What Went Down in Massachusetts

Image result for marty walsh save our public schools ma

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh with parent organizer Malikka Williams.

Why the campaign to lift the Massachusetts charter cap went down in flames…

We were motoring around when the ad came on. It was one of those golden fall afternoons we’ve had a string of lately, the foliage suspended in a globally-warmed cocoon of brilliance, and suddenly there he was: Boston’s mayor Marty Walsh. Or as he pronounces it, *maeh.* Even with the mostly missing ‘r’s,’ his message was unmistakable: Question 2, the proposal to lift the state’s cap on charter schools, was deeply misguided. And he didn’t just mean bad for Boston, he meant bad for the whole state, making an already broken school funding system worse. *What were they thinking by going to the ballot?* my husband asked. Actually he said *What were they !@#$% thinking?* And for once I didn’t chide him for swearing.

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By election day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters. Continue reading →

The Cost of Choice

A new study finds that charter school expansion in Michigan has meant financial chaos for a growing number of school districts…

detroit_damage2_640-900x570.jpg (900×570)Jennifer Berkshire: Your new study looks at why certain school districts in Michigan have descended into a state of, as I like to describe it, *smoking ruin.* To keep the suspense alive, tell us what you found DID NOT contribute to the severe financial distress of these districts.

David Arsen: The question we looked at was how much of this pattern of increasing financial distress among school districts in Michigan was due to things that local districts have control over as opposed to state-level policies that are out of the local districts’ control: teacher salaries, health benefits, class size, administrative spending. We also looked at an item that the conservative think tanks are big on: contracting out and privatization. We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent. We looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and we followed them for nearly 20 years. The statistics are causal; we’re not just looking at correlation.  Continue reading →

What’s the Point?

Even as the debate over charter schools in Massachusetts heats up, the ultimate goal of the experiment is anyone’s guess…

It’s time for a field trip, reader, and today we’re headed to a little place I like to call *an alternate reality.* Shall I summon forth the scene?

entering_brockton (1)A special meeting of the Board of Education is underway. Members have convened to discuss the single most successful school turnaround in state history: once failing Brockton High School, which 15 years ago under went a remarkable teacher-led transformation. Board chair Paul Sagan has allotted extra time to hear from teachers who helped lead the acclaimed literacy initiative, subject of national accolades (although, weirdly, mostly ignored in Massachusetts). Secretary of Education James Peyser has a question. Is it true that a third of each graduating class or some 300+ kids per year, at a school where 63% of students are considered *high needs* and 20% are still learning English, routinely qualifies for the state’s Adams scholarship, guaranteeing four years of funding to any public university in the state? Peyser does the math on his phone, then checks it on his other phone. He strokes his chin, musing aloud that this number dwarfs the combined total of grads from Boston’s charter schools, and, oddly, seems to include not just girls but boys too. Another question, this one from state Commissioner Mitchell Chester: this teacher-led concept sounds promising. Since every school has teachers is it replicable? At which point the Board members pause to check their calendars to schedule a visit so that they can see for themselves what lasting, teacher-led transformation looks like.

OK—so that’s not exactly how things went down. Instead, the Board voted to gift Brockton with a new regional charter high school that will compete against Brockton High by offering less—Look Ma, no art or music!—all the while draining an estimated 5% of the city’s total education budget per year.  Continue reading →

Kick the Cap

Behind the scenes (and out in the hallway) at the Statehouse charter school hearing…


statehouseAnd that’s a wrap, folks! After nine hours, and thousands of pages of testimony concerning 35 different pieces of legislation—35!—this week’s marathon hearing on the state and future of charter schools in the Bay State had finally reached its end. But still, the question lingered: had anyone actually learned anything? It might surprise you to learn that my answer is an unabashed *Yes.* In fact, I learned quite a lot.
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What It Looks Like When Test Prep Eats Ur School

report card

It looks like this, as a matter of fact. This is an actual report card from a fifth grade student in Massachusetts whom we will call Ginny, in place of the inevitable Johnny. A note on the notations: the slash marks indicate *not introduced at this time,* meaning that Ginny seems to have gone entirely history/social studies/and map free during the all important spring testing season. The *D* stands for developing, as Ginny likely spent much of her time developing short essays in response to the out-of-context passages she spent most of the rest of her time reading. That is when she wasn’t honing her math skills. Continue reading →