Who Got Capped?

What really went down in Massachusetts last week…

dunceIt seems like only yesteryear that an extraordinary amount of money and influence was lining up behind the long-suffering public school students of the Bay State. But last week state senators overwhelmingly declined to doff the *cap of excellence.* Wha happened??? And are there important lessons for us to ignore from what happened? (Like that making thin-skinned white guys the irritable face of a movement that’s supposed to be about low-income kids might not have been the smartest move…) Strap yourself in, reader, because it’s time for the official EduShyster cap the cap recap.  

pioneer-dayPale, male and stale
Can we just start by acknowledging that making entitled suburban men who are both white skinned and extraordinarily thin skinned the most visible *shoutsmen* on behalf of poor minority students was a dud? Fine—I’ll name names. I’m talking about this guy, this guy, and of course, my one true love, this guy.

Just say no
If there’s one thing the kids hate it’s compromise. Which is why the Massachusetts charter lobby seems to have made the nonnegotiable decision early on—and stuck to it—that any compromise was completely unacceptable. Their nonnegotiable position on nonnegotiating on behalf of the kids only seemed to harden as the endless process of trying to reach a deal on Beacon Hill dragged on. In other words: teachers unions.

ballsIt takes balls
As my friends at the Pioneer Institute would surely say (once plied with strong drink), you can’t have a canon (or a cannon) without balls. While Cap Cap 2014 is being spun as a battle between teachers unions v. long-suffering public school students, the real fight was between Stale, Pale, Male Inc and some extraordinarily tough lady senators, like Senator Pat Jehlen and, yes, Sonia Chang-Diaz, I speak of you. For the past 6 (600?) months, SC-D has had the unbelievably thankless task of trying to craft a compromise to satisfy her constituents—who include Boston parents on both sides of the charter divide—her Senate colleagues and the charter lobby, whose official position has been that any compromise was completely unacceptable. In other words: poison pill.

And tools
It soon became obvious to all, especially the angry white men charged with (and charging for) speaking up for the kids, that the chair of the Senate education committee had to be a tool of the teachers unions. Which is actually pretty funny because it’s a pretty poorly kept secret, by which I mean no secret at all, that Sonia Chang-Diaz has no particular love for teachers unions. (In fact, I once spent a somewhat *awkward* hour experiencing this lack of love for myself as I interviewed her for the AFT newspaper I used to edit.)

Blue state blues bay state
It can be hard to convey to my peeps out there with blue state envy that one-party rule is still oppressive, even if your one-party rulers are donkeys. A typical debate on Beacon Hill starts and ends with a single question: what does the powerful Speaker (pronounced Speakah) of the House want? In fact, when state representatives passed their version of a bill to raise the charter cap earlier this year, it had less to do with the merits of the bill than with the fact that Mistah Speakah likes chahters (and *career readiness* for his pals, but that’s a story for a different day). Unusually, the senators who voted overwhelmingly last week against the cap lift were instructed by Senate President Therese Murray to *vote their conscience,* which they appear to have done…

What’s a constituent?
Quick: what’s the difference between holding elected office and being a *thought leader* with a single, well-funded thought? Well that was easy—the first comes with actual constituents. A super-sized shout out to the Boston parents of QUEST, students from the YOUNG coalition and others who were relentless in helping senators across the state see that, while the land of no trade offs may look great in the brochures, it doesn’t actually exist. 

The end gamenumbers
The big question that weighed on the minds of senators last week wasn’t the typical *charter schools: great or greatest?* but *what’s the end game?* Here’s how Lowell’s Eileen Donahue put it: *Are we going to have a 50 percent charter system and 50 percent public schools?* Having just returned from the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas, perhaps I can be of assistance here. Charter advocates and their deep-pocketed backers want everything. They want your cities, and your suburbs, and your rural areas don’t look too shabby either for that matter.

Getting testy
We’ve got time for one quick test question before we go. Other than the dimming of charter mania, might there be something else that this week’s Senate vote signaled? If you answered *testing fatigue* you would be right. In fact, the Bay State has come down with such a serious case of the stuff that a recent poll of business leaders found that their top critique of the state’s public schools was too much standardized testing. (The same poll, by the way, found that lifting the charter cap ranked down near the bottom of the business community’s preferences.) Add to the mix a messy back and forth over how best to determine what actually constitutes a low-performing district and, well, Cap Cap 2014 is starting to add up.

