So now the charter school advocates are trying a ballot initiative to raise the charter school cap. Think of the children! Those poor children languishing on the charter school waiting lists!
I know from personal experience that there’s a fair amount of cognitive dissonance involved in working at a charter school. You know for a fact that you’re better than those terrible regular public schools, and yet you have these nagging doubts because you keep sending so many students back to those schools. If we’re so great, you think to yourself, why do we lose so many students?
You dare not voice these concerns publicly, but sometimes you bring them up in private conversations. Here’s what one of my co-workers told me once: “even if we’ve only had a kid for a year, we’ve done them some good.”
So let’s say you are a charter school–the very one I worked at–and you have a very smart and very small and young-looking ninth grader. He carries a knife in his backpack because he doesn’t feel safe going from his house to the bus. Said knife falls out of his backpack when he’s at school one spring day. So you counsel him about making bad choices and help him on his way to college, right? Wrong! You expel him of course, because zero tolerance! Great! That’s just freed up a seat! Call the waiting list, right?
Or you have two sophomores actually get caught having sex in the semi-private space where lots of kids have sex without getting caught. You counsel them about safe and smart behavior and appropriate boundaries, right? Wrong! You expel them, of course. Great! Two more seats for those poor waiting list kids, right?
Well, no. In fact, most Massachusetts charter schools won’t “backfill”–that is, pull students off the waiting list this late–under these, or, indeed, any circumstances. Weird! Because those poor kids on waiting lists consigned to the living hell of district schools need help! And if charters help students who only attend them for a year, why can’t that be their sophomore, junior, or even senior year?
Charter operators (including the very person who told me the thing about how even a year is helpful) will explain that because of the rigor of their curriculum and the special uniqueness of their community, they simply can’t have students coming in at any old time in their education.
But, this, of course, is the job of an urban school district. Poor people have this really annoying tendency to move around. Rents go up, life circumstances change, and suddenly you have to move from Brockton to Mattapan, or from Chelsea to East Boston. Or you show up in Boston from another country at age 14 knowing no English and needing an education. Public education in an urban district means serving all of those students no matter when they show up at your door. (Indeed, in the last 20 years in Massachusetts it has meant accepting a number of students expelled or “counseled out” of charter schools. Where do you think the kids in my examples went?)
So if your school cannot accept new students at any time, you are in fact not able to do the work of an urban public school.
So tell me again why we need more schools that can’t do the work of an urban public school.
No, really. Explain this to me. Because it actually doesn’t make any sense.
You want more charter schools? Great. Start backfilling from your waiting lists and prove that you’re a real public school, and then maybe I can take your request a little more seriously.