Statement by Massachusetts Association of School Committee President Deb Bibeau, distributed to school committee members throughout the state.
At the September 4 Local Government Advisory Commission Meeting Dorothy Presser, B.Ellen Holmes and myself presented the below talking points regarding Charter School Cap Legislation and the Readiness Bill. At the same time, the Joint Education Committee was hearing from Sec. Of Education Reville
MASSACHUSETTS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL COMMITTEES
COMMENTS RELATIVE CHARTER SCHOOL CAP LEGISLATION
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE
SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
MASC has several concerns about legislation to lift the charter school enrollment cap.
We recognize the stated and noble, if not naïve goals, that new and expanding charter schools must recruit and retain students at economic and academic risk, including the currently unenrolled or under-enrolled Limited English Proficient students, low income students, or special education clients. We say “naïve” because these aspirations are also widely recognized as unenforceable in the current school policy climate. We know it and the charter operators know it.
Our key objections which remain strong are the following:
* The bill as proposed lifts the caps on charter schools in the state’s highest risk communities, but avoids any real charter school reform, including resolving the widely recognized problems of funding. The bill would, in fact, take more Chapter 70 funding from districts that need it most and deliver it to charter schools whom we all know will do everything they can to game the system.
* The bill is, in realistic terms, unenforceable relative to the conditions established for new and expanding charter schools. We have no doubt that charter school developers will promise that they will recruit student at risk and that they will retain them. We also have no doubt, however, that the charter operators well know that as long as the they avoid serious failure to operate up to fiscal standards and meet MCAS test requirements for their aggregate population that the state will never sanction or close them.
* We now know that one of the reasons for successful charter school scores in some instances where students at risk are enrolled is that they counsel out or otherwise manage to lose some of their underperforming students. Research demonstrating this fact will be presented to the legislature at the public hearing on September 17. We question whether the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education or the Board of Education will actually sanction or close a charter school that performs adequately because they continue to skim students at low risk.
We believe, however, that the bill proposed by Mayor Thomas Menino to establish in-district charter schools addresses charter reform significantly and we support it.
We question why the Secretariat of Education, after working with us to discuss meaningful improvements to their legislative proposal, suddenly shut off communications and proceeded to introduce a bill with the same objectionable principles they started with – for this and for the highly flawed Readiness School Bill.
They key problem with the Readiness School bill is not the creation of innovative two locally approved and overseen Readiness School models, but the embedded provisions granting extraordinary and expanded powers to the Commissioner and Board of Education. Any school so labeled could be taken over by the commissioner, converted to a Readiness Acceleration School, and handed to a receiver for up to five years with another five year extension. Further, the state would take extraordinary measures over the local education budget regarding allocation of school budgets, possibly at the expense of other district schools.
MASC believes that poorly managed schools may require extraordinary management oversight, but this is no excuse for giving any state agency these kinds of unprecedented powers. In the hands of the wrong people such power could be dangerous, if not a threat to local government, parent empowerment, and civic engagement. We hope that the legislature studies the stealth strategies that would be used to expand the power of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Here’s why.
The Secretary of Education insists on giving extraordinary super-powers to the Commissioner. This unprecedented authority, shared with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education whose powers are somewhat limited to contradict the Commissioner, will allow them to define on its own the terms the words “underperforming” and “chronically underperforming” and let them seize a school or school district at their discretion, dismiss personnel at their pleasure, take over local budget authority and dissolve or disempower local government as they desire. You may recall that the previous administration attempted to give to themselves these powers without permission of the legislature, but they were stopped by legislative leaders who reminded them about how a democracy works. We question whether sound public administrative policy tolerates such concentration of power in appointed persons.
Finally, we want to address the disinformation that is being spread nationally and in Massachusetts about what the US Secretary of Education has or has not said, because we know that Secretary Arne Duncan’s comments are being used to justify some of the unprecedented efforts to seize and concentrate authority within state commissioners’ offices, here and nationally.
Duncan has spoken in generalities. He has adjusted his comments to his audience, especially to school boards, unions, and state officials. He has been extraordinarily sparing in being specific on key matters of public policy.
We wish, in closing, to paraphrase a recognized national authority on misquotes: Yogi Berra. Arne Duncan hasn’t said most of the things he’s quoted as saying.
* He has not made lifting a specific charter cap a condition of Race to the Top money.
* He has endorsed any particular model or funding system of charter school, readiness school, or alternative school as an RTTT condition.
* He has not demanded abrogation authority over collective bargaining agreements to impose merit pay (although we continue to work for strategies to implement performance based compensation).
We find it hard to imagine that our state would not be favored for RTTT funding since we have the highest performing students in the nation; a record of model education reform; a charter school approval and funding system that is the dream of every conservative think tank in America; achievement standards that are the highest in the United States; and an “adequate yearly progress” determination system that is so strictly crafted that some official sanction is virtually unavoidable for more than three quarters of all schools.
Amesbury School Committee