By Senate President Stan Rosenberg
Thank you for welcoming me to the Blue Mass Group community. I look forward to keeping you posted on the work we are doing in the Senate, and my own work as Senate President. We were very pleased last week to finish the work we did with the House to file the opiates bill which has now been signed into law. The Senate is working on a number of bills, and I’m going to start my first post on Blue Mass Group with some background on one many are watching with great interest: charter schools.
The discussion on charter schools has taken on new urgency with a question on the ballot this year on whether to raise the cap and allow the creation of more charter schools. That discussion has been condensed into three word summations on two sides: Raise the Cap and Keep the Cap. But both supporters of charter schools and supporters of traditional public schools deserve a whole lot more. When the Massachusetts Senate began to look at the issue, it was clear that no three words could sum up the debate on charter schools. Massachusetts has a 23-year-old law on the books that began with the best of intentions – to allow for innovation in public education by creating schools which are not bound by traditions, practices, and restrictions which can, for some students, create a less than optimal learning environment. We have heard concerns from both sides: charter school parents and supporters who see all the positives and want more children to benefit from them, and parents and others who are concerned that the current law does not make sure that all children get a great education no matter which school they attend. The Massachusetts Senate agreed to look at the issues as fully as the children in our schools deserve, to look at what the current law does right and what the current law neglects, to look beyond either lifting or keeping the cap, and to have a debate on charter school reform. Though this view also deserves much more than three words, it can be summed up with these: Fix the Law.
We have learned a lot about charter schools in the last 20 years, not just in Massachusetts but across the country. We now know what works in charters and what does not. The issues we need to look at may seem complicated and contribute to an over-simplification of the arguments, but they don’t have to. It’s not complicated. All Massachusetts children should go to the best schools for them. While some children thrive in a traditional public school setting, other children are thriving in their charter schools. But we do a disservice to the truth when we only focus on district schools not meeting student needs. We cannot ignore the reality that some children who go into charter schools with high hopes and dreams they deserve to see fulfilled, leave with disappointment, frustration, and a sense of failure.
It’s time to fix the law. Massachusetts children who attend charter schools should benefit from what the over 20 years of knowledge we have gained in Massachusetts and across the country have shown us, and children who attend traditional public schools should not be put at a disadvantage when classmates leave to attend a charter school. Let’s get to some specifics.
Governance, Transparency and Accountability
One of the most promising movements in American governance today is transparency. It’s why the Senate worked so hard to pass a good public records reform bill. Our education system will only improve the more we know about what goes on there. School governance should be representative and transparent. Taxpayers need every assurance that they will know how their money is being spent.
Admissions and Retention
One huge distinction between traditional public schools and charter schools is admissions and retention. Traditional public schools must and do accept all students, regardless of the school calendar, the student’s ability, income, language skills, parental involvement, test scores, or any special needs. Charter schools are simply not as open as they should be, given their public funds, and, whether charters admit students by lottery or not, the results are sometimes unfair. We have heard concerns from parents with children who are on wait lists year after year. We have also heard concerns from parents about charter schools “weeding out” students with low test scores or behavioral issues, sometimes stemming from a lack of pediatric mental health services. When it comes to admitting and retaining students, Massachusetts charter schools should be on equal footing with traditional public schools.
We must first do no harm, and avoid all discipline practices which hurt children and can, in the worst case scenario, contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. In Massachusetts, 9 out of the 10 schools with the highest out-of-school suspension rates are charters. At the same time, we are sensitive to the frustration of parents with children in schools where disruptive students can take away valuable learning time for others. Students in traditional public schools have a right to due process if they are suspended, but many charter school students are not. Discipline policies in both traditional public schools and charter schools must be fair, and that includes protection of due process rights for every student.
Finance and Funding
Parents of traditional public school students are frustrated when the funding formula for charters means the students who stay are put at a disadvantage. Likewise, charter school parents who see a good learning environment for their children do not want their own children to lose out. Funding must be equitable, and work as well for district schools as it does for charter schools. All schools which receive public financing, also known as taxpayer dollars, must use those funds in the most efficient way, with transparency and accountability every step of the way.
