That path to college turns out to be exceptionally narrow…
‘Tis the season to celebrate our boy and girl graduates, reader. And in Massachusetts, aka *the Achievement State,* what better way to do just that than by raising the cap on excellence itself with a bold vote to hoist the cap on charter schools? Presto! Like that, the path to college and career readiness just got wider, and with nary a union laborer or detail cop in sight. But like a graduation party gone bad, this story too comes with an unwelcome guest: facts. It turns out that the number of students—particularly boys—who actually graduate from Boston’s charter high schools is minuscule. In fact, students at Boston’s six charter high schools are no more likely to graduate than their public school peers.
Pomp n’ circumstance
If you’re just tuning into the Achievement Network now, consider yourself fortunate. The most recent installment of our seemingly endless reality series, Where Chahter Rhymes with Wicked Smahter, was plump with pomp and rather light on circumstance. There is, for instance, the rather essential and to date, still completely unresolved, question of how to define the *low-performing districts* that will enjoy enhanced access to excellence once the cap is raised. While the affected districts vary wildly depending upon the kind of ruler used, there is one town that never the list shall make: Wellesley, a place so college ready that it is home to its own college. [Note: I submitted a public records request to the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this spring about the internal debate on measuring school district performance and officials are even now scouring their email accounts to satisfy my demands. Stay tuned!]
College ready…or not
At the heart of our great debate about how much greater charter schools are than the long-suffering public schools that they are outperforming by every conceivable measure lies a great assumption: that charters represent the best way to propel urban students through the pipeline of college readiness. Except that the pipeline turns out to be of an exceptionally narrow gauge. Take Match Charter Public School, from which six boys graduated last year. You read that correctly, reader. That number was six. Which is the same number of boys who graduated from Codman Academy Charter Public School in 2013. But that’s still a bigger number than four, the number of boys who graduated from City on a Hill Charter Public School last year. [Shout out to sister edublogger, An Education, for once again providing data expertise.]
The numbers add up
Now I know what you’re thinking, reader. Those three schools represent only half of the charter high schools in Boston, and half is only equal to 50%. And those numbers would appear much larger if I had added them all together to equal 16, which is a lot considering that close to 60,000 students attend school in Boston. Or I could have mentioned the three schools’ combined six-year graduation rate for boys, which could some day total as many as 32 graduates.
Study? What study?
The point, reader, is that we know, down to our vestigial organs, that charter schools are doing a much better job of preparing the city’s students for college because we are secretly in love with Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh and hence hangeth upon his every word. Except that a recent study called Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness, commissioned by the Boston Foundation and paid for by the New Schools Venture Fund, found that male and female students who attend Boston’s six charter high schools are no more likely to graduate than their public school peers. (See p. 24). Which is not what the researchers were expecting to find, and certainly not what Scot Lehigh was expecting to write about. Which is no doubt why he didn’t.
Investing in excellence
Speaking of numbers, Boston will see the percentage of school spending that can go to charters rise to 23% under the bill just passed by the House. For the innumerate among you, that equals a lot. Next year, Boston will spend $130 million on charter schools, with the expectation that the schools are piping students directly into a college-and-career ready future. The irony is, of course, that the beleaguered Boston Public Schools are sending more students to college than at any time in the city’s history. Or they were. As the city grapples with the deep budget cuts that operating two separate school systems will entail, the *extra* programs that help lots of kids in places like Boston get to college and stay there are likely to be the first to go.
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