Charter schools drain millions from public schools, turn over a high percentage of teachers every year, lose half of their students by graduation, charter schools present an important problem for the Commonwealth: approval and oversight.
Charter schools must apply for charters, but charters are granted at least sometimes for political reasons. Other times, those approvals are ill-advised.
Most recently, DESE granted a charter to a school that lacked a premises. New Heights Charter School of Brockton was judged capable of educating children, but lacked the competence to find a building to house itself. Their approval was contingent on its being located in Brockton, but they struggled to find a location for the school. When they finally found a site, the renovation of their building was halted by the Brockton Building Department because they lacked the proper building permits. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester eventually approved the charter school’s temporary move to Norwood, which increased the commute of its Brockton students by a half hour..
BROCKTON – The new Brockton charter school that began its inaugural year on Thursday at a temporary site in Norwood has been at least 40 students shy of its proposed enrollment during its first two days of class, according to attendance figures submitted to state officials.
The New Heights Charter School of Brockton, which opened at the former Kehillah Schechter Academy in Norwood, following construction issues at one location in Brockton and permitting problems at another, had an attendance of 272 students on its first ever day of class, said Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. On Friday, there were 275 students in attendance, Reis said.
The school has long claimed that it would open with 315 students, it’s maximum enrollment for the first year, for Brockton, Taunton and Randolph youth in grades six through eight.
Brockton Public Schools reported that some of the students originally enrolled in New Heights Charter School decided that they want to stay in a traditional public middle school in the city.
As of Tuesday, when classes began in Brockton Public Schools, the district reported that 49 students once enrolled at New Heights Charter School were back in a traditional public school in Brockton, at the request of their parents.
New Heights Charter School previously said it quickly replaced students who changed their minds with others who were on a waiting list.
As embarrassing as it is for the school and inconvenient for the students, there have been more egregious examples of charter school approval failures. The most infamous approval fails being Gloucester Community Arts Charter School¨and Robert M. Hughes Charter School. The most curious being the growing network of schools associated with sketchy Turkish imam Fetullah Gulen.
Gloucester Community Arts Charter School was granted a charter because Education Secretary Paul Reville thought it was politically important to approve a new charter. “Our reality is that we have to show some sympathy in this group of charters,” Reville wrote in an email to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, “or we’ll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the [Boston] Globe and the Boston Foundation.”
Robert M. Hughes Charter School was granted a charter because its applicants were politically-connected. Aside from the corruption, the hiring of a convicted felon to run the school, there was a widespread cheating scandal that brought the school down.
In my personal review of the applications and approval documents of the Hampden Charter School of Science, the Pioneer Charter School of Science I, and Pioneer Charter School of Science II, DESE demonstrated no knowledge of the schools’ ties to the sketchy Turkish imam Fetullah Gulen, though they are included in lists of the 155 or so schools owned and operated by Turkish nationals, written about in The Atlantic, and classified cables from the U.S. Consulate in Turkey.
If Question 2 is approved, we can expect an influx of more charter schools and more failures in the approval system. Whether it’s Texas, New Orleans, California, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, more charter schools bring more corruption and more problems. As the Washington Post recently reported,
There is a never-ending stream of charter scandals coming from California. For example, a report released recently (by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. A Mercury News investigation published in April revealed how the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, have “a dismal record of academic achievement” but has won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.