IN NOVEMBER, MASSACHUSETTS voters will have their say on a ballot question that would allow up to 12 new or expanded charter schools each year above the existing state cap on the independently-run, but publicly-funded, schools. The issue has inflamed passions on both sides. We asked two prominent Boston education leaders, Jon Clark, co-director of Brooke Charter Schools, who supports Question 2, and Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, who opposes it, to weigh in. Over the course of several days they exchanged views by email.



Jon Clark, co-director of the Brooke Charter Schools in Boston.
Jon Clark, co-director of the Brooke Charter Schools in Boston.

Throughout our nation’s history, our schools have failed to adequately educate our students of color and our low-income students. That remains true today.

In Boston and in other large cities across our country, our schools face obstacles that suburban schools do not, due to poverty and our nation’s enduring legacy of racism. But we, as a society, must accept responsibility for the fact that we have not adequately risen to those challenges. In Boston, on the 2015 PARCC, white students scored proficient at three times the rate of black students in math and at twice the rate of black students in reading. We continue to routinely fail our low-income students and our students of color. Too many of us have become far too complacent about that reality.

In Boston and in other cities across the Commonwealth, charter public schools are helping to answer that challenge. Numerous independent studies have shown that students in these schools are effectively closing racial and income-based achievement gaps. That is why tens of thousands of families are on charter public school waiting lists in Massachusetts. Those families desperately want nothing more than to provide their children with a great education.

We can have more of these game-changing public schools. Each one will provide opportunity to families of low-income students and students of color. And each one will contribute to the effort in our urban districts to address this crisis with the sense of urgency and resolve that it demands of us.



Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman
Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman

Our public school system is our most important resource—on that we probably agree. Our task is to improve and support our public school system while maintaining its basic premise to offer a free and equal education to all who walk through its doors.

Our schools face many challenges, not the least of which is working with those most in need—those most vulnerable—to gain the skills and knowledge they need to become productive, thoughtful members of society. We welcome those challenges and deserve no special credit. It’s our responsibility to educate all. Many charter schools avoid that responsibility by cherry-picking their students by a variety of not-so-subtle methods. Our public schools do not discriminate.

Parents recognize that we have a system of excellent and improving schools. The waiting list for Boston parents seeking a spot in the Boston Public Schools last year exceeded 21,000. It was an accurate list and in fact it exceeded the number of people awaiting Massachusetts charter seats that are housed in Boston.

We need to support our schools and keep public dollars in the Boston Public Schools working to serve all. This year the city stands to lose more than $150 million in funding from the state to Boston-based charters, most of whom practice discriminatory admission policies. We need to keep public resources in our public schools. Our students, a majority of whom are low-income and students of color, and one-third of whom are English language learners, deserve no less.



We agree that the premise of public education is to provide a free, high-quality education to all. But our city and our country have never lived up to that premise. We have historically and systematically not provided an equal or adequate education to low-income students and students of color. The fact that there are waiting lists for some Boston Public Schools proves that many low-income families and families of color are acutely aware that their kids aren’t currently receiving the education they need and deserve.

That is why charter public schools have been a critical addition to our public schooling system. Charter schools are public schools that provide opportunity to children of families who have historically been denied it. Charter school students are not “cherry-picked.” MIT and Harvard studies long ago debunked those allegations, proving conclusively that selection bias cannot explain the high achievement of low-income students and students of color in charter public schools.

The funding that goes to Boston charters educates kids who desperately need and deserve a great public education. It’s the same amount per student that goes to educate students in the Boston Public Schools. As one of our parents said the other day, “my child is not a drain on the system.” The opportunity to send her child to a charter public school has allowed her and parents like her to empower themselves and to ensure that their children get the education they wholly deserve, but have historically been denied.



We agree that our mission is to provide a free, high-quality education to all. But charters fail to live up to that promise; at charters “education to all” has become “education for some.” Charters do show decent results on a single standardized test, as we do—though using any single measure to gauge achievement has limited reliability and use. The more important question is to look beyond the single test and ask ourselves whether charters have chosen to service a selective subgroup of students.

Brooke’s schools educate few students with disabilities and even fewer who are English language learners (ELLs) than a representative enrollment of Boston students would require. Our public schools serve a student demographic, 30 percent of whom are ELLs; Brooke’s ELL population is 6 percent. Regarding students with disabilities, our public schools’ demographic is 20 percent; Brooke’s is 8 percent. How does Brooke rationalize this disparity?  Why should we allow schools that discriminate and cherry-pick their students to expand?

