How do Hillary Clinton’s *hardest-to-teach* students fare at Boston charter schools?
Reader: Hillary Clinton recently said something that made a lot of adult interests who put kids first really mad. In brief (because what she said was actually very brief), HRC said that most charter schools *don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or if they do they don’t keep them.* Which resulted in a flurry of sternly-worded rejoinders, like this one, this one and this one, none of which responded to HRC’s actual very brief words. Which gave me a wacky idea. What if we looked at some actual data?
¿Cómo se dice *hardest-to-teach*?
In Massachusetts, *hardest-to-teach* often translates into *students-who-don’t-yet-speak-English,* of whom we happen to have a great many. You see, ever since the Mayflower touched down at Plimoth Rock, groaning with Thanksgiving *fixins,* the Bay State and its cities have served as a gateway for wave upon wave of immigrants who come here to enjoy, among other attractions, our friendly driving customs. In fact, at last count there were 84 different languages spoken in the Boston Public Schools. EIGHTY FOUR. Long-time readers of this page know that the underrepresentation of said students in our academies of excellence and innovation has long been a long-time theme on this page, beginning with *¡Pssst: Los Escuelos Charteros Have a Secret!* But a recent study shows that I’ve been substantially underrepresenting this underrepresentation.
Who is Being Served?
The study, conducted by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, digs deep into state data collected between 2009 and 2014 in order to answer the question *Who is Being Served?* The study turned up serious disparities between charters and their sending districts when it comes to students with disabilities (a subject for another post), but it’s to those ELL numbers in Boston specifically that we turn our attention today. So just *Who is Being Served?* Not the students who speak those 84 languages, apparently. To the data points!
- Over the last four years of the study, about 30% of students attending the Boston Public Schools were still learning English—about 17,000 students.
- Approximately 1900 English language learners attended Boston charter schools.
- Of those 1900, about 800 or 40% attended a single school, MATCH Community Day Charter School.
- The other 1100 students attend one of the remaining 18 charter schools in Boston.
- This does not add up to very many students
What do you mean they’re all in a single school?
If this detail strikes you as odd, I’m guessing that you don’t live in a state where voters voted to ban bilingual education resulting in a failed *sink or swim* policy in which students have a year to learn English. Unless, that is, said students attend a school that has been specifically set up to teach them English, thanks to a waiver from state officials. Like MATCH Community Day Charter School, which together with a school in Lawrence, accounts for much of the much-touted growth in ELL enrollment in recent years.
But who’s counting? Well, the folks who did the study, actually. They note that the case of the underrepresented *hard-to-teach* students reveals the danger of representing data through percentages rather than actual numbers. That’s because the actual number of these students enrolled in Boston’s charters is so small.
In looking at the percentages for the last two academic years, it would appear that Boston charter schools have about one-third the number of ELLs as the Boston Public Schools. In fact, when the actual number of students is compared, charters educate just four percent of the ELLs enrolled in the Boston Public Schools.
Zero, zilch, nil, naught
You can tally up the actual numbers of students who are still learning English and who attend charter schools in Massachusetts here and replicate this experiment at home. Note that percentages that appear with a *.* in front of them will not add up to very much! And now it’s time to pay a quick call on a charter school that figures prominently in the study: Boston Collegiate Charter, which has long boasted of being tops in the Commonwealth based upon state tests. Which are apparently not being taking by this particular group of hard-to-teach students. Between 2010 and 2014, zero English language learners at Boston Collegiate took the MCAS exam. Here’s the same data point again, but bigger.
Between 2010 and 2014, zero English language learners at Boston Collegiate took the MCAS exam.
Obvi, this slight omission gets pointed out on the regular in the local press, especially since we are in the midst of a heated debate about whether to raise the cap on the percentage of funding that can be diverted from schools that serve kids who speak 84 different languages to schools whose *best practices* appear to include not serving them. Actually, it never gets pointed out. Here’s the Boston Globe reporting on a charter lobby press release about a bold plan to increase the number of hard-to-serve students, including English language learners, four years after the state passed a law requiring them to do just that. I’ll let Boston Collegiate Executive Director Shannah Varon have the last word, just like the Globe did.
“We work hard to serve those students,” said Shannah Varon, executive director of the Boston Collegiate Charter School.
Except, well, never mind…
Download the entire study here.
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