Choice for Me but Not for Thee?

A voter is deeply conflicted over the ballot question to expand charter schools in Massachusetts. Paging the Edulosopher

the-thinkerDear Edulosopher:
A few years ago my family moved from New York City to Massachusetts. Before we made the move, we thought we’d be moving to Jamaica Plain, but we also looked at Brookline. Fear of the Boston Public Schools lottery system (among other things) led us to choose Brookline, even though the rent was going to be higher. We wanted to make sure that our daughter got the best public education we could afford. And that’s the issue that the upcoming charter school vote has created for me. Until a month ago, I thought I was going to vote no on lifting the cap on charter schools. I’m pro-union and believe strongly in public schools. I’ve long worried that charter schools could end up creating even worse public schools in communities with already struggling schools, because motivated parents would move their children into the better schools, leaving the weakest students behind in weaker schools. What I was blind to, shamefully, was that my family had made precisely that same choice by moving to Brookline. Shouldn’t families in communities with failing schools have the same option that I had, to move their children to better schools? I’m voting yes on expanding charter schools, but I remain troubled by the issues in play. I think that charters do hurt the overall system, but I cannot claim that poorer families than my own should not get the same option we had, and yet I fear that the growth of charters will let some policymakers think they are off the hook when it comes to making better schools for all. So, what’s the right way to deal with charters?

Signed,
All Turned Around

Dear All Turned Around:
Parsing the debate surrounding charter schools is no simple task. As your question illustrates, the issue of charters moves quickly into choice, access to quality schools, what makes a school a good school, what makes a district a good district, teacher unions, and what makes a public school public, among other things. The thing is, I think most of these concerns are only indirectly related to making a decision about Question 2. Do not get me wrong. Asking gov-charlie-baker-proposes-bill-to-lift-charter-school-capshow we ought to deal with charters writ large is a question we should be talking about, but it is an enormous question. And it is really hard not to see Question 2 as a referendum on charter schools—so much of the rhetoric in this debate positions the ballot question precisely in these terms—but that understanding misrepresents what is at stake.

This ballot question is not about whether charter schools are, in principle, a good or bad thing. It will neither eliminate the 81 charter schools across Massachusetts nor limit the expansion of charter schools to the currently 120 schools the cap allows (although there is also a funding cap that does constrain expansion). These schools will continue to exist and do the work that they do. What the ballot question will do is make it possible for up to twelve Commonwealth charter schools to be opened each year, indefinitely. Interestingly, the bill specifically designates that the twelve additional charter schools will be Commonwealth charters, which operate independently from school districts, as opposed to Horace Mann charters, which operate under the oversight of local school committees. Voters thus need to decide if adding twelve new Commonwealth charters per year, indefinitely, is the best thing for Massachusetts children and schools.

Voters thus need to decide if adding twelve new Commonwealth charters per year, indefinitely, is the best thing for Massachusetts children and schools. Let me explain why I am skeptical that it is.

Let me explain why I am skeptical that it is. I am a big fan of careful thinking and careful planning. I worry that sometimes this makes me more of a gradualist than anything else, but I take there to be great virtue in making sure we (planners, citizens, etc.) get things as right as we can when we have the opportunity to act. In this case, I just do not see how Question 2 amounts to any sort of careful planning or to getting things as right as we can.

sops1Here are couple of reasons why. First, Question 2 does not address school funding even as it will likely increase the overall funds needed to sustain public schools in Boston (and elsewhere). As Gov. Baker has declared, the ballot question will not change the current school funding formula (see page 6 of the linked document). This means that funding for Commonwealth charter schools comes out of the state aid Boston (and every other school district) receives each year. As charter proponents note, because they consider charter schools to be public schools, we should not view this diversion of funds as a loss for public schools; rather, it is simply redirecting funds between public schools. But what this logic does not take into account is the cost this exerts on Boston writ large. Boston has had to devote more of the city’s budget to cover the growing costs of the Boston Public Schools, leading Mayor Walsh to claim that the expansion of charter schools without subsequent increases in state aid would *wreak havoc on our municipal finances.* The impact of this bill, then, would be felt not only on resources for schools, but also on Boston’s entire municipal budget. Given the way schools are currently funded, the city will be stuck trying to hold together the budget, often at the expense of other needed reforms and/or basic funding in other areas.