All students are important, students with disabilities and English language learners alike. Charters should open their doors to all, work to retain all, and join with us to provide the best we can both offer.

To prove the point: Since July 2016 the Boston Public Schools have accepted more than 150 children with special needs who have transferred in from Boston-based charters. Those aren’t numbers—they’re children. These children deserve to be educated. Until all children get the education they deserve from charters, every dollar lost from our public schools is a drain on what should be an education for all.



Boston charter public schools attract families who have been denied access to educational opportunity—particularly black and Latino families. Do you not believe that the district has an obligation to better educate our black and Latino kids? For each of the last 10 years, Boston English language learner students have outperformed African-American students on the math MCAS/PARCC test.

In Boston charters, 17 percent of students are in special education programs and 14 percent are identified as English language learners. But charters aren’t monolithic. For every Brooke Roslindale Charter School (2.5 percent ELL) there is Match charter schools (33 percent ELL). There is wide variation among charters, just as there is in district schools (none of which you accuse of discriminatory enrollment practices—even those that are disproportionately white!).

ELL status (and to some extent special education status) should not be a permanent badge. Brooke opened a new campus in 2012 to serve more English language learners. Over 50 percent of Brooke East Boston students are now or were formerly identified as English language learners. But, for every Brooke child who is currently identified as an English language learner, there are three who have exited ELL status. In the Boston Public Schools, current English language learners outnumber former ELL’s by 2:1.

A recent MIT study found that in Boston, special education and ELL students are making substantially more progress in charter public schools than in district public schools. At Brooke, ELL and special education students are out-performing regular education students in the district.  Shouldn’t that kind of progress be the goal for all of our kids who our city has historically never served well?



I don’t buy the argument that it’s acceptable to discriminate and cherry-pick students in order to obtain a higher MCAS test score. The goals of equal access and high achievement are not mutually exclusive. The BPS strives for both.

The Boston Public Schools take a back seat to no one in urban America, according to NAEP test results in math and reading across the same subgroups you mention. (See here.) We also practice equal access. Our schools don’t counsel out poor-performing students. We welcome them.

We’re not arguing that charters don’t achieve some success on the MCAS—but it comes at a cost of denying equal access to all. And that’s a price our public schools are not willing to pay.

It’s great that charters have finally begun to look at increasing enrollments of English language learners and students with disabilities. It’s unfortunate, however, that it took 20 years and the 2010 Achievement Gap legislation to bring this about. And even though charters corrected course a bit, they still avoid and counsel out children who are more challenging and expensive to teach. At the East Boston Brooke and Excel charter schools, for example, there are 130 English language learners enrolled. Only one student of 130 (0.8 percent) is enrolled at either Level 1 or 2 (of 5), which are the most challenging levels. In the Boston public schools, it’s 14 percent.

Charters’ progress has been too little, too late. That’s why we need to keep our public dollars in public schools, and avoid promoting the expansion of schools that discriminate.



Data simply don’t support your recycled assertions. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data show that attrition is significantly lower in charters than in district schools; charters don’t counsel kids out. State analysis shows that charter English language learner enrollment “has steadily increased and is now approaching the enrollment at Boston district schools”; charters don’t discriminate. A recent MIT study finds: “Those with the most severe needs…perform significantly better in charters”; charter schools don’t “avoid” kids.

Despite the evidence, you insist that enrollment at charter schools is inequitable. Why then don’t you join us in advocating for a common enrollment system in Boston?  Let’s have charter schools and district schools enroll kids using the same rules under the same system.

You have yet to answer my question about our responsibility to our black and Latino kids, but insist that all is well in Boston: BPS “takes a backseat to no one.” I’m sure the thousands of Boston charter school parents (and those wait-listed) will disagree. The families I know are all too aware of the ragingly disparate educational achievement of our city’s students by race. You and I couldn’t disagree more on that point.

But when it comes down to it, our disagreement is irrelevant. My job is to help operate great schools. Your job is to serve the members of your union. Neither of us should get to decide which schools are good enough for other people’s children. Let’s empower those families to vote with their feet and settle the disagreement for us.