#Edreform fail
By any measure of measurable impact, it’s been a tough year for some of our favorite local education reform groups. There was the time Stand for Children attempted to purchase a mayoral candidate—who hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Then DFER Mass. once again placed its money on the wrong horse: the white guy from Southie whose last news-making event involved objecting to the Bay State’s first Haitian-American state senator hosting the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast before boldly marching in the St. Patty’s day parade—boycotted by virtually every other politician in the state due to the exclusion of gay marchers. You know what these #edreform groups could use a little of, reader? That’s right: *competition.* Which is why I am so excited that yet another Walton-funded reform group is about to set up shop in Boston. Welcome, Families for Excellent Schools!

Changing of the guard
Cap Cap 2014 wasn’t the only big edu-development in the Bay State this week. Barbara Madeloni officially took over as the head of the 120,000 member Mass. Teachers Association. One of BMad’s first acts in office was to ask members to contact their senators and urge them to vote against raising the cap. Word is that some of them actually did.

Send tips and comments to tips@haveyouheardblog.comFollow Jennifer on Twitter @EduShyster.


  1. Whoops, you missed the memo about how it’s really not any more OK to put down people for being white and male, than it is to denigrate them for being something other than that.

    And, “Oh relax, sunshine, it’s just a joke” is about as clueless now as it is on Mad Men.

    1. As a white guy I’m really ok with this, and wonder what your real agenda is, Mr. Shore? Of course there are white folks who are supportive of defending the rights of urban and minority kids to have an excellent education–surely you know that, and that this isn’t Jennifer’s point.

      So what’s yours?

      1. The fact that you’re OK with it doesn’t count one bit. It’s not OK. There’s no place in any civil discussion for racism and sexism, one that says it’s OK to say this:

        “[______] aren’t capable – or deserving of – speaking for a group on an issue, representing a viewpoint or heading an organization.”

        We shouldn’t tolerate this kind of comment about any gender or ethnic or racial group.

      2. Another white guy here, my brothers are also white guys, so is my dad, we’re all okay with this. Three cheers for life on the lowest difficulty setting.

  2. Hah! I have nothing against these gentleman being white skinned per se – it’s their thin skin that was the problem here. They were effectively the voice of the pro-charter movement in Massachusetts and all they’ve done is yell for the past six months.

    1. Yes, their thin skin and sanctimony, superficially covering the personal and class interests embedded in their professed altruism.

  3. What a pleasant surprise to wake up to this news recently, after talking the ears off of two of my senator’s aides the day before! Finally the Senate is willing to slow the mad rush to transfer hometown money away from the control of those pesky school and finance committees. In my town, we lose about $83,000 for the five kids leaving our small elementary school, when the “reimbursements” expire, which they do very quickly (and the money is only not deducted from local aid one time per slot, not each time a new student heads out-of-town). If you do the math, that is 1/4 or so of a class size, for a loss to the school district of more than the cost of a teacher. Multiply this many times over, and you begin to see the effects of this particular “Math Problem.” When a school population declines by one or 5 or 12%, the rest of the kids become more expensive to educate as you try to stretch the remaining dollars to cover the same overhead costs and, usually, very similar staffing needs. At our regional school level, an average of 10 students per grade leave for charters. How do you downsize effectively for that without cutting programs (which we end up doing almost every year)? And ours is a relatively “well-off” district. Woe be to less well-funded districts.

    I served for a number or years on our town finance committee, and, while the charter advocates like to tear into unions and those selfish, self-interested teachers as the heart of the charter opposition, I have yet to meet a town official (school, finance, selectboard,etc.—and I have met many) who doesn’t think that the funding mechanism leaves community-based public schools high and dry.

    Thank you, MA senators, for stopping to think about this issue!

  4. I think the fake education reformer/s and Charter school cheer leaders you refer to left out the list of reasons that might explain why the state legislature left the cap in place.

    The fact that these charter schools are “dropout factories”.