bpswalkout3Second, Question 2 has the effect of pitting groups who share common goals against each other. Sitting in the audience listening to a debate over Question 2 at the Harvard Graduate School of Education the other night, I heard people on both sides of the issue agree they want better schools and that more money is needed to achieve that end. But it was also clear that if we opt to expand the number of Commonwealth charters in Boston, more of the city’s state aid for education will be earmarked for charters, increasing the gap between the funds BPS receives and what it needs. This leaves Bostonians with a few unpleasant options: 1) continue to rely on the city to cover the gap, even though that requires more money to be pulled from other important city services; 2) fail to make up the gap and leave dedicated educators to squabble over limited resources (and who are we kidding, this burden will fall on district educators); or 3) close district schools and make other hard budget choices (harder than, say, what schools are already forced to consider).

Mayor Walsh’s analysis covers the problems of the first option (rely on the city to cover the lack of funds) pretty well, I think. The second option (require BPS to deal with the shortfall) undermines the idea that charter schools can be partners to district schools by making partners into competitors or, worse, adversaries. Charters, as we often hear, were originally established as laboratories of innovation, which could try out strategies that would improve all schools. But this partnership has not been as effective as those who first embraced charters likely hoped. Charters rely on practices (for example, limited admission points or largely inflexible behavioral and academic standards) that are suited solely for charter schools, limiting the transfer of those practices to district schools (BPS and the Boston Teachers Union did adopt extended day last year). Increasing financial stress would, I think, only further rupture this already tenuous relationship and push charters further from being district school partners and toward being district school replacements.

I also have doubts if replacing district schools with charter schools will ultimately address what people on both sides of the Question 2 debate care deeply about, namely, separate and unequal systems of schools. The movement to replace traditional schools with charters is geographically limited to urban areas with high populations of students of color. Nobody (at least that I know of) is seriously talking about supplementing Lincoln-Sudbury or Lexington High School with a charter school.

gsm-best-in-the-country-disclaimerI also have doubts if replacing district schools with charter schools will ultimately address what people on both sides of the Question 2 debate care deeply about, namely, separate and unequal systems of schools. The movement to replace traditional schools with charters is geographically limited to urban areas with high populations of students of color. Nobody (at least that I know of) is seriously talking about supplementing Lincoln-Sudbury or Lexington High School with a charter school. The end result, if things continue as they are, would be different schools for different groups of people that track disturbingly along lines of race, class, and geography. I just do not see how replacing traditional schools with charter schools while leaving in place residential segregation and its attendant socioeconomic inequalities will do much to mitigate either the separate or the unequal.

The third option (closures and other hard choices) is the likely result of the city not covering the funding gap. It, too, is a hard road to travel. Adding schools with no finite limit means that closing existing schools is not only likely, it is inevitable at some point in the process. And closures are, plain and simple, not popular. My colleague James Noonan has written about the potential for school closures in light of Question 2, and I think he covers the important points well. I have also written about school closures from a philosophical perspective, attempting to demonstrate just how complicated the problem is. As Noonan notes, another of our colleagues, Eve Ewing, wrote a masterful dissertation documenting school closures in her hometown of Chicago. I would also stress that just as charter schools increase the options parents and children have to choose from, charters also foreclose options—options that for some are valuable and desirable. This zero-sum instantiation of choice will, again, likely be exacerbated by the lack of additional funding.

The final thing I will say about Question 2 is this: I am not entirely sure that significant charter expansion of any sort—or at least the sort of unlimited growth that Question 2 ultimately enables—is in Boston and Massachusetts’ interest. I am entirely willing to accept that charter schools in Boston are particularly successful. In fact, when you look at how Massachusetts, in general, has handled charter schools there is a lot to like. For example, all potential Massachusetts charter schools must go through the state board of education. This has enabled the state to avoid some of the pitfalls we see in other states, where it sometimes feels like anybody with a half-cooked idea can open a charter school and receive taxpayer money. But I wonder whether and how much the success of Massachusetts charters in general and Boston charters in particular is due to the fact that we do not have too many of them (I am sure that one of my readers may have some data that answers this question, so please, please share!). If we open the floodgates, do we risk not only our municipal finances but also an already seemingly good thing?

