Charter schools under-enrolled,
waiting lists exaggerated
Boston – A majority of commonwealth charter schools in Massachusetts are under-enrolled, according to data recently released by the Department of Education, raising serious questions about the accuracy of claims that these publicly funded, privately-run schools have extensive waiting lists.
According to Department of Education figures, 34 of 48 commonwealth charter schools have fewer students than they claimed they would on “confirmed enrollment” reports filed with the state last spring. Yet all but five schools say they have students waiting to enroll.
State-wide, there are 803 fewer students enrolled in charter schools than claimed on enrollment reports filed with the Department of Education in March of last year. Charter schools are required to notify the department by March 18 each year of their “confirmed enrollment” for the coming school year.
“If waiting lists figures were accurate, there would not be so many empty seats at so many charter schools,” said Marilyn Segal, director of Citizens for Public Schools. “Waiting lists appear to be little more than cooked up numbers served to the public for political gain.”
The legitimacy of charter school waiting lists has been increasingly called into question. Charter proponents repeatedly claim that some 15,000 students are waiting to enroll in commonwealth charter schools, and have cited the figure as evidence of “demand” for more schools.
Public school advocates have said the figures are grossly inflated, noting that they include students with only a passing interest in a school as well as students who may have been interested at one time but have since enrolled elsewhere. Also students names may be on waiting lists for several charter schools and counted several times in the total waiting list figure.
The 48 commonwealth charter schools operating this year reported to the DOE in March a combined “confirmed enrollment” of 18,536 students. However, only 17,733 students actually attend the schools, according to data recently released by the education department.
One charter school in Somerville, Prospect Hill Academy, has 110 fewer students than it claimed on its “confirmed enrollment” report in March. The school reported to the state it would open in September with 842 students. Instead the school has only 832 students. Yet it claims to have 172 students on its waiting list. This is the third year in a row that Prospect Hills enrollment has fallen more than 100 students short of its pre-enrollment report.
Correction of tpyo:: Obviously there was a misprint here. When I go back and review the figures from 2005-2006, I see the school claiming it would enroll 852 but finishing the school year with an enrollment of only 752, meanwhile claiming a waiting list of 199. I believe the school actually open the year (2005-2006) with 742 students, which is how the figure 110 fewer students than claimed was derived.
The controversial Roxbury Charter High School for Business and Finance reported to the Department of Education that it would enroll 175 students in September, and that it had 118 students on its waiting list. The school opened with fewer than 110 students. Enrollment has since fallen to about 100. Last year the school claimed it would have 93 students. It ended the year with fewer than 55 students actually enrolled.
The Benjamin Banneker Charter School in Cambridge has 61 students fewer than it reported would enroll. Yet the school claims a waiting list of 494 students.
Boston Renaissance has 27 fewer students than it reported would attend, even though the school claims to have 1,695 students waiting to enroll.
The Sturgis Charter School in Barnstable has 21 fewer students than it reported would attend. Yet the school claims 56 students on its waiting list.
The five charter schools with no waiting list are: Foxborough Regional Charter School , the Murdoch Charter School in Chelmsford, the North Central Charter School in Fitchburg, Lowell Middlesex Academy, and Smith Academy Leadership Charter School in Boston.
“Waiting list figures have gone unquestioned for too long,” said CPS policy analyst Paul Dunphy.
“Finally, many policy makers are catching on to the exaggerated claims. There is a growing skepticism about all aspects of the charter school initiative. It is increasingly seen as a billion dollar mistake.”
Citizens for Public Schools is a coalition of more than 50 civic, civil rights, religious, labor and education organizations committed to public schools that are democratically accountable and open to all children.