    For instance, “The demographics of charter schools differ in almost all cases from the demographics of their sending districts. We begin by presenting the mean differences for comparisons of all charter schools to their feeder districts in terms of seven demographic categories. These overall numbers reveal significant trends in population patterns. Overall, charters tend to serve more
    African American students than they would be expected to serve based on the populations of the feeder districts.

    On the other hand, charters serve fewer Hispanic students, English language learners, special education students and low-income students than their sending districts. …

    Suburban and rural charters serve proportionally more white students than their sending districts, while urban districts serve slightly fewer white students than their sending districts.


    In addition, what about the attrition and/or expulsion rate compared to public schools? In a recent study on charter schools, the Teachers Association looked at the 10 best charter schools and found the attrition rate was about 40 percent from the time children started to graduation. When those children leave, they typically end up back at their local public school, he said.



    But what they avoid mentioning is that private schools operate under a completely different set of rules. Not only do they admit only those students they deem a good fit, but they also retain the right to remove students for any number of reasons. …

    Even the vaunted KIPP schools are not immune to pushing out under performing students. A study by SRI International in 2008 of five KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay area found that 60 percent of their students left in middle school. Predictably, those who were counseled out tended to be the weaker students.


    Boston’s “high-performing” Commonwealth charter schools appear to be
    contributing to a two-track educational system that is segregating students based
    on language proficiency, special education status and poverty. The result is that
    Commonwealth charter schools appear to be operating largely as publicly funded
    private schools.

    While students may be selected through a lottery system, actual application and
    acceptance appears to be predicated on such practices as participating in parent
    or student school visits and pre-lottery interviews, parental behavior contracts and acceptance of rigid discipline codes. in addition, the claims of high performance appear to result from significant student attrition resulting from the use of “pushout” strategies based on student academic and/or behavioral performance. The promoting power of these schools puts them in the category of “dropout factories.” …

    Conclusions: first, charter schools are not educating the same students as district schools. it appears on the surface that they are teaching a similar group of students; however, as illustrated here, when the data are disaggregated by type of special need or level of poverty, the story is quite different.

    Second, what happens to those students who “win the lottery” but fail to make it
    to the finish line? We know that failure in school is a leading cause of dropping out; these schools appear to be practicing “pushout” strategies and can fairly be labeled “dropout factories.” But where are the students pushed to and for what particular infraction? it appears that those who are part of this “selective out-migration of low achievers” are those who find the work too difficult or the rules too strict, as the MATCh director indicated in the AEI report.


  5. Hate to tell you, Edushyster/Jennifer, but blue states don’t have the monopoly (har!) on one-party rule. I expect you knew that, but for evidence, I refer you to Utah. And they’re after education, too, in the name of saving money, not kids. That’s why Utah’s per pupil expenditure is $6100.00 per year, and has gone down about 4%. The joys of living in a red state!

  6. In St. Louis, they have traded real estate to KIPP in exchange for the right to include the testing stats of their students with the non charter students for purposes of accreditation, provisional accreditation, or unaccreditation. (The state board took over Normandy district, and invented non accreditation to escape a requirement to transfer students to other schools and pay tuition). SLPS has 25,000 non charter students, and 8000 charter students. The charter schools tend to perform poorly, with stats not helpful to maintaining a level of accreditation. Something seems wrong about picking and choosing a charter to include favorable scores……in return for real estate. My answer so far has been….no answer….as if it were obvious my question was not worth asking. Are they right?

  7. One of your best columns yet, Edu – especially the illustrations.
    Love it – the times they are a-changing!

  8. Thank the legislative aides who educated their senators to know what impact this bill would have had on the education system and their individual districts. Charter groups lobbied in ways that are shameful and offensive. They don’t like me very much. Senators get credit as they should but staff and advocacy groups worked alongside them to make the process easier. No one has the power. Senators did vote their conscience. Your statement about the Senate Pres was spot on. This event cannot be explained with a convenient theory such as advocacy coalitions. It was a multitude of factors and anyone who denies otherwise should be embarrassed for being so removed from the actual process. Being white is a diversion from the whole topic. I don’t know where this whole self deprivation comes from but I suggest you lose the theory. It hurts your credibility. While advantages may be true historically and in the workplace their is no place for race baiting in a rational debate or article. Stick with public education and kids both of whom were the catalyst for this move.

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