These are some of the critical issues the Massachusetts Senate is looking at as we debate charter school reform. The goal is to make all our schools as good as they can be. Every child who attends a charter school should benefit from everything we have learned in the last 20 years. Traditional public schools will be better off when we have a funding formula that does not put them at a disadvantage. Charter schools will be better off when everyone has assurances that charter schools are operating with accountability, transparency, and adherence to best practices that provide our children with the very best a charter school can offer. Members of the Massachusetts Senate want to set the bar high, and make sure that all children in public schools, whether they attend a charter school or a traditional public school, get the best education we can provide. I agree with my colleagues.
So whether the cap is ultimately raised or not, there is one thing we cannot afford to miss the chance to do: Fix the Law.
Follow me on Twitter @SenStan
While I like your post, there is a large part missing to me. What’s the gain? What was accomplished, did charters and public schools become better. Were there changes based on innovation that we couldn’t have done without Charters. What about public pilot schools, could those schools have provided the same feedback (if any).
I like this quote.
So what in 23 years have charters done to innovate schools in Massachusetts?
DESE’s charter site includes the best practices learned from charter schools’ innovation. They include “using data to drive performance” and extolling “courage, discipline and perseverance”. Near as I can tell, the most recent innovation is about five years old.
Of course, many charters now enforce a confidentiality agreement preventing any staff at the school from telling anyone else what they do. That is counter to the idea of a charter, but good for the profit margin.
Academy of the Pacific Rim. I get a paragraph summary and noticed that it hasn’t been updated since 2008. There’s a White Paper, which brings me to a Page Not Found link in the Mass Charter Association website and a note about a documentary which was “in process”. Wonder if that documentary ever got done in the past 8 years since the web site was updated?
Stan, I would highlight this. I think charters need to do a better job of telling us how they have contributed to the education process in MA.
if their entire argument centers around the waiting list, then you really need to question their role and benefit.
As I see it, if we get the lessons from them and can apply them to public schools, the reason for the charter schools to continue to exist evaporates. An experiment has a defined end. That people seek the expansion of charter schools shows how this is very much not their main goal.
Mark L. Bail says
As a public school teacher, I’ve always found the charter school law a little insulting as it assumed, prior to the first charters in Massachusetts, that
charter schools would “stimulate the development of innovative programs within public education,” “hold teachers and school administrators accountable for students’ educational outcomes,” and “provide models for replication in other public schools.” Charter schools were assumed a priori to be “innovative” and better than public schools.
As far as the cap goes, it should stay on until we have a well-defined purpose for charter schools.
“SHUT THEM DOWN”
I have come to the conclusion that we should end this experiment entirely, phase out the charters and return all money to the district public schools.
My recommendation of your thread-starter is a way of expressing my appreciation for your decision to join us. I hope you’ll be a regular reader, even if you aren’t able to comment or post as often as some of us.
You write, in your thread-starter:
In my view, a better summary is offered by christopher:
“SHUT THEM DOWN”
Peter Porcupine says
I am a charter school parent, involved in founding one of the original schools. My child is now in his 30’s, and it was a great educational experience for him (I am admitting biases, as I wish those who call to shut the schools down do not).
Your comments on transparency, discipline, admissions, etc. are all sensible and any well run charter would welcome them. But they need to apply to public schools as well – we have had multiple toxic superintendent dismissals in my area, with no records available as they are ‘personnel matters’. In regional schools systems, there are not finance committees to have oversight of budgets, which are presented to selectmen as a fait accompli.
It would be nice, and I realize it may not be legally possible, to apply these standards to parochial and religious schools as well.
As far as financing goes, I hope you will advocate for the not-yet-done re-examination of the Ch. 70 formula as called for in the act. It’s over 10 years overdue now, and I am in a chronically uinderfunded area.