My data and assertions may be recycled, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Charters do discriminate and cherry-pick their students.  How else to explain that in 20 years of random enrollment by lottery, allegedly a guarantee of “equal and open” access to charters, more than 95 percent of city students with high and severe needs remain in the Boston Public Schools rather than charters.

Not even the 2010 Achievement Act has motivated charters to recruit and retain students who need additional services. Please tell us how these discriminatory policies support your claim that charters help black and Latino children. And please tell us how suspending 5-year-old children for failing to walk in a straight line improves learning. Or how “encouraging” students to leave prior to MCAS season provides “equal access.” Admit it: In their quest to boost MCAS score results, charters will stop at no tactic, regardless of how it hurts children.

And enough of your claims to a huge wait list already! The wait list to get a seat of preference in the BPS is twice as long as the much-discredited charter wait list. By the way, our wait list is real: no ghosts, no double dipping.

Finally, we do play different roles. Yours is to prop up a selective, dual system and increase the $450 million currently spent on charters, which practice discrimination. My job is to make sure that our improving public schools, which provide equal access, retain resources to help all students, including those charters refuse to educate.

52 replies on “Charter showdown”

  1. It’s important to note that DESE’s retention data cited by Mr. Clark (pro-charter advocate) only measures students who leave during the summer (between school years). Students who leave during the school year aren’t accounted for in this metric. Students who are counseled out, leave after multiple suspensions, pushed out before MCAS tests, etc. are invisible to the state metric. You have to look at year to year co-hort changes to find the real measure. If you do, you will see how they shrink overtime and not backfilled.

    There may be some use for the DESE retention data given it’s flaws, but I haven’t found it yet.

  2. Jon Clark is more than the co-director and founder of Brooke Charter Schools. Clark is also the founding director and president of Great Schools Massachusetts…the driving force behind Question 2…Great Schools Massachusetts hired professional, out-of-state signature gatherers and spent about $510,000 just to get the charter schools question on the ballot…Great Schools Massachusetts as of 9/4/2016 collected $12,414,500.72 to finance its yes on 2 campaign…with $9,014,683.66 or about 73% coming from one New York based group and its affiliate Families For Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. and another $240,000 or about 2% coming from New York City’s former Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Jon Clark keeps a very low profile with his Great Schools Massachusetts. He hired a public relations professional to handle all the Great Schools details such as charter schools “rallies” featuring the Governor, sending out huge numbers of press releases promoting charter schools, cheerleading charter schools, and of course developing the misinforming commercials on charter schools. That PR person is Great Schools “spokeswoman” but she operates through email. That way she can simply ignore reporters requests for comment when it doesn’t suit her or Great Schools. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  3. By the way, the more than $9 million given to Jon Clark’s Great Schools Massachusetts, by Families For Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. and its affiliate, is “dark money.” There’s no public disclosure of who gave the $9 million plus to Families for Excellent Schools. But, WGBH has some additional details in, “Shining Some Light On Families For Excellent Schools” that found there could be as few as nine people behind Families For Excellent Schools…all nine are hedge-fund billionaires. The campaign for unlimited charter schools Jon Clark is running is financed mostly by New York hedge fund billionaires. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  4. Let’s take a look at Jon Clark’s Brooke Charter Schools in Boston. The charter school he founded and is co-director. On the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website is a letter from Jon Clark requesting the state approve an increased enrollment and add a high school to Brook Charter Schools. It was then K-8. Two sentences in that letter stood out: “Currently, all three Brooke campuses “backfill” students through 4th grade. If this amendment were to be approved, Brooke would be required under the existing statute to backfill through 6th grade.” That means Brooke Charter School’s Kindergarten to Grade 8 success is all about not accepting students after 4th grade. How would that practice work out if Massachusetts had an unlimited number of K-8 charter schools not accepting students after grade 4 and an unlimited number of K-12 charter schools not accepting students after grade 6? Besides that, Massachusetts charter schools aren’t required to accept students after February 15th. Is that good public policy? How on earth does that make any sense at all? It doesn’t…it really doesn’t. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  5. Jon Clark’s Great Schools Massachusetts hired SRCP Media, Inc. the “full-service political media firm” behind Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. SRCP states on its website they’ve “succeeded because of our steadfast commitment to providing clients with sound strategic counsel, media placement that utilizes the latest technologies and data, and unique and powerful advertising.” As of 9/27/2016 Great Schools Massachusetts paid SRCP Media, Inc. $9,126,503.94 for the yes on 2 commercials. Those commercials state unequivocally “Question 2 will result in more funding for public education” that’s an outright lie. There is no funding at all in Question 2 for public education…none. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  6. What’s the story on the “recent MIT study” finding in Boston, “special education and ELL students are making substantially more progress in charter public schools than in district public schools?” It’s actually a “Discussion Paper” on “Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools: Impact and Classification.” The author of the “paper” is Elizabeth Setren and nowhere in the paper is she described. Only her name appears on the front page and again on the abstract page. In fact, there’s a “*” next to her name on the abstract page leading to a note extending appreciation to a list of people for their assistance and at the end of that note is: “This work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.” So the “MIT study” was done by a grad student. But that’s not all.