I realize as I am finishing up that I have mostly just told you what I think rather than address your particular question. But I hope that in giving you my reasons you might recognize that this decision point does not have to rest on or resolve everything that bubbles to the surface whenever we talk about charter schools. Fixing educational inequality is a gargantuan, perhaps Sisyphean, task. We need to make sure each step forward is carefully placed. Question 2, as it stands, is not that sort of step forward.

Till next time,
The Edulosopher

Jacob FayJacob Fay is a doctoral student and member of the Early Career Scholar Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as a graduate fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. He is the co-editor, with Meira Levinson, of Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries. Prior to his doctoral studies, he taught eighth-grade history at the Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter at @Edulosopher.

Got a question for the Edulosopher? Send it to Jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com.

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22 Comments

    1. In defense of All Turned Around, this is a statewide ballot issue, so their voice is fully legitimate in this debate. I do appreciate that this particular voter recognizes the complexity and difficulty of the decision. But it is also challenging to see Question 2 as a truly statewide policy as its effects will be felt most acutely in Boston, followed shortly by other urban areas. So I am sympathetic to the view that this debate has the feel of “everyone in the state deciding what is best for Boston.” However, I don’t see how this cannot be a statewide vote, given that the charter cap is state policy. Any policy-wonks know a way around that I do not?

      I also hope that those who will vote will listen to those who will be most affected by the proposal, and carry that into their own calculus.

      And, full disclosure: I am not a Bostonian, so I fall into the same category as All Turned Around!

      1. Listen, I am cranky because I believe voters are on the verge of approving a ballot measure that disrupt and hurt the education of most of the children in Boston. And it’s because suburban voters can’t come to terms with their privilege.

        I’m assuming they are a real person. I wish they would contact me. I would take them on a tour of my children’s schools. They should see the communities they are about to disrupt before they vote this way.

        If All Turned Around is really interested in education equity, they must fight for a good education for all children. Not just a few.

          1. This, I think, is a question an edulosopher could really sink his teeth into. Mary, in adding up the number of children helped and hurt, appears to be using a utilitarian approach to ethical decisions. There are other approaches. Kantian ethics might well come up with a different answer, requiring us to view each child’s education as an end in itself rather than considering the impact of that child going to a charter school (or Boston Latin) on other children who remain in the neighborhood school.

          2. teachingeconomist – I remember this odd ethics questioned being asked in school.

            If you are a train controller and you see a runaway train running down the tracks, and the train is on track to kill 10 people. Do you divert the train so that it only kills 2 people – even though you just decided to kill those 2 people who otherwise would be ok?

            Also, why is education suddenly a zero sum game?

          3. Mary,

            That is known as the trolley problem (you can read more about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem), and it is used to discuss the differences between a utilitarian and Kantian approach to ethics, among other things. I look forward to seeing of the edulosopher has a position on which ethical system is to be used in considering changes to public education.

            The zero sum aspects of the education debate come from the discussion of peer impacts and, of course, funding. Charter schools are accused of “skimming” the strongest students and/or students with the most concerned parents out of traditional neighborhood schools, depriving the students of the neighborhood school of having motivated peers and parents. (This argument also applies to qualified admission schools and programs run by districts, though charter opponents generally do not acknowledge it). Of course this also gives the “skimmed” student more motivated peers and parents at the new school, making that school better for the student who was “skimmed”. Forcing the “skimmed” student back into the neighborhood school deprives the “skimmed” student of having a large number of motivated peers but increases the number of motivated peers in the neighborhood school.

            Of course the zero sum nature of funding is always emphasized by opponents of charter schools. The assumption is that any expenditure on charter schools must come at the cost of expenditure on traditional public schools.

        1. Personally, I don’t think that a rise in expenditures for charters “always” has to come at the districts expense. But I would argue that Question 2 does come at the district’s expense because there is no corresponding raise in funding. I believe the Rise Act attempted to lift the cap but it was also coupled with an increase in education expenditures. But the legislature didn’t take it up.