I’m glad that you’ve acknowledged that your support for charter schools in 2016 is based on experiences that happened to you long ago — when charter schools were in their infancy.
My opposition to charter schools is based on the data I see shared here, reported in the media, and discussed whenever parents meet. I see a great deal of evidence that charter schools in Massachusetts have proven to create far more problems than they solve.
We’ve tried the experiment and the experiment has failed. I do not accept that recognizing that reality is “bias”. I’m reminded of climate change deniers who make the same charge against those of us who see the succession of record high temperatures while the GOP keeps our government paralyzed.
Charter schools have been tried. They failed. Stating that observation is NOT “bias”. It is time to shut them down.
Mark L. Bail says
firings are still more transparent than any firings at charter schools.
I confess I’m puzzled by the regional school budget scenario. As a selectman, I usually present the article for Granby’s contribution to Pathfinder Regional Vocational High School. How much we pay–our percentage of the student body as as it relates to the budget–is clear enough. We are also invited to their school committee meetings and have a representative on the school committee. But when they needed a new roof we had the choice of supporting it at town meeting or have the cost imposed on us anyway. A choice without a choice.
Dear Sen. Rosenberg,
The problem is that there is already great damage being done to traditional public schools because of the funding lost to charters, so any cap lift will inevitably increase the damage. It’s a zero sum game, where charters’ gain is a loss to traditional public schools, which still serve the vast majority of public school students.
Members of my organization, Citizens for Public Schools, are deeply concerned because they know that additional charter seats will mean students in district schools will continue to lose access to art, music, physical education, and school psychologists so that a relatively small number can go to privately managed, publicly funded schools. They can see where the push for more charters is headed, and that is a separate and unequal school systems, as Juan Cofield puts it.
The answer is not to attempt to fix charter schools so they are transparent, publicly accountable and have to take all kinds of students. The answer is to invest in our public schools, which already do all of that. I agree with Mel King when he says, “When will we learn to act in ways that show all the children are ours and work to bring out the best in all of them?… Let’s be clear about whose interests we expect the state, city and schools to serve: ‘All Our Children.'”
Bob Neer says
Welcome to BMG. With respect to the substance of the piece, it is not clear what “Fix the Law” means: what fixes, specifically, do you think need to be made?
What are all these positives? That’s the real flaw with charters — not just that they take resources away from public schools, but that they take them away and don’t even deliver anything for it.
Charters benefit tremendously from having the most active parents.
Charters boot out kids left and right, with the kind of attrition rates that if they had to be reported like traditional public schools do, would lead to riots on the streets.
And, for all that, their students don’t fare better on any tests.
I get that some parents who have kids who do well in these schools will, ultimately, love them. But the same is true of any school, and it’s not an excuse for turning our backs on all the kids who charters turn away year in and year out — dumping back on traditional public schools at the slightest hiccup.
So, what are the benefits that I’m not seeing? Because I don’t see any that we couldn’t also do at traditional public schools. If we want test labs, that’s what pilot schools and compass schools are for. If we want tech schools or schools for advanced students, we have those, too.
I just don’t see any great advantages to charters, just a race to the bottom, brought to us by families like the Kochs and Waltons who see the opportunity to profit immensely from this new industry they’re creating, off the backs of our communities hit with cuts year in and year out because of Prop 2 1/2, and the struggling families who deserve high quality public education wherever they live.
thank you,President Rosenberg, for posting on this important issue.
As the son of a proud union public school teacher Mom, I do NOT believe that evidence supports using public tax dollars to privatize education. I DO believe charters are a race to the bottom that is both separate and unequal.
Question ? Do you believe education is still the greatest opportunity equalizer in our democracy ?
I believe with Lincoln that : ” Government should do for people only what they cannot do better for themselves.”
Fred Rich LaRiccia
Clearly on the wrong side of this issue.
If we learned what works and what does not, why expand the charter experiment? If we have taken away valuable lessons, we should then apply them to the public schools, which should be where we are investing our money. Expanding charter schools runs against that very concept of “experimentation.” (Moreover, there is no reason why all of that experimentation can’t happen in-district, but that’s another issue.)
