, she was told by her charter school that he would be better off at BPS, where they had the resources and experience to help him. It may have been said with the best of intentions, and it may be true, but it shows that her charter is making no effort to accommodate special needs kids, and is bumping them back to BPS. While taking the public funds that should be going towards our BPS schools. If we expand charters, we are going to end up with a two-tier school system, where high-performing kids, kids whose parents advocate for them, and native speakers receive one kind of education, and everyone else is put into the public schools. It is not only offensive to anyone who believes in the promise of public education, an egalitarian society, and that all children are created equal; it is detrimental to our students’ growth and development. Our family opted IN to BPS because we believe that being around people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse abilities and talents and beliefs, is important for the development of empathy and character, and that it makes us stronger and smarter.

  68. Senator Brownsberger,

    My 3 kids (ages 8, 10, and 12) have all attended BPS schools since they were 4 years old. Something like 3% of students in the state attend charter schools. Whatever expansion of the charter cap may occur, the vast majority of our children will continue to attend public schools. So whatever time and resources are being applied to charter schools, please spend a corresponding amount of time and resources to improving the education of the 90+% of our children.

    And maybe the # of charter schools should be tied to the State’s fully funding the reimbursement of public school districts. Fully reimburse cities and towns, create more charters. Can’t do that? Then maybe we should have fewer charter schools.

  69. I’ve tried to ask the question of politicians so many ways: Besides lower teacher salaries, avoidance of the union and the ability to send “under-performing” kids back to the public school, what are the lessons learned from charter schools, that cannot be applied to public schools since the money is public money? I can never get an answer from charter school proponents. I do know at least one family who loved charter schools for their three oldest kids, but were shocked to be left out in the cold when their youngest, who was fidgety and not really classroom-ready was not welcome. I’d love for the creative and innovative teachers at my son’s BPS -5 school to be able to do their work without having to set up a gofundme page for everything they’d like to try. A strong, well-paid and supported teaching staff CAN help all kids to learn in the way that those kids learn best. Bring the money back to schools that serve ALL kids. Charter schools are adding to a have/have-not education system and are a drain on the budget. The cap should NOT be lifted.

  70. I am in favor of the expansion of Charter Schools in the State and in Boston and I think most other parents would be as well for the reasons you cite above as to why parents prefer this alternative: proximity and accountability.

    The huge city public school model with its top heavy administrative structure (and salaries!), bloated per student budget, beholden to the patently political agenda of the teachers union, is a failure. The “standards” they represent are constantly downgraded to mask this failure, and the students they “graduate” are illiterate and are not even schooled in our system of government and its history — community organizing, “diversity”, and Howard Zinn’s America Sucks textbooks are of greater importance I guess.

    The best schools are locally controlled and teach to the standards that are important to that community: to the extent that education is centralized to the state and national levels, it suffers. One of the constant complaints one hears in public schools, from the schools, is that parents are not involved: well, why should they be involved when the schools will not allow them any substantive input into their children’s education such as what courses are taught, by whom, and what texts are used. Parents are relegated to secondary status, mere suppliers of the fodder public schools process, not to mention the denigration of any religious and moral qualms the parents may have about, for instance, contraceptives being given out along with references to Planned Parenthood (which nicely compliment the PP sex ed courses being taught).

    For all the above reasons Charters should be expanded, parents seek quality in education, a school they can actually interact with, not command and control social experimentation; teacher’s unions have no grounds for complaint — their failed model has been weighed in the marketplace of ideas and found wanting.

  71. Parents have only 1 chance to provide the best foundation for their children in their children’s formative years. Well-to-do parents always have a choice. Charter schools give parents a choice. If there are waiting lists for charter schools, then provide more charter schools.

  72. I am urging you to continue Massachusetts’ strong tradition of public education by rejecting any effort to remove or lift the cap on the number of charter schools. I implore the state legislature to enact policies and funding that will benefit all of the children of the Commonwealth.

    The budget of a charter school of 700 could provide extended learning time to all of the children in a school district the size of Chelsea. Extended learning time has shown to close the achievement gap for all the kids in a school district.

    Charter schools have a negative impact on the fiscal health of a district school. Boston will lose an astonishing $121,000,000 to charter schools in 2016. This hits home to me as a mother because my mayor is currently contemplating which schools will need to close to “right size” the district. Boston Public Schools is one of the top performing urban districts in the nation according to NAEP scores.

