Basically there are two charter narratives, a pro and a con. Back then I wrote:
But the tenor of the con has changed, IMO. Used to have more of a wonkish “my study is randomized and yours isn’t type of flavor.
More recently, the more prevalent anti-charter narrative on BMG: charter people are bad. “Fraud.” “Ugly.” “Segregationist.” “Supersegregationist” (!) “Degrading public education.”
Naturally, being on the receiving end, I prefer the more wonkish attacks.
Still, I comprehend the anger that makes it feel personal. And one aspect of it is the media-driven love of conflict that applies to everything. In charter-district world, it tends to create a perception of more conflict than exists.
1. Charter teachers and administrators in the trenches do not see district educators as the enemy. Many of us have spouses, parents, and siblings working in traditional public schools.
2. I personally spend lots of time collaborating with district folks. For example, this year I helped a Big City Supe launch a program which hired and deployed 250 full-time math tutors to help kids in 9 failing schools. I do a bunch with Boston Public Schools, too.
And just at the gut level, I was hanging with a buddy today who teaches in arguably Boston’s toughest school (Madison Park); I deeply respect what she does every day. It’s tougher than my job, for sure. Our whole charter reason for being is a reaction against some nner-city schools where many systems do not work — teachers are not put in a position to succeed.
3. So while BMG critiques sometimes go to the motivations of people involved, there are also many legitimate policy critiques of charter schools.
For handy clicks — here are some of the older charters-are-bad/misguided threads on BMG.
And here is a pro-charter website discussing some of these issues.
* * *
Governor Patrick engineered an Ed Reform bill that established in-district turnaround schools and allowed more independent charter public schools.
Whenever I’ve heard him speak, he almost always leads with something like “Charters are NOT the panacea.”
Earlier, Opus wrote:
I think many progressives (including Patrick) have become infatuated with charter schools as the panacea for education
Well, that’s the opposite of I’ve heard the Gov actually say.
Still, I also believe the Governor rejects the “charter people are frauds” narrative. Why?
One difference between him and most of the BMGers: he’s met hundreds of black and Hispanic moms who talk about how their kid’s charter school has changed his life.
(Now, I realize that the “fraud” narrative means you think those moms are the tiny minority).
The Gov also knows a bunch of liberal black lawyers and other professionals who volunteer at charter schools, and speak glowingly of what they’ve seen in the trenches.
Again, you may think they’ve been hoodwinked, too. Fine. But it might explain why his view diverges from yours.
I do think it’s fair to say that the Gov was influenced by President Obama’s full-throttle embrace of charter schools. I think (?) he has said as much. So some of the Gov’s supporters were understandably upset by that.
They wanted the cap on new charter schools to remain in place. And they felt, when he was elected in 2006, that the cap would likely remain as is. The President’s push — both personal and political through Race to the Top — was an unwelcome pressure on the Gov, from their point of view.
Did I mention that charters are not the panacea? But there is value, I submit, in replicating proven high-performing schools — wildly imperfect ones, without question — but schools where kids make massive gains.
* * *
What I wrote back then:
The Law And The Numbers
There are 54 regular charters in Massachusetts. There are 7 Horace Mann (district-run) charters. There are 1,785 other types of public schools here.
Massachusetts charters have about 20,000 kids.
Districts have the other 939,000 kids.
207,000 of those kids are black or Hispanic.
Under the new law, charters will, over next several years, serve another 9,000 or so of those kids. Plus another 1,000 white or Asian kids. All of this growth is permitted only in cities. And the cities have to be in the lowest 10% of the state on MCAS.
In addition, Mayor Menino might open 3 district-run charters. So, depending on how you count them, maybe add another 1,200 kids to the list.
All this has happened. Mayor Menino will open 3 charters as part of the district. Another 8 independent Boston charters have been recommended by the Commissioner, as well as some in Lawrence and Springfield.
Back to last year:
So charters will go from serving about 2% of Massachusetts kids to 3%. That’s why even charter supporters, like me, don’t think charters are a panacea. How could they be? Look at the market share.
(By the way, Paul Reville has proven prescient on this point. For years he’s said at Rennie Center events that the charter school debate absorbs 75% of the media attention for 2% of the kids. So charter debate absorbed all the oxygen needed to move forward for the couple hundred thousand kids who have terrible education outcomes).