  7. The so-called “recent MIT study” is a “discussion paper” done by a grad student. The “paper” never even considered students in underperforming charter schools: Page 3 “2.3 Data and Sample “Schools are excluded from the study if they closed, declined to participate, had insufficient records, did not have any oversubscribed lotteries, or serve alternative students.” Footnote #5 simply states “Uphams Corner Charter School closed in 2009. Fredrick Douglas Charter School and Roxbury Charter High School both closed in 2005” without disclosing why those three charter schools closed. That was such an odd thing to do that I looked up those charter schools. Uphams Corner Charter School didn’t just close…according to a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education press release dated January 27, 2009: “The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-2 on Tuesday to revoke the charter of Boston’s Uphams Corner Charter School, citing unmet conditions and a steady decline in performance.” And guess what other charter schools are cited at the bottom of that press release for having their charters “revoked or not renewed?” Frederick Douglass Charter School and Roxbury Charter High School in 2005. For that grad student to state those charter schools simply “closed” with no further explanation is the understatement of the year. This is the kind of deceit in pro-charter schools “studies,” “reports,” and “papers” use. That’s deplorable… downright deplorable.

  8. The Boston Globe ran an article, “Donors behind charter push keep to the shadows,” dated 8/20/2016 with the following statement: “Great Schools for Massachusetts’ president is Jon Clark, codirector of operations of the Brooke Charter School network; the treasurer is Christopher W. Collins, a cofounder of First Atlantic Capital, a Boston real estate investment firm; and the clerk is Naomi Roth-Gaudette, managing director of organizing at Families for Excellent Schools. Clark and Collins did not return messages.” Jon Clark “did not return messages” to answer questions from The Globe’s reporter on the dark money backing the Great Schools group he founded. But Jon Clark has all the time in the world to spread misinformation on Question 2. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  9. Is this a misprint? “Since July 2016 the Boston Public Schools have accepted more than 150 children with special needs who have transferred in from Boston-based charters.” More than 150 children with special needs left Boston charter schools and returned to Boston public schools since July 2016? In three months?

  10. Holy mackerel! That’s a huge number. What Boston charter schools are sending students with special needs back to the Boston public schools? Is there a list with the number of students from each charter school? Or is that confidential? Also, what happened to the money? The charter schools proponents always say the money follows the student but does the money follow the students back to the public schools? If so, how much? How is it calculated? What law or regulation or other document explains the process? Thanks.

  11. Isn’t this really nothing more than an ad-hominem appeal to motive?

    It’s like arguing that you should vote yes on 2 because it is opposed by teachers unions. But let’s not talk about their motives.

    Who cares who supports it. Shouldn’t the focus be on students?

    For the record the teachers union, which is far more powerful than any hedge fund manager. Has consistently stood in the way of reform even in cases where there were rewards for increases in funding.

    I have given this question a lot of thought and one of the big things that swayed me was the constant attacks on those that argued for question 2, as opposed to their arguments. In my experience, when the focus is put on the opposing arguer as opposed to the argument, it’s a clear sign of the weakness of the argument.

  12. Again this is arguing against the arguer as opposed to their argument. It’s a sure way to sway people against your position.

    And let’s not pretend that the teachers union doesn’t have an ulterior motive that may not be in the best interest of students.