          My experience from advocating for more education dollars across sectors at the state and federal level is that elected officials will generally say: The state/city has a lot of funding priorities. Education is only one of them.

          It’s hard to argue with that. So what I would really say to Conflicted Suburban Voter: If you really want to help us, campaign for Fair Share Amendment next year. It will give us more revenue.

          1. This is a great back-and-forth! To be honest, I really do not want ethics to be defined by things like the trolley problem. While that can be *fun* to think about, I do not think it is terribly helpful in dealing with problems like the one we face on Question 2. I like to think ethics is a wholistic sort of thinking–to know what is the right thing to do in any circumstance draws on a number of different sources of knowledge: abstract or general principles about right, social scientific knowledge about patterns and causal links, and experiential knowledge about what to do in practice. So I hope that y’all do not think I am making decisions about something as complex as Question 2, simply by running trolley problems in my head. Ew.

            Mary, I think your last point about offering a positive alternative, like the Fair Share Amendment, is important. NoOn2 will have a hard way of things if we cannot offer positive alternatives. That is precisely why I think it is smart to move this debate from a referendum on charters to a referendum on this particular policy. We can do better than it!

          2. Certainly the trolley problem does not define ethics, but serves to distinguish between different ethical approaches.

            Does the edulosopher take a deontological, consequentialist, or virtue approach to ethical decisions involving education? I would guess a consequentialist approach from your post, but I might well be wrong.

  1. The higher performance at Boston area charters is suspect and they have lower 4 year graduation rates than non-charters. That is hard to square with higher test scores unless the lower achieving students are far more likely to drop out of a charter than from a non-charter.

    A major concern, and likely contributor to higher dropout rates in Boston charters is that many practice zero-tolerance “no-excuses” discipline and are especially hard on students with disabilities. So they tend to under-enroll this subgroup to begin with, but they proceed to kick these students out at unusually high rates. Roxbury Prep, had a 57% suspension rate for students with disabilities!

    I encourage all to visit the MA State Department of Education’s School Discipline Report here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ssdr.aspx

    At the top, find the “student group tab and choose students with disabilities and then hit view report.

    Next go to the column % out of school suspension. Click on it twice to sort from highest to lowest.

    Here are the top 10 suspending districts in the state ranked by their suspension rates for students with disabilities:
    DISTRICT % Out-of-School Suspension
    Roxbury Preparatory Charter 57.8
    City on a Hill Charter Public School New Bedford (District) 50
    Veritas Preparatory Charter School 37.1
    City on a Hill Charter Public School Dudley Square (District) 36.2
    KIPP Academy Boston Charter School (District) 28.1
    UP Academy Charter School of Boston 27.9
    City on a Hill Charter Public School Circuit Street (District) 27.1
    UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester (District) 27
    Amesbury Academy Charter Public (District) 24.1
    Brooke Charter School East Boston 23.1

    Of course it is fairer to compare schools to schools, but charter schools are still disproportionately over-represented among the highest suspending when one sorts the suspension rates for students with disabilities by school.

    1. Daniel, according to the 2016 Boston Opportunity Agenda’s Report Card, the 4-year graduation rate for Boston Charter public shools was 74% and Boston Public Schools was 65.9% (pg 13), with the charter school 5-year rates typically being much further elevated relative to BPS. https://www.tbf.org/~/media/TBFOrg/Files/Reports/BOA%20Annual%202016_FinalREV15th2.pdf

      You’re likely restricting your analysis just to lottery participants, with those attending charter schools just temporarily, for at least one day, counted amongst the charter school attendees even after returning to traditional public schools. Which is not unreasonable.

      Would you agree that analysis of out-of-school suspension rates are more useful if accompanied by analysis of attrition rates, attendance rates, unexcused absence rates and dropout rates? And that 4-year graduation rates are more useful if accompanied by 5-year graduation rates. And that any kind of graduation rate is most useful if accompanied by determination of how well-prepared graduates are for post-graduate activities?

      Are you familiar, by the way, with the fact that special education classification procedures differ so substantially between charter schools and regular district schools in Boston that it makes it difficult to make comparisons… i.e., charter schools are far less likely to classify children as needing special education services.