For the 20,000 kids in charters, there’s maybe 800 teachers? (not sure)
All those teachers can unionize by card-check.
This was a union sought provision, making it even easier than the normal way, which requires a secret ballot election. Gov Patrick signed it in 2007.
So far one independent charter has unionized. Conservatory Lab. The contract is union but eliminates seniority or coursework as pay considerations, for example.
Finally, a number of states have lifted charter caps in hopes of submitting a more competitive Race To The Top application. MA did same.
MA is by no means a cinch to win. But if we do, then about $200 million of federal money will flow to the traditional public schools.
MA did win Race To The Top. And $200 million will indeed flow to traditional public schools here. So the new charter schools are also connected to the infusion to district schools.
* * *
Pro-Charter Perspective on the Law
For many charter supporters, the cap lift bill was a half loaf. The preferred outcome was a ballot initiative to eliminate all charter school caps.
We’d gathered all the signatures needed. The polling on it was really high. Part of the deal for the bill that passed was charter supporters would scuttle the ballot measure.
It wasn’t that we wanted to flood MA with charters. Hardly. But the ballot measure would have allowed more charters outside the inner-cities. There are plenty of middle class kids out there who would benefit from a different school experience.
For example, BMGer DaveMB wrote:
“We have at least two good, legitimate, innovative charters in the (Pioneer) Valley — a performing arts high/middle school and a Chinese immersion elementary school, who succeeded in the competition for the limited number of charters.
We also have, if I recall the details corr
ectly, a collapsing charter in Springfield that chose a convicted felon as its principal.
Does the cap force competition between charter schools that gets us better ones?”
Yes and no. The new charter law does not help a Pioneer Valley school grow or replicate. The cap lift doesn’t apply to any schools which serve middle class kids.
Nor does the law create growth by schools that are not “proven providers.”
So many charter schools do not, under the law, get any new opportunities to grow. Even if there is parent demand.
However, the law does force competition between charter schools.
For example, there might be 4 to 6 charters, like KIPP, that might want to establish networks of schools in, say, Boston. But even with the cap lift, there will not be enough seats to do this. So to some extent, even the highest-performing schools will somehow have to duke it out for the right to open schools.
Again, this came to pass.
There were 25 new Boston charter schools proposed. The Commissioner’s recommendation is that 8 of the 25 get approved.
* * *
DO YOU REALIZE that in the same law, the Governor just created a brand new in-district opportunity called Innovation Schools? And you (teachers and others) can start your OWN effort to help kids in your district, stay unionized, etc?
I’m still waiting for the call-to-arms “We can do this!” diary here on BMG. This is real.
Back in 1999, our history teacher was working in Attleboro. He and some colleagues tried to create the equivalent of an Innovation School. But there was no mechanism back then for in-district innovation. So he joined our charter school.
Interestingly, as the law was debated, there were 2 competing narratives floating on Beacon Hill about Innovation Schools.
The optimistic view went like this: “If you just give traditional schoolteachers and principals and parents and other citizens the opportunity to create a new program or even a whole new school in their district, they’ll rise to the occasion and innovate!”
The pessimistic view went like this: “Look at what happened with in-district unionized Horace Mann charter schools. Nobody really stepped up to do that. Given a choice between doing something concrete to help kids, or complaining by educators, you’ll get a ton of complaints and little action.”
Patrick and Reville take the optimistic view.
By the way, if any of you DOES want to do an Innovation School, charter folks can and will help you.
Whatever your view, you probably believe at least that SOME folks have started remarkable charters (even if they’re outliers). They’d love nothing more than helping you with your non-charter Innovation School venture. I can put you in touch with any of ’em.
That was then. Later, Reville wrote a BMG blog precisely about innovation schools. Many of the folks who decry charters also decried innovation schools, which surprised me.
So far as I know, 3 Innovation schools opened, with more slated for fall.
Here is the Revere Public Schools Superintendent describing his district’s (in collaboration with the union).
* * *
Okay, MarkBail. That’s all I got for now, good sir. My invite back to you:
Let’s check back in a year, have you visit these new schools, and then issue your report card on BMG. Cheers, GGW.