    I do not believe that the children who are admitted to charter schools are well served either. Due to their dramatic attrition rates, very few children end up graduating from charter schools. Children leave because they cannot abide by their severe “No Excuses” discipline model or because the charter school does not serve their population well. These children then return to the district that welcomes them but is now struggling to make ends meet.

    I urge the legislator to adopt progressive and fiscally responsible policies that will support the education of all our children.

  73. Expand the charter school limits In Boston we have given the BPS many years and they continue to underserve Boston families and too many neighbors still leave their neighborhood when they need a good school and do not get a good option that allows them to stay, or feel obliged to find a private school option. After hoping desperately for a good local option when my child was ready for school, we went the private school route and I suspect i would do so again 20 years later. I had a choice and others should have more choice as well. How many families felt they had to leave the neighborhood or pay tuition in these 20 years? Enough. Support children and families not a school bureaucracy.

  74. Several years ago, I heard Dana Mohler-Faria, who was president at Bridgewater State, speak of a third grader from Dorchester who was deemed such a trouble maker that he was expelled. His mother, who did not even have a high school diploma, was determined to get him a good education and enrolled him in a charter school. When Mohler-Faria met the young man, he was a high school senior, and he had just been accepted at Dartmouth College in their engineering program. He asked the young man what had made the difference for him, and he said that he found himself at a school where the teachers cared about him as a person. I have never forgotten that.

    Why couldn’t that be the standard within public schools — caring for students as people? Don Berwick, running for governor, had said that we should use charter schools as experiments, and then use those good ideas to make public schools better for all. I agree with that.

    I had a very similar insight in September 2012 when I attended Recovery Day in the Gardiner Auditorium. There were speakers there from Independence High in Brockton and the way they spoke of their teachers and administrators brought me to tears, very similar to the young man who was once an expelled third grader. There is something very wrong with public schools, as I noticed when my kids were at their suburban (South Shore) high school. It must be the environment that makes teachers mini-jailers or something. They are not even empowered to allow kids to go to the bathroom. I was horrified, when I served on the Handbook Committee, to learn that bathrooms were locked between classes, forcing students to have to ask permission from their teachers once they got to class. They could only get so many permissions per semester and then the teacher would have to call a vice principal to get permission to let a student go to the bathroom. You can’t make this stuff up. One of the students on the handbook committee was a girl trying to explain to those gathered why these bathroom policies are particularly difficult for girls, but they were deaf to it. My kids went to Montessori when they were little and I remember a bathroom in every class. No one asked permission. You went and came back when you were through. I am sure there are many other issues that restrict teachers and make it tough on students.

    Another horrifying thing in public schools is lockdowns. The first one I remembe, in 2007, resulted in police and dogs from multiple communities involved in locking students in their rooms, doing quasi strip searches, and so on. The yield was two joints of marijuana total. The second time this was done, a student who parked his car at the church across the street — because of limited parking at the school — had his car searched and he was charged with possessing a weapon… for a Swiss army knife! The insanity the goes on daily at public schools creates a climate that destroys respect between teachers and students… unlike at the charter school mentioned above or the recovery high school.

    Bottom line is that charter schools have been lifesavers for some kids, but I worry about everyone left behind in the crazy public schools, and my deepest wish to make that environment better.

  75. I have served as a Board member of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester for over 3 years. NHCS has 400 students, backfills through 8th grade and has predominantly low-income students of color. It is extraordinary to me how the faculty accomplishes both academic & social/emotional growth. I firmly believe that parents in communities with a cap, like Boston, deserve more choices of quality schools.