      And would you agree that any or all of that additional context puts Boston charter schools in a better light than your original comment might suggest?

  2. Wow. Nice! One of the rare extended critiques of Q2 that isn’t promiscuously embracing every passing, eye-catchingly defective, statistic prior to conducting a background check.

    Jacob: “Voters thus need to decide if adding twelve new Commonwealth charters per year, indefinitely, is the best thing for Massachusetts children and schools.”

    An alternative way to frame that decision: In a state where there are about 1750 traditional public schools, voters need to decide whether to give the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) the authority to add OR expand a maximum total of 12 Commonwealth Charter Schools per year, keeping in mind that the Board would likely only exercise that authority to the extent it had thoroughly reviewed applications and had determined that the new or expanded schools would function highly effectively. And acknowledging that our BESE, which includes parent and union representation, has proved remarkably adept at making such determinations. And understanding that schools would mainly be situated in areas where existing schools are not adequately meeting families’ hopes and needs. And recognizing that the legislature would continue to have the authority to rewrite the law at any point in time if it deemed advisable. And knowing that schools wouldn’t be created or expanded unless it were anticipated that adequate numbers of parents would wish to send their children there in preference to each and every other available alternative.

    Jacob: “As charter proponents note, because they consider charter schools to be public schools, we should not view this diversion of funds as a loss for public schools;”

    Perhaps worth noting there that “they consider charter schools to be public schools” because the laws of the Commonwealth specify unambiguously that they are indeed public schools, and because charter proponents’ opinions in that respect have been buttressed, rather than undercut, by careful review of our statutes in conjunction with relevant NLRB and Federal Courts of Appeals decisions.

    Jacob: “Boston has had to devote more of the city’s budget to cover the growing costs of the Boston Public Schools, leading Mayor Walsh to claim that the expansion of charter schools without subsequent increases in state aid would *wreak havoc on our municipal finances.*”

    The statement “had to devote” is getting to the heart of a real question. But it’s devoid of much evidentiary support, beyond quoting a municipal pol’s plea for more state dollars. I’m with him on the plea. Though not on the scare tactics.

    Jacob, if your best argument is that there’d be financial damage to traditional public schools by significant expansion of the charter sector here, how prepared are you to present persuasive evidence? I suspect Jennifer would allow you the space.

    I read “A Starving School System?” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Farah Stockman, the NatMorton Blog March 12th and April 14th 2016 postings on “The BPS Is Getting Its Fair Share of Funding” and “The Sad Tale of the BPS’s ‘Unassigned 100′” and so on. And I look through this Boston Public Schools Operational Review Powerpoint:
    http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/Domain/4/BPS%20Operational%20Review_PPT.pdf

    And I understand that more charter schools will increase per-pupil spending, and know that there are all kinds of sizes of school districts in Massachusetts with no obvious correlation between size and efficiency.

    And “had to devote” seems arguable.

    A few scattered quotes from the Operational Review materials:

    “While BPS pushes 55% of its funds to the schools, only 36% reaches all students in the classroom1; BPS has a significant number of underutilized buildings and classrooms, spreading funds thin across the system and lessening the impact of resources on a per pupil basis”
    “To concentrate resources more effectively for students, BPS can find ways to right-size the district to reflect current and projected BPS enrollment”
    “- BPS enrollment down 17% over last 20 years and 50% since 1970s”
    “- The system is overextended with declining dollars stretched over same number of buildings and declining student count”
    “- Right-sized system would concentrate more dollars in fewer schools, improving quality and breadth of student resources”
    “Non-teaching staff to student ratios across the system are higher than peers and historic BPS levels, ~$25-30M may
    be possible if staff levels realigned”
    “SPED is ~25% of the BPS spend…”
    “BPS schools are classifying students [as needing SPED services] at widely variable rates”
    “There are 14 schools who classified 100% of the students referred and 35 who referred 0%”
    “- Variable rates likely reflect differing school cultures around classification”
    “- A centralized auditing process can narrow the band of variability”
    “- The variable classification rates could imply that some students are receiving services they do not need, while others are missing students who do need extra support”
    “A 2014 state of Massachusetts report found that across the state, ‘students with disabilities who had full inclusion placements appeared to outperform similar students who were not included to the same extent in general education classrooms with their non-disabled peers.'”