  13. Don’t you realize Question 2 got on the ballot through deceptive means? Thanks to $510,000 and paid professional signature gatherers. Thanks to massive publicity showing people delivering piles of papers with signatures to city and town halls across the state giving the appearance parents and volunteers were getting the signatures but those signatures were collected by mostly out of state professionals and those professionals were well paid for doing that job. Where were the volunteers? Where were all the parents? To top it off, we find out months later the whole shebang was financed by out of state interests…mostly New York hedge fund money from nine billionaires. And you honestly have a “who cares” attitude about that? That’s our ballot. That’s our public policy at stake. That’s our tax dollars on the table. And out of state interests took control of it all surreptitiously…very surreptitiously. Where’s the news coverage on that? It’s almost nonexistent. And are you really saying one of the big things that swayed you on question 2 “was the constant attacks on those that argued for question 2?” They’ve been attacked? VOTE NO on Question 2.

  14. Didn’t you read this article? Jon Clark, the charter school advocate cited “a recent MIT study” that I pointed out was actually a “discussion paper” done by a grad student. The “paper” never even considered students in underperforming charter schools. Do yourself a favor and look it up: “Discussion Paper #2015.05 Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools: Impact and Classification Elizabeth Setren.” I’m willing to go through it with you but you have to go through it first. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  15. DESE provides both summer attrition rates and also the rate for how many students stay throughout the school year. In both cases, they are substantially better at charter schools here than at the sending districts. For example, for Boston:
    “Boston Charters Have Better Stability, Attendance, Unexcused Absence and Dropout Rates.
    * Boston charter schools also have a higher stability rate—the rate at which students stay in the same school for an entire school year—than BPS (92.2% to 86.5%), as well as higher attendance rates (95.4% to 92.2%), fewer unexcused absences (19% to 32.3%) and far lower dropout rates (4.7% to 0.9%).”
    As for the summer attrition rates, see page 36 here (14.2% BPS district schools, ,9.3% for charter schools):

    Here’s (and via the included hyperlinks) is info re: why t changes in class sizes is not a methodologically proper way to compare schools:

  16. Would that number include kids who graduated from a charter school elementary school or middle school but were not successful in the lottery to get into a charter school serving higher grades? About how many children with special needs left Boston Public Schools to go to charter schools this summer/fall? Thanks.

  17. Yes, the money follow the child back to the child. It’s even pro-rated when a child leaves a charter school during the school year to return to a public school.
    “In Massachusetts: “For students who attend the charter school for less than the full year, the tuition payment shall be reduced based on the number of days of enrollment.” (page 74)
    But that’s actually relatively rare.. my understanding is that only about 82 return to BPS throughout the entire course of an academic year.

  18. You quote this “Schools are excluded from the study if they closed, declined to participate, had insufficient records, did not have any oversubscribed lotteries, or serve alternative students.” but don’t provide further explanation…
    Since we’ve discussed it before I’m quite sure you know that the schools excluded for serving alternative students and for not having oversubscribed lotteries were not Commonwealth charter schools but instead in-district Horace Mann charter schools and therefore not a subject of the ballot question. Incidentally, that’s also true of one of the only two schools excluded for declining to participate.

  19. “That means Brooke Charter School’s Kindergarten to Grade 8 success is all about not accepting students after 4th grade.”
    Could you explain how that magic works? You think perhaps that all the poorly performing students drop out between 5th and 8th grades, leaving only the more successful students?

  20. This was interesting reading, thank you for sharing!

    From the links provided it appears my previous statement about the limits of the DESE retention data holds. It only measures leaving during the summer. So Mr. Clark’s citation of that data comes with those qualifiers.

    The PDF you then provide to support your quote is doesn’t name it’s source. From other links it appears to be the MA Charter Association. It’s footnotes state that during-year retention data is a calculated value but it doesn’t state how it was calculated.

    From the links it seems like there are even more qualifiers to comparisons between charter schools and public schools (including stability and churn % accessed through the links). Charter high-school retention is front-loaded to 9th grade (20-50% cohort size decrease btw 9th
    and 10th). The MCAS is given in 10th grade and SAT/ACT in 11th-12th. Since charters minimally or don’t backfill 10-12, they end up with small class sizes of more-compliant students (we know small class sizes are great for student learning, but normally can’t afford to make it happen). This context is then lost when test scores are compared between schools.

    The links confirm that a contributor to charters high front-end attrition is having students repeat 9th grade. This is something public schools generally avoid since having a student repeat a grade is more likely to result in a dropout.

