It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s some actual reporting from the Boston Globe! Today’s above-the-fold expose by James Vaznis shines some much needed light on one of the worst kept secrets in charter-land: that incredible, ever expanding charter school wait 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.
Today’s Globe story doesn’t go into nearly the detail as the Chicago piece (alas that would be too much to hope for…) but it does raise some major questions about the depth of demand for more charters, not to mention the apparent failure of state officials to live up to new charter oversight obligations established in the 2010 education law. Here’s the five minute version.
A numbers game
The first thing you need to know about the charter waiting list is that it counts applications, not students. Which is why a student who applies to four charters gets counted four 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. So while there may have been 50,000 applications submitted, there is currently no way to tell how many students actually submitted those applications. Was it 10,000? 20,000? We’ll never know…
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 strong 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. But 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.
State of confusion
Complaints that the charter wait list is wildly inaccurate are nothing new. The 2010 law that doubled charter school seats in Boston and other urban districts required charter schools to submit the names, addresses, and grade levels of the students on their waiting lists to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in order to weed out duplicate counts. But according to the Globe, “the department never executed that statutory provision.”
Meanwhile, the charter wait list continues to grow. I predict that by the time charter advocates, not to mention the students who will be taking the day off to pack the State House, gather on Thursday for the annual Liftin O’ the Cap ritual, the list will have risen from 53,000 to 63,000.