    Elizabeth Setren’s research gave me the impression that students with special needs may well be educated more effectively, and more cost-efficiently, in Boston charter schools than they are in traditional public schools (while also acknowledging that some anecdotes may suggest otherwise).

    Jacob: “And closures are, plain and simple, not popular.”

    A compelling reason to give full-throated support to the Mayor in that extremely difficult task.

    And support him as he tries to get reimbursement rates back even higher compared to all other states. Support him when he tells the teachers union in the upcoming negotiations: “Hey, I helped you fight Question 2, now please…”.

    But don’t support him as he opposes Question 2. Recognize that the strongest assurance of passage of the millionaire’s tax is passage of Question 2 now. And, perhaps more significantly, the best assurance that those new funds will be spent effectively.

    1. Stephen, As usual, chock full of data to back up your argument. I might even have to include you in the thank you section of my dissertation since you are highlighting all these points that will likely fall into it. 🙂

      But, I think you are asking me to defend claims that I am not making. My argument is not that charter schools are doing damage to public school systems. They may be. They may not be. My argument is that the conversation about Question 2 needs to look at the policy impact more broadly at the same time that we narrow the scope of the debate. What does that mean?

      First, it is a broader view insofar as we consider this policy in light of municipal finances writ large. This is the force of Mayor Walsh’s “plea.” I do not think that this amounts to even saying that charter schools do “damage” to municipal budgets. Increasing charters will increase the stress on municipal budgets. So does the need to fix roads, the MBTA, etc. But, expanding charters will more than likely force cities like Boston to make hard choices about district schools. (Maybe some of that is not as “hard” as some people want, that is what I take the right-sizing literature to say. But, there are concerns about the methodology of right-sizing districts, specifically on how they count floorspace, and the number of students per class they base their calculations on. I apologize that I am not going to contribute citations to this argument, but my dissertation is calling. When I write this chapter, I promise I’ll have more to say :).) But, back to the point, there will be choices about closures, and just because it is unpopular does not mean that we should then get behind our politicians doing this work. I think it means that closures are not what people want. So politicians should proceed carefully when they must make decisions to close schools–and they need to be transparent and inclusive in such decisions. Lots of people will never have to worry about losing their school, but many urban communities of color do, and I just do not see how we can talk so cavalierly about closure when its effects are limited to certain groups of people. As a parents have noted, “while the proponents of these policies may like to think they are implementing them for us or even with us, the reality is that they have been done to us” (http://www.j4jalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/J4JReport-final_05_12_14.pdf). This is not “hard” data that will likely appease you, but I take such sentiments to point to an important dimension of the ethics of public policy–cities need to do as much as they can to make sure that people do not feel that policy is done to them. To do otherwise seems anti-democratic.

      Second, we need to narrow the scope insofar as we should not consider Question 2 to be a referendum on charters. It is a referendum on a specific policy, which I just think we can do a better job with. If the goal, for example, is to make districts more efficient because of financial limitations, then let the people of Massachusetts consider a policy that is explicit toward that end, or if not Massachusetts writ large, then Boston, Lawrence, Worcester, Springfield, etc. Sure, I will grant that adding 12 new Commonwealth charters *could* be a way to address district inefficiencies, but charters also come with their own set of inefficiencies (http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/charter-revenue).

      TL;DR: I do not think I need to show that charter schools damage anything; I merely am urging the debate over Question 2 to, at the very least, include a conversation about the broader municipal costs and to stay focused on what we are actually voting on; one particular policy that represents one particular way of expanding charter schools in the state.

    2. Stephen Ronan writes as Nat Morton ; one in the same… And,he always praises the work of Nat Morton. He has taken me on in arguments both as Stephen Ronan and as nat Morton…. The parallels in his arguments are obvious now that I know but I was feeling like a stalker was watching me over the past 36 hours because of these tactics: slander of professional educators; humiliating people in his comments; claiming that anyone who disagrees with him is a shill of unions etc. He must be sharing comments every day with Dmitri because they both take that approach trying to humiliate people first and then calling the shills of NEA/AFT. Both Curmudgucation and Jersey Jazzmen are taking on this assault ; as we see it across the states more people will recognize them (or the avatar or nom de plume that they choose at the time)

  3. Edulosopher, a well considered, well balanced post, thank you (and, quite frankly, more balanced than I’ve come to expect on this website).

