More charters benefits low-performing districts
To the editor:
In his August 31 op-ed column "Charter schools: How 'private' becomes 'public,'" William Irvin bases his arguments against lifting enrollment caps on public charter schools on spurious information. In addition, he writes from Lenox, one of the state's wealthiest communities, to argue against an initiative designed to provide fair access to high quality public schools for parents who live in the state's poorest districts.
A "yes" vote on Question 2 would allow the state to approve additional public charters with a priority given to the state's lowest performing districts where access to quality schools is uneven — and in some communities barely existent.
His column also repeats misinformation about charters that needs to be corrected.
Massachusetts law states: "A commonwealth charter school shall be a public school ... which operates independently of a school committee and is managed by a board of trustees. The board of trustees ... shall be deemed to be public agents authorized by the commonwealth." It's patently clear that charter schools are public institutions, their students are public school children; their teachers are public school teachers; and their parents are residents and taxpayers in the communities where they are located. The law also forbids for-profit charters.
By law, charters are required to educate all children, no matter their disability or socio-economic background. Enrollment is determined by random lottery. The charge that charters somehow micro-engineer their enrollment has been debunked by several independent studies, including a recent one by MIT, which concluded that children with disabilities and English Language Learners are enrolling in charters at the same rate as district schools. Better yet, MIT said: "Those with the most severe needs, special education students who spent the majority of their time in substantially separate classrooms and ELLs with beginning English proficiency at the time of the lottery, perform significantly better in charters than traditional public schools."
Suspension rates were nowhere near as divergent — 2.9 percent for districts and 5.9 percent for charters — chiefly due to charters' higher behavior standards. But since charter and district attrition rates were exactly the same in 2015 at 7.6 percent — contrary to his claim — those slightly higher suspension rates have not led to mass departures from charters.
His claim that charters perform no better academically has been refuted in study after study by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, MIT and other prestigious institutions. Massachusetts has the third largest achievement gap in the nation. Yet, these researchers have independently concluded that charters are closing that gap faster than any other public schools in the country.
The outcome of Question 2 is critically important to families in school districts where parents are seeking fair access to high quality educational options for their children. It is important they hear the facts as they make their decision.
Marc Kenen, Boston The writer is executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.