Beyond that, charter schools are fundamentally inequitable, and this is always revealed in the rhetoric that their backers use. Charter schools are said to help parents/students “seeking a better education.” Why should that great education not be provided to all? We should be investing in our public schools so that they provide ALL students with the highest level of education we can provide.
… do you write an entire blog post on the charter school movement and not mention the word ‘teacher’ once? ?
Mentions of word ‘teacher’ 0.
Mentions of the word ‘student’ 13.
Please… don’t be that guy. You’re not in a very good position to be a micromanager (even if there were such a thing as a good position to be a micromanager). Your job is not to care about the students. Your job is to care about the people who care about the students, that is to say the teachers and administrator… but especially the teachers. It gives me little hope to think you understand this when you pen an entire message without so much as mentioning the teachers all the while yammering on about the students who are at a far remove from you.
No member of the General Court will be directly responsible for so much as a spelling test for any student in all the CommonWealth… which is good, because it is NOT YOUR JOB to administer spelling tests or even to know any students. Your job is to implement, sustain and renew the infrastructure in which teachers are enabled to teach. Instead, with misguided efforts to ‘help the children’ you only sustain and renew the problem.
No, it’s his job to care about the students. That’s the whole purpose of our education system.
Yammering on about “students”? Are you kidding me?
… if that is the “whole purpose of the education system” then even the CommonWealths purported successes are, indeed, failures.
The entire purpose of the education system is to provide a solid curriculum, a safe learning environment and well trained teachers. Students can take, or leave, this as they — or their parents — choose… although, personally, I would advise them –in the strongest possible terms– to take it.
The teachers and the administrators ARE the entirety of the educational system, and my point is that Sen Pres Stan should have laser-like focus only upon providing the teachers and the administrators with all possible resources, training, infrastructure and backing: Then, and only then, can the teachers and administrators, and not he, focus on presenting before the students the highest possible standards of curriculum and pedagogy.
No. I am not kidding you. I am, in fact, heart-attack serious.
If Sen Pres Stan wanted to care about the student he’d be more effective quitting his current position and becoming High School Civics Teacher Stan. Then we could argue with Sen Pres KLo about targetting his/her efforts most effectively. That’s the way it should work: The teachers care about the students and the politicians care about the teachers. Instead, we have a system where the politician makes an ungainly and ineffective effort, and in competition with the teachers, for the welfare of the students… which can only affect the detriment of both student and teacher.
This is exactly the wrong thing to do.
At some point, as every last parent who ever sent their child to public school knows, you have to trust the teacher.
You think he might have done a little research before posting here. He’s not much better than the first time candidates with the “Hey I’m running for office” posts that say nothing and everybody jumps on them.
You are all now a part of the larger discussion the Senate is having with insightful people on all sides of these critical issues, including teachers. I appointed a Working Group of four Senators to begin to draft a bill: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Senator Pat Jehlen, Senator Karen Spilka, and Senator Dan Wolf. After the Working Group finishes drafting the bill in early spring, it will be brought to the Senators for a public and open debate. Thank you all for your insights and input.
I could support the removal of caps on the number of charter schools and the removal of caps on charter school enrollment, provided that the following reforms for existing charter schools, and for the creation of new charter schools, are enacted:
1. Charter schools, in which the overwhelming majority of students served are from one municipality, may become Horace Mann Charter Schools as defined under Chapter 71, Section 89 (b) of the Massachusetts General Laws. There shall be no cap on the number of Horace Mann charter schools or on the number of students attending Horace Mann Charter Schools.
2. Regional Charter School Districts will be created and approved under the provisions of Chapter 71, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and will be funded in a manner consistent with all other regional school districts in Massachusetts. There shall be no cap on the number of Regional Charter School Districts or on the number of students attending schools governed by Regional Charter School Districts.
