MADOE Commissioner Mitchell Chester…Listen Up!

Boston Public Schools is the Number 1 urban school district in the Nation! Michael Casserly, Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools said, “the district’s many excellent teachers to guide classroom instruction have resulted in academic progress that is the envy of other cities.” Mr. Casserly goes on to say, “Boston is the only big-city school district to have actually caught up with the nation in any grade or subject after having started significantly below it. Eighth graders in Boston have gone from proficiency levels in math, that were 10 percentage points below national averages in 2003, to levels that match the country in 2011!”

Yet on the eve of this urban district renaissance and move back to neighborhood schools, State Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Mitchell Chester, recommends expansion of the charter school seats in Boston. Commissioner Chester is proposing 1,585 new charter seats in Boston.  At a cost of $14,704 per student this equals out to $23,305,840!  This doesn’t include the $20.3 million estimated for charter student transportation or the loss of non-tuition revenue.  What a disservice to the children of Boston.

A “Unified School District” model would have strengthen the Boston Public Schools system, but instead of correcting the 40 years of inequities in our traditional public schools, in 1993, Mayor Menino allowed the Boston Public Schools to adopt a “portfolio of schools” model and allowed the charter school network to saturate Boston’s “east zone” with charter schools.  Twenty-three charter schools have already saturated Boston. Most of them are located in the East Zone neighborhoods of Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale and Roxbury.

Boston’s charter schools have decimated the cities East Zone traditional public schools, making it near impossible for families in these urban communities to return to “quality” neighborhood schools! Students are the “data,” you only have to look at the MCAS test scores of east zone BPS students by neighborhood, and then compare them with the MCAS scores of east zone students who are attending East Zone charter schools!  The data will show the charter cherry picking has left the remaining traditional public schools dumping grounds for SPED, ELL/LEP, and students found “not to be the right fit” (read behavior problems). What a disservice to the families of Boston’s East Zone to increase seats in those charter schools!  The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education almost always approves the commissioner’s recommendations, what can I write here that will get our Boston representatives to request that the five member State Board, for once, vote ”NO!”

Charter schools are not level funded by the students they serve, but by the “average” the sending district spends on all its students.  To educate a Regular Ed student in a Boston Public traditional School (BPS) cost $11,558.  However, when you add the cost of all the BPS Special Ed & Ell students, the cost averages out to $14,704.  Charter schools are paid the “average” $14,704. even though their population of students are mostly regular ed, and in no way reflects the English Language Learner (ELL) and Special Education (SPED) demographic of the Boston Public Schools!

What a windfall for these charter schools! Not only do charters not service our SPED or ELL/LEP students, they legally swindle BPS children out of  $3,146+ per student!  That money comes out of the budgets of traditional BPS schools that are servicing Boston’s neediest children!  That $3,146. represents services that  schools are not able to provide for the neediest children remaining in Boston’s traditional public schools; the money is just not there!  Taxpaying families of students in Boston’s traditional schools should revolt and file a suit against the city!  After 12 years your child is not getting $37,752 worth of services! Even more when you consider the 5% yearly increases anticipated and budgeted for charter schools!

Then there are the door-to door-transportation costs that are footed by the Boston Public Schools (BPS), as charter students are bused from all over the city!  BPS reports on their own site, “State law requires BPS to drive charter school students to their schools even if they are outside their home zone, which is a much higher level of service than is provided to most students in BPS!  Transportation costs are expected to rise by $2.6 million in FY13 and $20.3 million in FY14 as the number of charter school students in Boston increases.”  Boston Public Schools is paying $80 million dollars for transportation now, nearly 10 percent of its annual budget, by 2014 Boston will be paying more than $100 million dollars! When BPS does move to neighborhood schools, the money saved on transportation will just be reallocated to charter transportation, and not used to provide resources to our under-served traditional neighborhood schools that neighborhood children will attend!

Do Boston’s elected city representatives realize that charter schools receive “non-tuition revenue” which includes the state and federal nutrition funding, transportation reimbursements, a state grant related to Academic Support Services, and federal entitlement grants including Title I funding directed to the school’s tutorial programs, IDEA funding directed at the school’s Special Education program, and Title IIA Improving Educator Quality.  Boston charter schools recruitment efforts target the Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston, you might think this is a good thing, until you understand that the non-tuition revenue is calculated based on students at the school! The higher the student poverty rate, the higher the non-tuition revenue!