    Given all of this both sides in the links agree that apple to apples comparisons of retention is complex and the data we we’d really want would consider backfilling weighed against attrition, but we don’t have that. Digging into the data seems to confirm charters have a preferable student body in their current structure, especially in test taking years. A lot of this is self-selection of the current structure: no homeless child has parents filling out paperwork
    for them to be in a lottery. This could be addressed by reforms – but the ballot question doesn’t do that.

    Since we’re talking about this because of a ballot question that would allow charters to scale up to 100% of schools, we need to ask if MA charters’ claimed successes will hold as they scale up from 4%. If tomorrow every school was a charter school would their claims to success hold? Consider this pro-charter argument from the links:

    This argues that charters ability to control their student body is key to their success. This matches up with studies showing that when charters have identical student bodies and follow the same requirements at public schools they get the same or worse results. This does not indicate that charters’ claimed successes can be replicated for everybody.

    Thank you for your time.

  21. But this year “since July 2016 the Boston Public Schools have accepted more than 150 children with special needs who have transferred in from Boston-based charters.”

  22. The first issue is how Jon Clark mischaracterized a grad student’s “discussion paper” as an” MIT study.” It wasn’t a study and it certainly wasn’t a study done by MIT. The second issue is the grad student simply omitted charter schools from her paper without explaining what went on with those charter schools. The fact that three of those charter schools had their charters revoked or not renewed highlights a problem with her conclusions. The third issue is why would two charter schools decline to participate? Did the grad student encourage those charters not to participate after a preliminary review of their data? The fourth issue is the grad student’s “discussion paper” did not describe who she was…a grad student. By the way, I noticed you didn’t even acknowledge the three charters didn’t just “close.” Why not?

  23. Your reference comes from an MIT News article that describes her as of “June 21, 2016” as a “PhD student in economics at MIT.” That wasn’t what she was when she wrote her discussion paper in December 2015…then she was a grad student writing a paper without identifying herself as a grad student.

  24. Brooke Charter Schools K-8 not accepting students in grades 5 to 8 means new students don’t come in to the school. New students change the dynamics of the classes and academic outcomes. How can you gloss over Jon Clark’s Brook Charter Schools K- 8’s policy of not accepting students after 4th grade? How is that an acceptable practices for a so-called “public” school? Thanks to how the ballot question is worded… Massachusetts will be littered with charter schools K-8 not accepting students after grade 4, charter schools K-12 not accepting students after grade 6 and charter schools Grades 9-12 not accepting students after grades 9 or 10. Jon Clark’s aggressive efforts through Great Schools Massachusetts will bring unlimited numbers of charter schools with those policies to this state. Honestly, how is that going to work out?

  25. Yes, but that “since July 2016” would seem to largely include movement from one school to another over the summer, e.g., when someone graduates from 6th grade in a charter school in June and goes to New Mission High in Septemberl or whatever… Would likely include some who were dissatisfied with a charter school and left when they could have stayed, but Stutman hasn’t yet clarified what portion of the total that may be.
    It’s a figure that at first glance is startling… on subsequent glance not very revealing.

  26. I think that discussion papers can include one or more studies. In normal usage, calling something an “MIT study” or “Harvard study” doesn’t imply that the institution as a whole has produced or endorsed it. Having it appear in an MIT-published series with such well credentialed authors as these is pretty impressive:
    On the other hand, I would agree with you that it would not be appropriate to refer to it as “peer-reviewed research,” as nobody has thus far to my knowledge. My impression is that Setren will likely continue to update and expand her study… perhaps submit it for publication in a journal using peer-review at some future point.
    If you would like to find its weaknesses, I would suggest starting with this:

  27. “I noticed you didn’t even acknowledge the three charters didn’t just ‘close.’ Why not?”
    That seems quite tangential to the quality of Setren’s research. And charter school closures don’t clearly support either side of the charter school debate.
    The most recent Boston charter school closure was Dorchester Collegiate Academy. It had a mixed record… high attrition especially after it was placed on probation, served quite a few youngsters with special needs, excellent at creating a no-bullying culture, had parents who were passionately suportive of it, was a Level 2 in our 5-level system. Seemed a good school, comparable to many traditional public schools, likely better than many. But it was closed… because charter schools are held to a particularly high standard… and there are a limited number of seats thanks to the cap… other charter schools with even stronger records looking to expand.