3. Unless municipalities served by an existing Commonwealth Charter School create a regional charter school district for the purpose of governing and operating that school, existing Commonwealth Charter Schools shall be governed under the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
4. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education retains the right to create new Commonwealth Charter Schools.
5. Students from outside the host district may attend Horace Mann Charter Schools under the provisions of School Choice, Chapter 76, Section 12B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
6. Students from outside a charter school region, as defined in the regional agreement, may attend a school operated by a Regional Charter School District under the provisions of School Choice, Chapter 76, Section 12B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
7. Students attending a Commonwealth Charter School shall attend under the provisions of School Choice, Chapter 76, Section 12B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
8. For the purposes of funding Commonwealth Charter Schools, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall calculate a foundation budget and a minimum net school spending requirement for Commonwealth Charter Schools.
The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall designate, as a line item within its annual budget, funding for Commonwealth Charter Schools. The minimum allocation shall be no less than the Minimum Net School Spending, less anticipated revenue from sending districts calculated under the provisions of School Choice, Chapter 76, Section 12B of the Massachusetts General Laws. The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may, subject to appropriation, provide additional funding for Commonwealth Charter Schools above the required minimum net school spending requirement.
9. There shall be no cap in the number of Commonwealth Charter Schools, provided that a municipality shall not pay an amount in excess of the payment required under School Choice, Chapter 76, Section 12B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
This post is proof of why Pablo is one of the most informed practitioners of school administration and school choice options in the state. SenPrezStan should have his office call Pablo at first moment on Monday morning. I assume Pablo is in close contact with his neighbor Sen Jehlen and probably the other three members of the select committee, but I do remember how SenPrezStan handled the gambling debate in the the Senate, and it well, kinda sucked.
I have more faith in Stan on this issue but there is big money behind the charter/privatization effort, and it is mostly about profit making, not educational excellence.
And if you want to comment on the topic of charters, try reading at least a synopsis of MGLCh 76, even if you do not want to read the law. It is informative.
I mean, this is a nice lump of language, but let’s be clear on what it says:
There shall be no limited on the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools. Residents of a district will be allowed no voice in their placement or management. There shall be no requirements for their accountability or oversight, and charters will not be subject to a recognizable set of expectations.
This is a recipe for wholesale privatization. I think Senators Jehlen and Rosenberg have more respect for the children of this Commonwealth than to advocate for this dismantling.
Mark L. Bail says
one of us, Sabutai. Even more so. Former LEA president just outside of Boston and state board member. However, I thought he said he moved to Florida.
I don’t actually understand what the law says here–I think Regional District would provide authentic public oversight and the foundation budget line item would kill the current parasitic relationship of charter school financing on public schools.
Pablo is 100%
I’m not questioning motives, but rather the result of this proposal as far as I can see it. It removes the caps on charters and has no mechanism for accountability, democratic or otherwise.
Mark L. Bail says
he was part of the EDU. No doubt he can respond.
Pablo’s words make it very clear that charter schools will be publicly controlled, not like the BS that we now live with, publicly financed and privately managed for profit schools. You would do well to contact him privately and talk with him as I think you share the same goals.
Still here. Still trying to do the right thing for public school students.
I play a lot with state funding and governance. That’s why my post was detail heavy. THe basics of my plan. If the school is a Horace Mann, it’s a district charter school. If the city or town forms a regional school district, it looks a lot like a regional vocational district in which local approval is required on approval and the budget needs to be approved every year by the city council or town meeting. If BESE wants the school, the liability is no more than the school choice number, $5000.
Thanks pablo…didn’t mean to seem to question your intent. I just think about a place like Boston where the mayor appoints the school committee. Often, those mayors are well funded by charter proponents.
I’d just like to see year-round accountability….having to mirror the area’s demographics and not just put the kids out of the charter once the check clears in October.
They should be elected. If Tito Jackson ever becomes mayor, I firmly believe democratic accountability will return to the Boston School Committee.
There was a reasonable argument for an appointed school committee when characters like Louise Day Hicks were getting elected. That was then. This is now.
