In trying to find balance among lawsuits, counter-lawsuits and potential legislation brewing in the ongoing battle on charter schools in Massachusetts, The Standard-Times editorial ("Our View: Charter reform belongs with the Legislature," Jan. 22) wisely sought middle ground.
“The opportunity now exists for both houses of the Legislature to work out where charter schools can do the most good, because they do much good.”
However, such references to good can be deceiving, especially as it applies to the charter school movement. It depends upon who is actually benefitting from the good that determines best practices and measurable outcomes.
Motivation for lifting the cap on charter schools is not necessarily good for students struggling with their education if the public policy is unduly influenced by erroneous assumptions or facts. One example, is the widely used contention that 37,000 are on waiting lists for charters across the state, a number deemed false by state auditor Suzanne Bump after exhaustive investigation. Yet the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, knowing it’s false, continues to use the number as he spearheads efforts to remove the charter school cap.
Misleading information reaching as far as the governorship of the commonwealth is not the only attribute of the charter school movement that infuriates the growing opposition.
The Standard-Times fails to recognize — as it delivers kudos for how “much good” charters do — that the greatest good serves the greatest number. One of the original tenets of teaching is to create a classroom environment that challenges the highest achievers, accommodates the lowest, while pitching to the “middle"; effectively, reaching every student’s learning wheelhouse.
Charter schools fall short of doing the greatest good for the greatest number since their brand is a “one size fits all,” designed for the elite — a quasi-private school model for the highest achievers who can tolerate an atmosphere that is rigid and punitive. Meanwhile, special education students, English language learners and minorities fail because of such draconian policies, and the lack of individualized instruction, then are funneled back to the sending traditional public schools where behavioral and academic needs are addressed.
Push-back has begun against the concept that students’ civil rights to enroll in a charter school are more important than the civil rights of others who “are disproportionately excluded from charter schools,” according to Scott P. Lewis, partner at Anderson & Krieger LLP.
And when these special education, English language learners and minority students are excluded, with the double whammy explained by attorney Lewis as, “when funds are (also) diverted from traditional public schools to charters, these same students experience devastating cuts to services they desperately need.”
In an article published by the Bay State Banner written by Jule Pattison-Gordon, it was announced that seven Boston Public School students along with the New England Area Conference of the NAACP moved to intervene in a pending lawsuit over the cap on charters — a countersuit against the one that cites charter school waiting lists as a civil rights violation.
“It is critical that the voices of students in traditional public schools be heard in this lawsuit," said Matthew Cregor, education project director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and one of the lead attorneys for the student intervenors.
Their voices are often drowned out by statements like the one in The Standard-Times editorial that glosses over the truth about charter schools’ meager track record on ELL, SPED and minorities, which states that charters “have had measurable success, and criticisms of attrition rates and four-year graduation rates are often presented without consideration of … ultimate outcomes.”
Then The Standard-Times piled on charter school opponents with the criticism that, “There is little value beyond the rhetorical that every district student suffers because charter school students succeed.”
Any discussion of values, by definition, delves into the domain of rights and obligation. So there arises the question of who is obliged to come clean about charter schools’ woeful record in servicing minorities, SPED and ELL students?
The Standard-Times is right to say charters do good. But the evidence is clear — the good is for just a few and at the expense of the many.
Bruce C. Ditata lives in Wareham.