Lifting the Charter School Cap: A Look at the Numbers

I read this story about a civil rights lawsuit being used as an end-run around the legislature and their increasingly-skeptical constituents to raise the charter school cap.

I decided to put my feelings aside and take a hard look at the numbers.  But I decided not to look at the numbers that the charter school operators always point to: waiting lists and MCAS scores. The waiting list data is unreliable, as many students are double-counted, and the MCAS data is pretty useless without looking at the composition of the student body and making sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

So, sticking only to Boston, I looked at the following easily-obtainable numbers, all of which came from the Massachusetts DOE’s website.

Students whose first language is not English.

Students who are English Language Learners.

Students with Disabilities.

Students suspended in-school.

Students suspended out-of-school.

Attrition.

The English language and students with disabilities numbers are a good, but not flawless, indicator of whether the school in question is serving a student population that is representative of the city as a whole.

Suspensions are a problematic punishment for a number of reasons. A big one is that you force a student who’s had a behavioral difficulty to fall behind academically, which seems like a perverse kind of punishment and can start a terrible spiral.  Smarter people than me can explain how suspensions are part of the whole school-to-prison pipeline.  But, fundamentally, suspensions are an admission of failure on the part of the school: if your mission is to educate students and you forbid a student from attending, you are failing to provide something that student needs.

Attrition as measured by the Commonwealth is the percentage of students who leave after a given year.

 Let’s go to the numbers!

 

Name

1st Language not English

English Language Learners

Students with Disabilities

In-School Suspensions

Out-of-School Suspensions

Attrition

Boston  (PreK-12)

47%

29.8%

19.5%

0.6%

5.5%

9.3%

Academy of the Pacific Rim (5-12)

6.0%

0.2%

23.3%

11.4%

14.9%

13.9%

Boston Collegiate (5-12)

9.7%

4.9%

18.5%

3.5%

7.4%

8.1%

Boston Prep (6-12)

15.9%

8.4%

17.1%

Bridge (PreK-3)

45.0%

39.7%

14.8%

1.4%

7.5%

2.8%

Brooke, East Boston (K-7)

68.2%

14.0%

8.7%

0.0%

13.8%

5.6%

Brooke, Mattapan (K-8)

40.4%

50%

9.6%

3.0%

18.9%

6.9%

Brooke, Roslindale (K-8)

15.4%

0.8%

7.1%

0.0%

19.0%

4.7%

City on a Hill, Circuit Drive (9-12)

29.6%

7.0%

21.3%

0.0%

19.0%

10.6%

City on a Hill, Dudley (9-10)

14.6%

9.9%

22.4%

0

48.8%

New

Codman Academy (PreK-12)

21.5%

7.0%

21.5%

0.5%

11.6%

8.3%

Conservatory Lab (PreK-8)

28.5%

17.0%

11.2%

2.5%

2.8%

18.2%

Dorchester Collegiate (4-8)

28.6%

26.5%

18.4%

2.0%

27.9%

32.6%

Dudley Street (PreK-3)

32.3%

23.2%

11.4%

11.5%

Excel Academy (5-8)

57.5%

15.6%

15.4%

0.5%

13.8%

3.7%

KIPP (5-7)

42%

29.5%

20.8%

4.7%

7.4%

6.9%

MATCH (PreK-12)

50.4%

34.7%

15.2%

0.0%

2.5%

7.2%

Neighborhood House (PreK-8)

27.1%

5.3%

12.1%

6.1%

1.7%

11.0%

Up Academy Boston (6-8)

44%

24%

22%

33%

29%

12.9%

Up Academy Dorchester (PreK-6)

22.7%

22.4%

17.4%

9.0%

17.6%

Roxbury Prep (5-8)

32.0%

12.7%

15.3%

0.1%

44.6%

8.2%

 Conclusions:

If the contention of the potential lawsuit is that charter schools are so much better than district schools that it’s a civil rights violation to cap the number of charters, well, I just don’t see it.

Indeed, some of those ELL and students with disabilities numbers are so suspiciously low that if I were running one of these schools, I would get pretty nervous when people start bringing up civil rights violations.

And I have to wonder not only why they’re fighting to expand charter schools, but why some of these schools haven’t been closed down. Conservatory Lab Charter School is losing nearly one-fith of its student body every year, while Dorchester Collegiate is losing almost a third of its student body every year. Roxbury Prep and City on a Hill are suspending nearly half of their students every year.  All three branches of the Brooke school are enrolling students with disabilities at less than half the rate of Boston Public Schools. Marty Walsh’s own Neighborhood Charter School enrolls only 20% of the English Language Learners that Boston Public Schools serve. Academy of the Pacific Rim, located in Boston, serves one-sixth of the percentage of English Language learners (0.2%) served by Wayland High School (1.2%) and less than one one-hundredth of the rate (!!) of Boston Public Schools.

There are a handful of schools on this list doing an okay job, and a whole bunch with deeply problematic numbers. What I’m not seeing is any evidence that these schools are doing a fantastic job serving the students of Boston. I’m certainly not seeing any evidence here that we need more charters. It looks to me like we need fewer.

 



Discuss

4 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I could probably make a counter-civil rights claim..

    …that siphoning off public money to charters which are allowed to choose their students creates at best separate but equal systems to the detriment of those still in traditional public schools.

« Blue Mass Group Front Page

Add Your Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Wed 29 Mar 7:09 AM