Horace Mann charters require approval and oversight from the host district. They are funded through the school department budget. No problem here.
Regional school districts are formed under a regional agreement between the member towns. Regional school districts are funded with oversight from the municipalities. The city or town can choose to fund them at minimum, or provide additional revenues. This paradigm requires the same approval and oversight for any regional school district created in the state. This is effective governance and oversight on the local level. No problem here.
What do we do with the schools that can’t become a regional school district, or can’t be absorbed into an existing district? Simple. Make the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education a school district, and fund them as a school district. How do children end up in these schools? A direct appropriation from the legislature, plus the same $5000 school choice payment that applies for any child moving from district to district. This puts all students moving in and out of school districts on a level playing field.
Additionally, if the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education wants more charter schools under their control, no problem. If they create one without local approval, they end up paying for it.
The approval process and a funding scheme on a par with publicly governed districts will be a cap of sorts, based on who is willing to pay for them. Right now, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education can open a charter school and pass the entire bill on to the sending districts. That’s not a partnership, that’s a parasitical relationship.
Exam schools and Advanced work in Boston only admit by test. Exam schools also only admit in 7th & 9th grade. District on a whole accept all students, but they don’t serve them well. Special needs students are also couciled out of individual district schools and bounced from school to school in the district. This leads to behavior problems, drop outs and jail for alot of kids. All schools need to be held accountable for how they are treating our children and how they educating them.
In Boston the biggest detriment to district schools is the lack of fiscal responsibility. There would be more money to invest in students if the district closed schools and consolidated services. The schools are under enrolled and undeserving far too many children. I hope the Senate puts reforms in place that will help all students regardless of district or charter.
If charters were created to “allow for innovation in public education by creating schools which are not bound by traditions, practices, and restrictions which can, for some students, create a less than optimal learning environment.”, then they should not be restricted to just certain communities in the state. We should expand them everywhere so that disaffected students in every community have this opportunity. Right? Or if not, then maybe that isn’t exactly why charters were created…
… while technically true, does not reflect the fact that public schools work hand-in-hand with their local communities to keep out the parents of certain students from living in their communities. When a community has no rental housing, and only has million dollar houses, then while it is theoretically true that they would have to accept a student from a household that earns $15k per year, it will never happen in practice.
Regarding suspensions, charter schools are not necessarily alone in their aggressive suspension rates. In Springfield, we have just had “Up Academy” foisted on one of our “underperforming” middle schools. Up Academy is renowned for its policy to suspend kindergarten students. They have agreed to stop the suspensions at those lowest levels, but the philosophy that drove that organization to pursue those foolish suspensions must obviously be a core of their beliefs. Yet that’s an organization that the state feels comfortable “turning around” a public school in Springfield.
Even getting beyond that, we have police officers stationed in our schools in Springfield. This probably stems from an incident 20 years ago where a teacher was stabbed to death by a student, but when you have police stationed in each school, then discipline incidents tend to become crimes. A fight in the hallway turns into arrests, whereas the same incident in wealthier school would be handled via internal discipline. We need to address this.
Finally, when it comes to funding, I hope that the focus will look beyond just the public/charter breakdown and look at the fact that the communities that are affected by the charter school law are grossly underfunded. When you look at how much they spend, they typically spend at (or even below) their foundation budgets, whereas other communities are routinely spending 50% more than their foundation budgets mandate. That points to the foundation budget law being incorrect.
Additionally, it should be really obvious on its face that the foundation budget is still not adequate for low-income communities because the increased per-student funding for low-income/ESL students is still too small. The additional funding accounted for “Economically disadvantaged, decile 10” is $4,135 as compared to a basic elementary teacher cost of $7,306.48 – which is 56% more. This sounds like a lot, but 1 / 1.56 = 64%, which is how much smaller you can make an existing classroom with the extra funding, so this means a class of 25 wealthy students is seen as the statistical equivalent of a class of 16 poor students. If your job depended on you bringing one of those classrooms to “proficient”, which classroom would you put your wager on?