There are 23 Commonwealth Charter schools housed in Boston. Each is funded on the average per pupil cost for each student enrolled. All told, the money sent from the BPS to charters is closing in on estimated $80 to $100 million (*) per year for charter students. The money lost to charters would otherwise be allotted to BPS students, at approximately $ 1500+ per year per student in the BPS. The ‘lost’ $1500 would provide a great many useful services and resources to our students.
Charters get public funds but exhibit private school-like—and often discriminatory—practices. Charters see these as advantages. We do not. Public dollars should not be spent on these practices.
Although open to all by lottery, charters enroll a population not at all typical of the BPS or any other major urban school system. Charters are supposed to have a blind admission policy, yet since inception, charters have enrolled
· Few special education students, and virtually no expensive-to-teach students with complex special needs.
· Even fewer ELL students. Some Boston charters have virtually no Limited English Proficient students. This year MATCH and Codman Academy have 2.1% and 2.0 % respectively; The BPS has 30.7%, and state average is 7.7%.
Once enrolled in charter schools, students suffer an extraordinarily-high attrition (or eviction rate) just prior to graduation. Students who may not appear to be college bound, and might therefore ‘hurt the percentages’ are most at risk. These are the students who should be most protected.
· Three typical Boston charters—just to give a few examples—Pacific Rim, Codman Academy, and Collegiate Charter have 11th grade eviction rates of 16.1%, 25%, and 19% respectively this year . The state average is 2.4%. The BPS rate is 5.8%. (All data here and subsequent is from DOE webpage.)
· Given the high eviction rates, the charters have many vacancies, esp. in upper grades. Do they fill those vacancies with students on their waiting lists? No—they don’t have to ‘backfill’ their vacant seats in the last half of any year or in grades 10, 11, and 12. They can if they so desire. But they don’t. So the seats at these schools lie vacant. By senior year, Codman Academy drops from 46 students in the 9th grade to 24 students, leaving 22 vacant seats; City on a Hill Charter goes from 108 students to 47, leaving 61 empty seats. Why not back fill these seats, given the ‘astronomical’ waiting lists charters claim to have? The reason: adding students sight unseen at this late date might hurt their percentages.
To increase their MCAS scores, many charters show a higher-than-expected eviction rate at the end of the 9th grade for those students deemed unlikely to do well on the 10th grade MCAS.
· Three Boston charters—just as examples—Pacific Rim, Collegiate, and MATCH have 9th grade eviction rates of 8.1%, 10%, and 11.8%. The state average is 2.7%. The BPS rate is 6.5%
Through targeted ‘counseling out’ practices, some charters do very well on the MCAS, which is a test that can be fairly easily taught with results that are often predictable. Students who don’t appear to be receptive to MCAS coaching are counseled out. It’s not quite so easy to do well on the SAT, which is seen as harder to coach. Hence there’s a familiar pattern found in charters: great on MCAS, not-so-great on the SAT.
· Here’s a telling example: MATCH came in tied for first in Massachusetts in the 10th grade MCAS in both Math and English, yet came in 265th place—below the BPS—on the SAT in 2012. How did that happen? A similar pattern has emerged at Boston Collegiate and Boston Preparatory charter schools.
· Charters also suspend students at an unusually high rate. Students, once suspended, are more at risk for dropping out. Boston Prep has an out of school suspension are of 35.1%, Pacific Rim, 12.4%, and Codman Academy 23.5%. Boston has a 4% rate.
None of the above is good practice. Certainly, nothing to be proud of. We in the BPS are proud that we welcome and educate all students. We’d have it no other way. We don’t counsel out students who might hurt our statistics. We don’t evict students who are rising seniors because they need help and may not help our college acceptance rate. And we do not think public dollars ought to go to schools that exhibit these practices. That’s why we need your support to keep the cap on charters.
(*) The dollar loss as stated is bad enough, but the theory behind its calculation, the city’s financial obligation to the charters, is terribly flawed, artificially inflating the dollars that leave the BPS. A few points:
· Here’s the theory behind the formula: The money should follow the student. So, if a charter enrolls a student from the BPS, it should naturally follow that the students remaining in the BPS ought to cost less for the BPS to educate, i.e., fewer students ought to cost proportionately less. This ought to be true in theory—but it isn’t. It doesn’t cost any less to heat a classroom when one student leaves; similarly, the sending school district does not save on staff salaries, electricity—or a host of other similar expenses—when one or two students exit a particular classroom.
· An estimated one-half of all students entering charters do not arrive from the public schools. They enter directly from parochial or private schools seeking essentially the same type of education they were getting—but in a tuition-free setting. Why should these tuition dollars flow from the BPS as a result when the child entering the charter was not a BPS student originally?
· Charters get reimbursed for the average cost of educating a BPS student even though they teach students by and large who are not ‘average’; the truth is, many of the students found in charters are easier to educate and the overwhelming majority cost less to educate than the average BPS student, a calculation that includes severe special education students as well as LEP or ELL students, neither of whom is found in great numbers in charters. Why, therefore, should the BPS pay out average dollars for students who cost less than average to educate?