“Nonprofit” should not be confused with charity and there is nothing to “celebrate” with Unlocking Potential’s (UP Academy) emergence in Boston!  It is just a case of Mayor Menino and BPS Superintendent Johnson abdicating their responsibility and continuing to perpetuate a school system of haves and have nots.  Unlocking Potential receives $600,000. from Boston Public Schools to “manage” 476 kids at UP Academy in South Boston, this is quite a bit of money considering Boston pays Dr. Johnson $323,222. and she “manages” 57,000!

Unlocking Potential was supposed to take ALL students from the Gavin, yet Boston Public Schools did not “purchase” seats for the Vietnamese SEI Program and Gavin’s multi-handicapped program became a city-wide program, who students names are on the Murphy School roll, even though it is still located in the basement of now UP Academy!  If the SEI Program and multi-handicapped program were removed when it was the Gavin School, would it have been designated as “underperforming” and ripe for takeover?  When we see the Murphy School scores plummet, making it ripe for takeover, we will know why!

Having learned from their mistakes BPS, under resourced the Marshall School in Dorchester, and removed their sped and ELL/LEP programs before designating it a Horace Mann Charter and hiring Unlocking Potential to manage it. In their initial proposal, Unlocking Potential proposed a maximum enrollment of 400 students to the Mass Department of Education, their final proposal is for 750 seats! Taking on another 350 students is like being awarded another charter school! BPS is paying Unlocking Potential 8+% to manage UP Academy 2! UP Academy is required by M.G.L. c. 71, § 89,1 to take the current Marshall students, but as the current students graduate, or leave, they will be replaced by students from all over the city. Leaving Dorchester with one less neighborhood school and 750 less neighborhood seats!

In Boston Public Schools 30% of students are LEP/ELL and 10% are Beginners or Early Intermediates on the MEPA examination.  Yet Commissioner Chester wants Brooke Charters approved for more seats even though Brooke has less than .4% of enrolled students are currently identified as Limited English Proficient (LEP)!  Charter schools are paid for with pubic funds, how is Brooke not in violation of the rights of ELL/LEP students!  It seems a charter school “lottery” overrides Federal Civil Rights Law, but you have to question Brooke’s lack of outreach to LEP families!  Brooke Charters “Boots on the Ground” recruitment efforts purports to outreach to underserved populations, but given Brooke’s lack of success, I can’t help but think it is a just a proactive, gate-keeping strategy to dissuade SPED and ELL/LEP families from even applying; to reduce the adverse impact that a LEP population would do to Brooke’s MCAS scores and student attrition rate.

Last year, Brooke’s Out-of-School Suspension RATE of 24.9%! What’s that about! I supposed it has improved since 2010, when Brooke’s Out-of School Suspension rate was 26.9%! The BPS suspension rate is only 5.7%, and in the whole state of Massachusetts, it’s only 5.6%! Brooke’s Truancy Rate is 14.9%! BPS is only 1.8%, beating the state average of 2.5%! In BPS 97.5% are teaching in their subject area, only 42.9% of Brooke’s Teachers are teaching in their subject area! !” This wouldn’t be happening in Weston or Wellesley schools! Tell me how this is in the best interest of “the children” of Boston and not just exploiting a lack of other options for underprivileged urban families!

Most studies show that charter schools shed their low-achievers, which go straight into the public school system. Brooke’s Charter School attrition rate is well over 50%. Out of the 47 students who started in 5th grade, and 60 students who started in K, only 17 students remained to take the 8th grade MCAS! Seventeen students isn’t really a class, it’s a tutoring group!  Brooke is not required to “backfill” seats in the last half of their grades (MCAS years).  Backfilling would “change their community” and their MCAS scores!  Now segregation is when you impose the separation of a race or class of people from others or from a main body or group. This time the segregation is happening to SPED students, ELL/LEP students, and students who were pushed out.