  76. Senator Brownsberger,

    I urge you to oppose any expansion of charter schools and I ask you to reconsider the threat that they pose to the suburban communities in your district, especially if the cap is lifted under terms that restrict the number of new charters that could go into Boston. I’ve seen how a charter school can damage a suburban district. I lived in Melrose for more than 45 years and was quite active in the community. In the mid-1990s, a charter school opened up in Malden (the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School) that served the surrounding communities. For the reasons you cited about the lack of unionization, the charter school was able to make the school day 25% longer and to add 20 days to its school year. It actively discouraged students with special needs from applying for the lottery (at its open house events, the charter school presenters would say that there is a “right” school for every student and, if a child has special needs, that “right” school was the traditional public school) and became quite adept at getting the students with academic or behavioral issues who did get in to return to the traditional school systems (e.g. through repeated suspensions and/or refusals to promote). These moves made the charter school very attractive to parents, more of whom entered the lottery to send their children there. Since the children who ended up at the charter were relatively less expensive to educate and since the teachers at the charter school left for better jobs as soon as they possibly could and therefore not many of them got much above the starting salary, the charter became flush with cash. The charter initially held little appeal for the folks in Melrose, who had not bought homes in Melrose so they could send their kids to school in Malden. However, after Mitt Romney became Governor, local aid was cut in 2003 and the Melrose School Committee imposed a $2,500 fee for full day Kindergarten. The charter school offered full day Kindergarten at no cost. This is when the charter started to draw children from Melrose (it is now also drawing a significant number of children from Wakefield, Stoneham and Reading as well). At this point, Melrose is sending over 200 students and more than $2 million a year net to the charter school and, because the amount of money it saves when it loses a student is far less than the amount of money that it must send to the charter along with the child, its school system is under tremendous financial strain.
    The Melrose schools used to be quite good. Now, the per pupil expenditure and the average teacher salary in Melrose are at the bottom of the Middlesex League. When I attended the Melrose schools, teachers from other towns transferred to us. Today, Melrose can only hire the teachers and principals that better paying towns pass on and, as soon as they can, these educators leave Melrose for better jobs elsewhere (i.e., Belmont High Principal Dan Richards).

    Belmont is a wonderful town and I think that the people here support their schools. However, if a charter school popped up on the town line in Arlington, Lexington, Waltham, Cambridge, or Watertown and if the charter offered a longer school day and/or a longer school year and had a nice marketing pitch (e.g., saying that it was specially designed to serve the unique needs of “gifted” students), then those features, along with the implicit understanding that the school would have relatively fewer special needs students and would quickly get rid of children with behavior problems, would soon lead to a significant number of folks from Belmont lining up for the lottery.

    Jumping up 10,000 feet, I have to note that I perceive a racial angle to the way in which charter schools came about that I find disturbing. Since the advent of busing, the most contentious vote in the state legislature each year concerned public aid to private schools. The biggest proponents of providing this aid were the urban reps, whose constituents were sending their kids to parochial schools to avoid the now integrated public schools. In a series of narrow votes, the urban reps repeatedly came up just short. However, since the creation of charter schools, the public aid vote isn’t nearly so big a deal anymore. The urban reps couldn’t get public money to the parochial schools but now many parochial schools have become charter schools and they are publicly funded.

    I’ve been trained to see every issue from both sides. However, I struggle to see the positives in charter schools. I thought they were supposed to be laboratories for innovation that would come up with great ideas that could be adopted by the traditional school system to the betterment of all. I don’t think that charters have fulfilled this goal (and, if they did offer some statewide benefits, they should be funded by a line-item in the state budget, not on the backs of the children in local traditional public schools). I also thought that charters were supposed to provide an alternative to a failing traditional school. The Melrose schools were not struggling before a charter school opened up in Malden. That charter school wasn’t a response to problems in the Melrose schools, it was the cause of them. Moreover, even if charters achieved better educational outcomes for their students (the studies go both ways on this question), it seems to me that such a result would likely be due to the fact that the charters have fewer special needs students and English language learners. In that sense, a relatively good performance by the charters could be explained by the fact that they had essentially skimmed the cream from the traditional schools. Even if this skimming produced improved results for the students who were skimmed, what it would do to the children left behind who would no longer receive the benefit of having the skimmed students in their classrooms?

    Anyway, I don’t think that a parent could credibly say that the traditional public schools in and around Belmont are performing so badly that my sons should be made to subsidize their preference for a charter. When I last checked, the Melrose schools had better MCAS scores than the charter school in Malden but the Melrose schools still had to subsidize the choice many Melrose parents made to use the charter – choices that seemed to be based more on child care concerns (a 25% longer school day and 20 more school days in the year) than on academics (a much higher percentage of Melrose teachers were deemed highly qualified to teach their subject than was the case at the charter).