  28. Yikes… the very next sentences: “We are proposing under this request to backfill students through 8th grade in order to expand access to Boston and Chelsea families in higher grades. Doing so requires that we ask for nearly the maximum number of seats currently available for distribution in Boston.”
    And if you search the document for “5th” you’ll find they already do some backfilling at 5th grade, though not all schools every year.
    I imagine that you would find careful study of pages 32 and 33 or interest if you haven’t had a chance to review those yet.
    Tangentially, my understanding is that Boston Latin accepts students in just 7th and 9th grades.

  29. Thanks for the link to the Thomas Fordham Institute article, “Backfilling charter seats: A backhanded way to kill school autonomy.” The national agenda for charter schools has been missing in the Question 2 debate along with all the charter schools problems in other states like Ohio and issues with online charter schools. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had an article, “Three L.A. charter schools could be shut down, largely because of their practice of bringing in teachers from Turkey.” Weren’t H-1B visas used a few years ago by three Massachusetts charter schools to bring in Turkish teachers? How come no one is drawing the connections? Anyhow, looks like charter schools are all about choice until charter schools “autonomy” trumps choice. How’s that going to work out as a public policy? Where are students supposed to go then? What’s their choice? The underfunded shell of a public school left after charter schools picked their bones clean? VOTE NO on Question 2.

  30. Let’s take a look at one of those charter schools that looked to expand: Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden. Mystic Valley submitted expansion requests in 2011, 2012, and 2013 that were denied. But, MVRCS, a Level 2 charter school, was approved to expand from 1,500 to 1,900 seats in 2015 even though it was operating under conditions and DESE imposed MORE conditions with its expansion approval. Here’s an excerpt from the March 13, 2015 DESE letter: “granting these seats conditionally will help to leverage positive change and provide confidence that the school will serve all students effectively.” So DESE approved expansion of a Level 2 charter school operating under conditions… “to leverage positive change and provide confidence” and imposed more conditions. Charter schools aren’t held to a higher standard…they’re held to a different standard. VOTE NO On Question 2.

  31. “footnotes state that during-year retention data is a calculated value but it doesn’t state how it was calculated.”

    As you probably know, the school year stability rate for an individual school can be easily found, e.g.,

    search engine ->brooke mattapan accountability data
    find a doc like:
    Select students tab
    Select mobility rates (on menu on left)
    check: % stability column

    DESE doesn’t yet compile collectively the stability rates of each of the charter and traditional public schools, so that presumably is what MCPSA did.

    pbomass: “From the links it seems like there are even more qualifiers to comparisons between charter schools and public schools (including stability and churn % accessed through the links).”

    It’s really just the attrition figure (shows loss over summer) and the stability figure (stayed during the school year) that one needs to focus on to understand how many students transferred out over the full 12 month year.

    “Churn” is usually brought into the picture by folks who are trying to sow confusion… make it seem that it’s all so very complicated that why don’t we just forget about what DESE says and chug down our own home brew concoction.

    “Since charters minimally or don’t backfill 10-12, they end up with small class sizes of more-compliant students ”

    Good point about likely smaller class sizes, but in respect to “more-compliant students”, the research doesn’t support that in respect to high schools here. In Boston, at least, the students who are weaker academically are more likely to drop out of traditional public schools, more likely to be retained for an extra year in charter schools.

    Thanks for reading and best wishes.

  32. In respect to the national picture, I would certainly agree with you that there are other states that have not effectively used the opportunity presented by charter schools. Indeed when they allow, for example, for-profit, virtual charters there can be a real mess.

