Despite Research on Charter Success, Boston Ed Groups Protest

Recent research on the effectiveness of charter schools in Massachusetts has shown that students in MA charters are several months ahead of public school peers, but a coalition of education activists are protesting the expansion of charters in Boston.

Ted Green of the Examiner writes that a group led by the Boston Teachers Union, Youth Organizers United for the Now Generation (YOUNG) and Youth On Board will gather at the Statehouse to protest lifting a cap on charters because they claim it would erode public school quality:

“We are a coalition of students, parents, teachers, community members and activists who are connected to and directly affected by public education,” said Collique Williams, one of the organizers of the rally. “We feel that the expansion of charter schools in the state of Massachusetts will diminish our public education system.”

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would eliminate the cap on charter schools that are allowed to be opened in low-performing school districts. Currently, the Massachusetts statewide limit on charter schools is 120.

Instead of opening more charter schools, the rally organizers say the answer is more funding for public schools and to develop schools that have the ability to accept and serve every student.

The protesters claim that charters siphon money from public schools and have an overall negative effect on education in both Boston and the state of Massachusetts. They also say that charters serve certain student populations poorly, such as English Language Learners and special education students.

Democrats have traditionally been allies of teachers unions, but in Massachusetts — where the state legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic — some lawmakers have sided with school choice over unions. Governor Deval Patrick, also a Democrat, is a quiet charter supporter.

Teachers and community activists are not convinced, though. As described by Mr. Green, the group’s platform rests on the following complaints:

• ~30% of Boston students are English Language Learners, but more than one-third of Boston charter schools educate few or no ELL students;

• Charter schools serve fewer special education students than public schools;

• Charter schools expel and suspend students at higher rates than public schools;

• Charter schools draw funding away from public schools at a time when they need it most.

But according to Charles Chieppo writing in the Boston Herald, the benefits of charters outweigh negative consequences. Evidence shows that Boston’s charter students outperform public school students on the state MCAS exams, the SAT and Advanced Placement exams.

He thinks a proposal to lift the cap, which is opposed by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, would be vetoed by Governor Patrick if passed by the legislature:

Rather than lifting the cap, Mayor Tom Menino asked legislators at the hearing to allow more of the “in-district” charter schools that haven’t demonstrated a fraction of the success of so-called commonwealth charters.

State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said he’d support raising the cap — in three years or so. It’s a clear sign that even if the legislation were to pass, Gov. Deval Patrick would veto it.

The protest commences at 4pm EST at the Statehouse in Boston.