Why would Commissioner Chester, on the eve of Boston returning to neighborhood schools, give these segregation academies more seats?  When Brooke doesn’t fill the empty seats when students leave now!  Again, tell me how this is in the best interest of ALL Boston’s children!  These schools are paid for with public funds, those empty seats should be filled in every grade level, and they should reflect the SPED and ELL/LEP populations of the school communities they are taking students from!

Unlike BPS, which has adopted a “portfolio of schools” model, communities that have a Unified School System, always seem to make AYP? Why? Have you ever heard of schools in Lexington, Wellesley or Weston not making AYP? No! There is a reason for this, and it not that kids in those communities are smarter, or that their teachers are better. Unlike the Boston Public Schools, in the communities making AYP, all students attend traditional “heterogeneous” schools. Their schools have programs that reflect the interest of the community and advanced students are offered Advance Placement (AP) courses, or have International Baccalaureate (IB) programs within their regular schools. These communities don’t separate and send students to separate exam or charter schools!

If Boston wants to have “quality” schools for ALL of its children, and I believe we do, it has to drop the “portfolio of schools” model and become a unified school district! The Massachusetts Department of Education needs to support our traditional Boston Public Schools. This doesn’t mean less choice for parents, just different choice.  One that is fair and equitable to ALL Boston students.  That’s what Boston is about!  The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education needs to vote “NO” on Commissioner Chester’s charter school recommendations for Boston!



Discuss

6 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. For the record, the

    portfolio strategy of school organization is a sort of market-based school system in which schools compete for students, though the principle is stated as giving students and families the ability to choose where they attend school. It’s a model of forced choice.

    The problem with lifting charter caps–aside from the fact that Boston’s most celebrated charters graduate half the kids they start with and thus have unfilled space in their junior and senior classes–is that charters skim the less disadvantaged students and thus lead to a decrease in the scoring percentages for public school kids. They also drain money from the schools.

    • Backfilling...who knew!

      Actually high school charters don’t have to “backfill” sophomore seats either, and are not required to fill seats in the last half of the grades they service. For example, a k-8 charter has 9 grades, they only have to fill grades k-3 seats if there is attrition and they do not have to fill after February 15th, those empty k-3 seats would have to be filled the following September; Seats in grade 4-8 can remain empty. I wondered why many of these middle school charters go from grades 5-8, instead of the usual 6-8 of the sending districts. Then I realized it was because charter schools are not required to fill those empty seats in grades 7-8, MCAS years!

  2. great article

    My only quibble is that it assumes that Chester is focussed on improving education in Massachusetts and not implementing some corporatized agenda regardless of effect or need. It also assumes that Chester is capable of listening and self-doubt. Given his record those assumptions aren’t as firmly grounded as one might hope. Perhaps this issue will prove to be an exception.

    sabutai   @   Mon 18 Feb 11:27 AM
    • Years ago a friend told me that I shouldn’t say that I have a “problem” with something, that I should instead use the word “concern,” as in “I have a concern with ….” I must have been dropped on my head at birth because I keep thinking that if people have all the information, certainly they would see the light, and do the right thing, and not take the path of least resistance. Truly, I am still shocked when that doesn’t happen! Maybe, just this once, the Massachusetts BESE will vote “no” to Commissioner Chester!

  3. Interesting post...

    Pioneer Institute is hosting a related forum this Thursday morning on charter schools. We’d love it if you could join us. Mass. Teachers Association President Paul Toner and Al Shanker biographer Richard Kahlenberg will be on the panel, discussing charters in Massachusetts, as well as City on a Hill charter’s Erica Brown, and more. As always, Pioneer aims to provide opportunities for balanced discussions on key reform issues. Come and join the debate! http://conta.cc/11QBqW1

    • Will Pioneer Institute be validating parking?

      Thanks for the invite, I’ve been signed up for weeks, I love the Parker House, and am glad this forum was scheduled during school vacation. I usually don’t get to attend these soirée. Pioneer should entertain the idea of having these forums after school or in the evening, if balanced discussion is the goal. I’m acquainted with Erica Brown and look forward to updating her on several of her students that have be assigned to my BPS turnaround high school. Also, I have several questions that I can’t seem to find the answers too, perhaps you could bring the information along with you? I’d like to know how much SABIS and KIPP are being paid as EMO’s (CMO’s?) to manage their Massachusetts charter schools.

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