    I’ve been wondering if the core problem of charter schools could be illustrated through an analogy. Here goes – imagine a charter postal service that could make its non-unionized employees work more for the same pay and could therefore offer Sunday delivery. Lots of people would love the charter post office and would enter the lottery to be served by it. Imagine also that the charter post office was permitted to discourage relatively hard to serve citizens (like people who live in remote locations) to enter its lottery and was able to strike from its list of customers those who were relatively problematic (like people with dogs that bit letter carriers) and that the charter post office used the resulting savings to add a second delivery on Wednesdays. Imagine further that the charter post office was funded by shifting from the traditional post office to the charter post office for every customer who went from the former to the later the average amount of money that the traditional post office spent to serve a client and that, due to the economies of scale, the traditional post office lost more money than it saved on every client who made the switch. Finally, imagine, that as a consequence of this funding system, the service standards of the traditional post office diminished while those at the charter post office increased. Even more people would flock to the charter post office. However, once people realized that only a fraction of them would win the lottery to get into the charter post office and that the existence of the charter post office meant that they would likely end up being served by a now weakened traditional post office, a lot of folks might wonder if it made sense to create two postal systems funded off of one pot of money with operational differences that favored one system over the other and that ultimately promised to create a have and have not society with respect to the provision of a core public service.

    I hope that you will consider these points as you deliberate on lifting the charter school cap. Thanks.

    Dan Barry

  77. I adamantly oppose lifting the cap on charter schools. These are quasi private institutions who not only enroll a lower percentage of students with special needs and limited English skills, but they “counsel out” certain students who are either deemed to be ” not a good fit” or seen as behavioral problems. Public schools may not do this, in fact if public schools had an attrition rate as high as many charters, they would be blasted as “drop out factories.”
    In my opinion, far more work needs to be done and more resources put into play to strengthen our public schools before funding charters who do not serve all students and have an uneven record at best on educating them. There are many great public schools in our urban areas as well. Why not shine a light on them, and replicate what is working in REAL public education.

    1. Hi Amy

      I’d love to learn more about your personal experience and your child(dren)”s journey. It’s disheartening to hear that you had a bad charter school experience. Unlike you, I had a very different journey. My mother and I are co-parenting my two niece who arrived in this country in 2010 – both were spanish only speakers and one has learning disabilities. Our experience was very different with our charter school- Yasmin who had a learning disability had been struggling in her level 4 school in Dorchester for a few years until she “won the lottery” and got into Excel charter. By the time Yasmin enrolled at Excel she was in the 5th grade functioning at 2nd grade level. Luckily, in large part due to the long day, extended school year and Saturday classes her charter school offered, within a short period of time Yasmin was not only thriving but excelling in English and in all her subjects. We felt like we lived in the suburbs- she got speech therapy and special equipment- and all of this was FREE. Unfortunately my other niece who didn’t attend a charter for years could not speak english.It wasn’t until we finally enrolled her in a charter school that we started to see the difference. While every school may not be the same, I just wanted to share my experience because as a result of the experience we had, I decided to devote my career to defending and protecting parent choice and charter schools. I’m so sorry to hear about your personal experience- it’s really unfortunate but know that over the last 5 years charter schools have been increasing their SPED and ELL numbers- doing a lot more with a lot less to ensure we close the achievement gap. I have heard horror stories from parents who are still trying to have their SPED/ELL needs met in BPS- but I am confident with the new leadership and so many people of color in positions of power we might finally be able to level the playing field for all children despite where they happen to live.- PUBLIC FUNDS- FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION- Included in that are charter schools who are providing relief and alternative choices for families who have very limited resources. Charter schools are NOT FREE CHEESE- we should have all great quality options district and/or charter. Respectfully and always in solidarity with YOU and those who truly care about PUBLIC education! Julia

  78. I attended middle school at the McAuliffe regional charter school when it was only a few years old, and the experience has decidedly shaped who I am today.
    Academically, I strongly believe that my writing skills grew more at McAuliffe than they could have if I had attended another school in the area. The “Revise, revise, revise!” approach to writing encouraged me to think critically about my writing style. Upon entering high school, my charter school peers and I were ahead of the game in the writing department, and I sincerely believe that my skills improved more in those three years than they have in the seven years since.
    Interpersonally, the small class size and multitude of ice-breakers and group activities helped to create a safe space for a variety of personalities. I believe that this team-centered environment was not only important to my interpersonal growth, but it could also be the perfect environment for adolescents who have some interpersonal difficulties or eccentricities.

