The proposal to lift the “cap” on charter schools now before the Massachusetts Senate would give more choices to some parents and fewer choices to others.
There is no evidence that it would shrink the achievement gap.
The proposed “caplift” applies to one tenth of Massachusetts school districts. Because of the complicated way the state picks those districts, the list includes most of the districts with the poorest students. The formula reflects student family income more than school effectiveness.
The money to fund more charter schools in these 29 districts would come straight out of district schools. When schools lose funding, they must cut something. In Boston, for example, the district plans to put middle school children on T buses instead of school buses, provoking outrage and fear in the families affected.
If the school committee rescinds that cut, something else will have to go, unless the state or the city comes up with more money. Maybe Boston will lay off more teachers and increase class size. Maybe they will close schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children. There’s no good solution.
And the 28 other school districts—including Springfield, Holyoke and New Bedford– affected by the bill face similar situations.
Some charter school proponents say this is the price that has to be paid to get more students into charter schools that have unlocked the secret to closing the achievement gap. But studies show that most charter schools do no better than district schools according to their own favorite metric – raising MCAS scores.
One group of charter schools does seem to have found a strategy for raising MCAS scores – the “no-excuses” schools. That strategy includes rigid pedagogy, and extremely long hours of work for both students and teachers. But that’s not the whole formula.
These schools educate tiny numbers of non-English speaking students, and almost no students with significant disabilities. Transient or disorganized families can’t get their children in. Among the students who do get in, those who don’t comply with the super-restrictive conduct code face repeated suspension, which is why some of these schools have sky-high suspension rates. Repeated suspension sends the clear message that the student is not wanted.
Even students who comply with all the rules may not make it through. If they don’t measure up academically, they are likely to be asked to repeat the grade. Rather than face the embarrassment and frustration of an extra year with younger children, these students often transfer to district schools.
Shedding students who score low does wonders for your test scores. But it won’t close the achievement gap. Sucking funds out of schools that do educate all children won’t close the achievement gap, either.
Let’s reduce class size in our poorest schools. Let’s provide the art, music and drama and more physical activities that enrich the lives of wealthier children. Let’s provide high-quality pre-school, whose effectiveness has been proven conclusively by long-term, carefully controlled research.
We can educate all of our children.