Sunday, December 27, 2015

More Boston Charter Baloney

Massachusetts has shaped up to become an interesting laboratory for the reformy takeover of a state education system.

The state has specialized in not-even-trying-to-be-sneaky handoff of power to men who have far more interest in corporate education privateering than in serving the families, taxpayers and voters of Massachusetts. State Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester chairs the governing board of corporate test peddler PARCC. Jim Peyser was the head of NewSchool Venture funds, a group devoted to turning public school tax dollars into Return On Investment for rich folks-- now he's the MA Secretary of Education. The revolving door between private industry and public service has been spinning so wildly that some of these folks are essentially suing themselves.

Because Massachusetts wants charters. Soooo much, it wants charters. At least, that's what all the guys in various leadership positions who have solid ties to the charter industry keep saying over and over.

Take Paul Grogan, head of the Boston Foundation, one of those cool foundations that allows civic minded rich guys a way to impose political pressure on serve their community. Grogan has one of those very special careers in which he never does, well, anything except run these kinds of organizations. I'm not even sure what we would call it. Professional private bureaucrat?

At any rate, Grogan took to the pages of his beloving Boston Globe (seriously-- they never get tired of providing him a platform) to argue that Charters Are not Private Schools. You have to love a piece that right in its title announces boldly that it is here to sell you something, and it's not ashamed to lie to do it.

Grogan wants to make three points in support of his main assertion.

First, charter public schools do not “siphon” funding from regular district schools.

I'm not sure how one makes this point with a straight face. Perhaps his point is that it is not so much a siphon as a stripping, gutting, vacuuming or just plain taking. But this is some fancy argument weaving here. Remember, Grogan is trying to prove that charters are public schools. So here's his point:

As public schools, charters are as legitimately entitled to public funding as any district school.

Perhaps Grogan is trying to create a teachable moment about critical thinking by providing an example of a circular argument. Charters are public schools, because they get public tax dollars, which they get because they are public schools.

Grogan also argues that Massachusetts has a funding formula that keeps public schools from going cold turkey on the lost funding, making the full drainage last a few years while reimbursing public schools for the money they lost. However, the state appears to be having trouble funding this system well enough to make it actually work.

None of which supports Grogan's point. Charter schools are private businesses funded with public tax dollars. Focusing on the "public tax dollar" part doesn't prove his point. The real mark of a public, non-private school is complete transparency. Any taxpayer in my school district is entitled to see any portion of our financial records, to see exactly what we did with the tax dollars handed to us. As long as charter schools refuse to fully account for what they do with those public tax dollars, they cannot even begin to claim non-private status. If such transparency would open them to all sorts of public outrage and complaint about where the money is going and whose interests it's serving-- well, that's one more reason it's baloney to call charter schools public.

Second, charter public schools in Massachusetts are not permitted to engage in selective admissions policies, aka “cherry-picking.”

Nosirree-- when charter capacity fills up, they must have a lottery, and lotteries are open to any parents who have the drive, system savvy, time, and resources to make it through that process. So, there's no special selectivity there at all. Grogan would also like to invoke the famous Massachusetts 37,000 waiting, a factoid that people have been poking holes in for years, but it makes such a good talking point. You can read up on more of the details, but here's one simple issue-- a single student who applies to ten schools counts as ten spots on the waiting list.

Grogan attributes the waiting list to charters' "incredible success in educating low-income students and students of color." He does not, however, offer any evidence that such incredible success is an actual credible thing. And since he's trying to prove that charters aren't private schools, this point seems counterproductive-- after all, isn't it private schools that have waiting lists, while actual public schools have to come up with as much capacity as necessary to handle all the students in their region.

Grogan's third point is... well, kind of fuzzy. He wants you to know that the terrible charter track record in preparing students for college "lacks context," as if there's some context in which "sends fewer students to college than public schools do" sounds like a win. The context seems to be that rates in Boston public schools are lousy, too.

And the main point here was what, again?

Grogan wanted to show that charters are not private schools. He offered no actual evidence. Just more of the same old warmed-over charter promotion points.


  1. Great summary, Peter! Thanks for keeping this alive. My nominee for oxymoron of the year: "Boston's high performing charter schools".

    Christine Langhoff

  2. Charter school proponents in Massachusetts would have us believe that thirty-seven thousand students- backpacks and pencil cases at the ready- are on waiting lists for the nirvana that is a charter school.
    Republican Governor Charlie Baker has gone so far as to say such a multitude on these waiting lists is a disgrace. A clatch of high-powered attorneys has vowed to fight this outrage(without compensation) as an affront to each and every one of these children’s civil rights.
    A November 2016 ballot question looms with an eye towards rescuing all 37,000 of these huddled masses, proposing to end the cap on charter schools throughout the commonwealth.

    But state auditor, Suzanne Bump, says it ain’t so.
    She says- after completing an exhaustive analysis- that there are not 37,000 names on waiting lists. The numbers are skewed like a rigged election- voters casting multiple ballots for the same candidate with the outcome pre-arranged ; false data corrupting the entire process.One conclusion we can draw from this "waiting list" baloney is that even the elected Governor, Charlie Baker, knowing the numbers are false, still parrots them. A sad commentary on the lengths pols will go to promote their pet projects. And we know Baker is numero uno when it comes to pushing the dubious charter movement creds.