Massachusetts early voting starts this Monday and one of the most controversial issues on the ballot is whether we should expand the number of Charter Schools.
The clear and certain answer is "No." Sold when first proposed as educational innovation labs with new teaching techniques to be tested at Charters and then introduced into traditional District schools, Charters have instead become stand-alone places where the only innovation is to get rid of students who are tough to teach. Kids who don't want to wear school uniforms, who have discipline issues, who have trouble getting to school on time or who simply don't fit their Charter School's model of teaching are often informally 'counselled out' and sent back back to their Districts. In District after District, there is no innovation to be learned from the Charter Schools' method of cherry-picking their students. http://www.craigkelley.org/…/state-data-clearly-shows-char…/
In addition to their horrific attrition rates, Charters cost the donating Districts real and significant tax dollars. Cambridge alone spends $11,000,000 of property tax revenue paying the tuitions for hundreds of students who attend Charter Schools throughout the Boston area, schools over which Cambridge taxpayers and voters have virtually no oversight. While donating districts get some initial reimbursement from the state and will save some money by having fewer students to educate, Charter School costs far outweigh their benefits.
Finally, Charter Schools do not necessarily have better educational outcomes, they are a step backwards for employment equity and they may have serious safety and teacher retention problems. Even a generally favorable review in 2013 by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes concludes that "charter school quality is uneven across the states and across schools." Slate.com noted 2 months ago that Charter Schools bust unions "By intimidating teachers. By scaring parents. And sometimes by calling the cops." A March 2016 article in The Nation leads off with the question "Why Has Charter School Violence Spiked at Double the Rate of Public Schools?" And a 2010 paper from Vanderbilt's National Center on School Choice states that "The rate that teachers leave the profession and move between schools is significantly higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools." As the Education Justice program at the Education Law Center concluded years ago, "[I]t is clear that charter schools are no panacea for improving education in this country."
While public education is far from perfect, more Charter Schools would only make it worse, not better. But there are steps we should, and could, take now to improve our kids' education. Helping the Massachusetts Teachers Association rework traditional collective bargaining agreements to meet the realities of 21st century teaching is at the top of the list. As is expanding low cost, or free, early childhood education for our most vulnerable residents. And working to alleviate poverty and provide hope for students throughout the state. The list of what needs to be done goes on and on but nowhere on that list is "Expand Charter Schools."
In short, Charter Schools shed their students at terrifyingly high rates, provide no meaningful innovation for traditional districts, cost taxpayers real tax dollars, threaten traditional American work rules and have no clear advantage in educational outcomes. Instead they represent a sophisticated attempt to privatize public education, are not scalable to meet our state's wider educational needs and will leave our traditional Districts with fewer resources to teach their own students.
So, put a stop to this educational fraud and vote "NO on 2" starting Monday.
Craig Kelley, JD, MPA
Cambridge City Council
Cambridge City Council