  79. Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for soliciting input. My wife and I and our children live in the Aberdeen neighborhood of Brighton. We are homeschooling our children, but we care about the education options available to our neighbors and how our tax dollars are spent.

    I could get into details, but I’d rather stay at a high level. I think parents need more options for educating their children. That charters don’t meet every possible requirement doesn’t mean they aren’t helping lots of parents whose traditional schools can’t improve fast enough for their kids – if they ever improve.

    I view the funding questions as a distraction. After all, for all the kids who get a far better education in a charter school, what is the value of *that* in our city? There is so much money spent. Think of it this way: let us say the money “lost” to charters – was $5 million. What if someone started a new $5 million government program that would dramatically increase the education and future outcomes of thousands of children. And it was working! We’d consider that a good investment of education dollars, wouldn’t we? Would we say, “Well it isn’t helping every kind of kid, let’s not do more of it.”

    One more thing: there is so much innovation in education outside the public system. Some in private schools, and some among us homeschoolers, who can innovate in curriculum, resources, and community learning experiments. How do those ideas get to district schools? I think they are more likely to be adopted by charter schools, which can then transfer them to district schools. Charters can – and do – serve as better laboratories than traditional district schools. I want them in the innovation pipeline.

    Lastly, the goal of our educational system should be to give the kids the best education possible. I am uncomfortable with the idea that the needs of the system are somehow more important than the needs of our children. That people talk about what a district loses rather than what families gain – is baffling to me.

    Thank you for listening, Senator.



    1. Ed- thank you for your insight. Home-schooling is becoming very popular even among communities of color- and you are right innovation is happening everywhere. I think we should reinvest not just $$$ in public schools but also FAITH- unfortunately so many have lost hope.

  80. I believe that a strong education system, starting at birth, is key to our success as individuals and as a country.

    I believe that charter schools can be successful and in general support the concept.

    But I fear for the children whose parents are not engaged enough to make this option for their children and I worry that in creating charter schools we are ignoring the real issue.

    If public schools truly addressed the diverse needs of the children served, embraced the diversity of cultures, and created a flexible responsive system that taught the whole child there would not be a need for charter schools.

    By expanding charter schools we are ignoring the real issue; our public school system is broken.

    I would rather we invest in creating a public school system that works for all than in continuing to carve out a system that works for a few. We will only widen the economic gap and deepen the social ills of our communities.

    I urge you to not support this legislation and instead seek to challenge DESE to create systems that produce results for all by incorporating what charter schools provide.


  82. I am a 17-year 4th grade teacher at a traditional public elementary school. My knowledge of charter school practices are admittedly limited to a few articles and anecdotes from fellow teachers. In my experience, I have heard charter schools advocates point to the dedication of their staffs and the innovation of their curriculum. Detractors cite the amount of funding charters pull from traditional schools and a charter schools’ ability to “pick and choose” their students. I applaud all educators who dedicate their professional lives to working with children-ALL CHILDREN. If charters truly are able to “pick and choose” the students that comprise their population, then they are NOT truly a public school institution. As an aside to those union detractors and their negative comments, I would say this: My presence in a union does not for one moment take away from my dedication to my students. Please do not confuse union activism and the rights of unions to negotiate fair working conditions as selfish and anti-child. Mr. Brownsberger, keep the charter cap and work with teachers to improve our public education system.

  83. . Thirty-seven thousand children on the charter school waiting list is proof that charter schools are working. Children are our future, let’s give them a chance. The teachers unions sadly have nothing to do with education any more.

  84. Will, I understand your dilemma. Charter Schools can seem like a quick fix for urban systems. I see them as a continual drain on the resources of the system, without any of the benefits that accrue from a public school.

    Charter Schools are a way of hollowing out the public system by people who are determined not to adequately fund the government we want.

    They make me think of the public school systems in predominately red states from the former confederacy where public systems languished before and after integration. White students were sent to private schools. Taxpayers were allowed to fund pubic schools at the lowest amount possible because their children weren’t at stake.

    In the end, everyone suffers when society is bifurcated.

  85. I support Charter schools as it offers a competition to so called “public” schools where quality of education might be replaced by job security for teachers.

    Also, competition is great as it does create equal opportunity for those to apply, but it will not ever ends up with equal outcome.

    Some kids will qualify, some kids will not. It is simply natural by all means. It is during the competitive process that some kids will learn how to excel, the same with sports.

Comments are closed.