The Waiting List for Superman?

No doubt your state is home to a lengthy waiting list of students trapped in union-stifled public schools. In Massachusetts we call this list a “waiting list” and it is growing lengthier by the day. Not only is there virtually no one left who is NOT on the list, I believe that in fact you are on the list and you don’t even live here and are frankly not a high achiever. Our waiting list for excellence and innovation has now grown so long that policy makers have no choice but to respond to the growing waiting list by making policy that reflects the extraordinary length of the waiting list. 

Except that some actual reporting this week by the Boston Globe revealed that the waiting list is more fiction than fact. The story follows on the heels of this devastating expose in Chicago in which a reporter dismantles claims of a 19,000 charter wait list in Chicago, the length of which is now being used to justify charter expansion even as public schools are closed in that city.

The numbers game
In Massachusetts, as in Chicago, the primary flaw in the list is that it counts applications, not students. So a student who applies to four charters, eight charters, twelve charters gets counted multiple time times. That’s a key distinction because as this guidance counselor told the Globe: “If a family is applying to charter schools, they are applying to all of them,” said Susan Trotz, a guidance counselor at the city-run Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain. Which is how a city with 55,000 students in its public schools can end with fully 27,000 students allegedly waiting to attend academies of excellence and innovation.

Up, up and up
Nor is the waiting list adjusted as students enter a charter school or any other school for that matter. According to the Globe, some charters keep students on their waiting lists for years. An appropriate analogy might be if Harvard began referring to the 32,994 students it didn’t admit this year as a “waiting list,” then added that number to the 32,270 it didn’t admit last year, giving it a “waiting list” of 65,264, or a fiercely urgent case for lifting the Crimson Cap.

You can get on but you still can’t get in
A true waiting list would also be connected to available seats within charter schools, so that a student who applied would have the option of attending in the *extremely unlikely* event that another student leaves the school in order to return to a union stifled public school. But that doesn’t happen, because unlike truly public schools that must accept any student who appears at any time, charters in Massachusetts don’t have to accept students after the start of the school year, or in grades 10, 11 and 12.

Waiting list? What waiting list
But enough with the frivilous details already. You want to about the local charter lobby, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Associationw, which, coffers newly be-plumped with Walton bucks, has been sending out regular press releases touting the ever-expending waiting list as exhibit number one in the case for the Liftin O’ the Cap. How are they taking this devastating news. Here’s an excerpt from a letter sent from chief cap lifter, Marc Kenen, sent the day the story broke:

Today’s Boston Globe has a front page story questioning the numbers on Charter school wait lists. This is because thousands of parents enter their children in lotteries every year hoping for a chance to enroll their children and many of them apply to more than one school to increase their chances of “winning” charter lotteries. Whether the actual number is 50,000, 40,000 or 30,000 isn’t the point. Even 10,000 is a lot of kids shut out of schools that their parents choose for them. Everybody has always known that parents apply to more than one school. What’s important is that these children will languish on these lists until the Legislature lifts arbitrary limits on how many charters it allows.

Um—do you realize that this completely contradicts everything you’ve been saying everyday for the past five years? And that your Lift the Cap brochure cites the waiting list as indisputable proof regarding the fierce urgency of your cause?

How about this: how about we agree that however long the waiting list is,  it’s much too long and that we should do whatever it takes to reduce the number of students who are currently languishing on it. I propose that any charter that currently has fewer students enrolled than it has capacity to educate welcome some of the students on the waiting list effective tomorrow. Presto! The list just got smaller. See how easy that was?

And how about we add a little truth in advertising to the mix, just to keep things honest? Next time you hold a lottery, like the recent contest in which 900 Boston parents competed for the honor of having their child attend City on a Hill, how about you tell them just how slim are the chances that their child will make it through the school’s trademark gauntlet of excellence? By my calculations it works out to about the same odds as winning an actual lottery.

Shout out to @TonyBontheMIC for providing me with the title to this post. Check out his musings on the same topic here.  Send comments, tips and the number of people in your party to


  1. Kinda skewed,as if all Charters are villainous. Many were started by educators promised autonomy who are struggling with arbitrary rules being applied on systems designed to prove the validity of education without those very restrictions.
    Holding on their wait list doesn’t mean there are openings. There is sometimes a requirement to hold a space (ex child moved to residential school for treatment might theoretically come back and their space is protected even though they are not in attendance.) Or a school may have a waitlist for some grades and not others so a spot is vacant without anyone waiting for it while 3 wait for a different grade. But you are right on the list numbers. One parent applying 4 places counts as 4 waiting. And, since the other 3 are not notified of admission to another, still counts as 3 when enrolled in the fourth.

  2. Kay I hate to break it to ya, but when schemers and scammers take over an industry, the “good guys” in that industry don’t get to cry when everyone loses faith. The “good charters” wrote the rules–and resisted regulations that could’ve prevented the problems that now characterize the sector.

    As for the Shy being one-sided, have you read any of the propaganda from the charter schools? They don’t exactly present both sides. I would call this presentation here “balance.”

Comments are closed.