    My one critique is that your analysis assumes a somewhat static state of affairs going forward should Q2 pass. Just because we could have 12 new charters per year doesn’t mean we will. We will get as many new charters as demand warrants. If that means 12 per year, then that’s strong evidence that at least 12 schools’ worth of traditional public school families are not being served as well they should be; in which case change is clearly needed. I don’t think that’s how it will play out, however.

    I think you may be underestimating the response to a “yes” on 2 vote from the state’s traditional public school systems. Quite frankly, many of those system can, today, afford to be merely average. They are, for all but their community’s wealthy residents, the only game in town. Competition has a way of focusing the mind and bringing out the best in any organization, even if that’s just the threat of future competition. I’m not sure all TPSs will respond well, but I believe many will and, in the process, become better schools and thus worthy of parental choice.

    1. Nat, I think you are certainly right to push me on that point. But I am not sure I see my view as relying on a static notion of what comes next. I think that those with a nose closer to the budget than I (and as Stephen’s data-filled post makes clear, I could do a lot more digging here to clarify and strengthen my position) are well aware that adding new schools will add stress to an already stressed system. Like I noted in a previous response re: my view of ethics, I really think wholistic views are important–so it is important to think about this policy not just in terms of schools, but in terms of municipal budgets. I don’t think that you would entirely disagree with that point?

      But, while it is certainly possible that Question 2 simply opens up the possibility of 12 new charters a year, my guess is that the reality will be that closer to 12 new charters are authorized each year than 0. At least in the short term. And again, I do not know that magic number that would too much stress on districts like Boston or Lawrence. It could be that only 2 or 3 really does the trick. So it could be a variable number of new charters each year, and still have a similar effect.

      1. Thanks Edulosopher for your great post and thoughtful comments. And for rejecting “trolley problems” as a decision making vehicle (literally) so decisively. Ew indeed! I can’t wait to see what edu-ethical conundrum you’ll be untangling on this page next. And a reminder to readers who are dropping by, the Edulosopher welcomes your questions. Send them my way, to jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com and I’ll pass them along.

  4. Dear All Turned Around:
    I also live in Brookline and I used to live in JP. I encourage you to think about what makes Brookline schools a good choice. The fact is that Brookline teachers are in near-revolt over corporate education reform policies of the current school committee. In a district like Brookline freedom of teachers to spend time face-to-face with their students, get to know them, and tailor their teaching to kids’ different learning styles and abilities is the only way to handle variety. There is no choice in Brookline. Students attend the school near their house and they all attend the same high school. Boston has many schools and the opportunity for choice exists within the district. The problem is that Boston’s schools are underfunded.

    The solution is to fully fund the district, not take funding away for commonwealth charter schools where the teachers are young , they have no say in the education of their students and the turnover rate is high. It’s a loss for kids in charter schools because they do not get great teachers who know how to cultivate a learning environment, and it’s a loss for the district schools whose resources are drained. A key factor is that test scores do not represent learning. Higher test scores often represent enhanced training for taking the test to the detriment of actual learning that helps people live better lives. Real learning environments cultivate critical thinking and personal agency, imagination and creation. Test training is about filling kids up with canned information they will soon forget and showing students how to recognize the tricks of the test-makers.

    Please do not think you are safe from charterization in Brookline. The same forces are at play in the land higher property values: standardization, teaching to the test, teachers drowning in district-driven assessments and bureaucratic initiatives. The Brookline School Committee is dominated by people who claims these approaches are good for equity, however the so-called “achievement gap” remains predictable and constant in Brookline. Corporate education reform seeks to swallow the “public” in public schools, it is happening statewide, led the privatizer-in-chief Charlie Baker.

    A No on 2 vote is a vote for better teaching and learning, protecting middle-class teaching jobs, transparency, democracy, and the public nature of public education. Please keep this in mind when you vote in Brookline elections also.

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