  33. In other words, Jon Clark referenced a grad student’s discussion paper as an “MIT study” that was found wanting back in February: “This review finds that econometric models used to estimate the effects are appropriate, but also more limited than the report would suggest. The report finds some interesting patterns that deserve further study; however the effects cannot be generalized to charter schools outside Boston or even to most students inside Boston. The study also offers no context to compare the size of reported gains and it does not adequately examine how or why the reported test score gains are realized; for example, it does not account for peer effects or spending differences. Ultimately, while this report takes an important step in studying how oversubscribed charters may affect the academic achievement of special needs students, a closer examination is needed in order to accurately inform those making education policy.” So a “closer examination is needed in order to accurately inform those making education policy.” That means that grad student’s paper does mean anything and certainly shouldn’t be pointed to as a reason for more charter schools. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  34. For years and years and years Jon Clark’s Brook Charter Schools K-8 were pointed to as exceptional charter schools without noting that for years and years and years Jon Clark’s Brook Charter Schools K-8 didn’t accept students after grade 4. That’s a fact. If the public knew…really knew the rules charter schools operate under then they’d be shocked. Boston Latin School is a Boston public school not seeking to expand all across the state. I’m focusing on charter schools and Question 2. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  35. Having an informed public debate on charter schools is essential to making the right public policy decisions but the essential elements for an informed public debate are missing. The Foundation Budget Review Commission released a report one year ago finding the state is underfunding local public schools by more than $1 billion and nothing has been done about it. For the whole year all we’ve been hearing about is “lift the cap,” “choice,” and the discredited “charter schools waitlists” but with no mention that those waitlists were discredited. Speaking of the waitlists, that’s been the major focus of charter schools proponents but how will 12 more charter schools opening with one or two grades at a time each year address the waitlists? They won’t. And who wants more charter schools when of the 78 charter schools currently operating in this state there are 10 operating under conditions or are on probation. And there’s been no discussion on how the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will be able to scale up its oversight of all these new charter schools and more important, still be able to maintain effective oversight of existing public schools. I haven’t come across one good reason for more charter schools. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  36. Doesn’t the fact that Professor Mead et al call it a “study” make you doubt their conclusions?

    Not me. Their review is the best yet, union-funded attempt to undercut Setren’s research, relying on diligent, honest analysis and concludes:

    “The SEII study does show a statistically significant effect for ELL and special education
    students who enter in Boston’s charter school lottery and then enroll after being offered a

    Seems like we should take Setren’s research seriously and be impressed by what it shows about charter schools. I guess it’s good that Mead/Weber don’t just celebrate the successes that Setren ably documents but aver that it’d be helpful if we could better understand just how the charter schools are achieving those successes.

  37. It is definitely startling that over the past few months the Boston Public Schools accepted more than 150 children with special needs transferring from Boston-based charters. When did K-12 education become a revolving door at taxpayers expense? How will a widespread revolving door approach to K-12 education work in this state? That’s what will happen if Question 2 passes. Don’t like the public school then go to a charter school. Don’t like the charter school you chose then what? Go back to the public school. That’s crazy…just plain crazy. Fully fund public schools. Well-resourced public schools should be our goal. Also, we should be making preschool available to all children in this state. Then we won’t need charter schools…we won’t need a revolving door. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  38. Then we’re back to how the grad student collected the data…not including charter schools whose charters were revoked or not renewed during the period being reviewed, not including those charter schools declining to participate and not including charter schools with insufficient records. So what was reviewed? Charter schools in operation. Charter schools that voluntarily participated. Charter schools with good recordkeeping. What do you think the results would be using data from charter schools like that? Exactly what the grad student concluded: “this paper finds strong positive effects of Boston’s elementary, middle, and high schools for special education and ELL students.” VOTE NO on Question 2.

  39. “What do you think the results would be using data from charter schools like that? ”
    I wouldn’t worry about not including schools that no longer exist. Seems sensible to me. In respect to not including the Davis Leadership Academy, it seems so small that I wouldn’t expect it to have much impact on total numbers. Renaissance is larger, but it has a high FNLE to ELL ratio so I wouldn’t expect it to move the needle a whole lot.
    You’re making some good points in respect to arguing around the edges, but the principal conclusions seem to stant up quite well to close study.

  40. The data is what the grad student’s discussion paper is based on…the essential element of the paper…without the data there was no paper…and the data collected was limited to a select group of charter schools. The charter schools with revoked charters or non-renewed charters or poor record keeping were operating during the period under review and were eliminated from the data. Those charter schools were simply not considered at all. There’s no edge argument in that. VOTE NO on Question 2.

  41. Are you suggesting, for example, that schools that closed in June 2005 should have/could have been included in her study? Exactly how would that be accomplished? Or are you suggesting that it’s impossible to use effective research techniques to examine the issues she was assessing? Or is there an alternative methodology that you would recommend as valid? The fact that her study seems prominently highly regarded at MIT, you dismiss that? You think the professors over there are not adequately understanding proper research methodology in this sphere? It’s plausible that there are significant flaws in Setren’s work, but even with Mead’s/Weber’s/your help, I’m not finding much of anything to undermine her major results.

  42. The charter schools question on November’s ballot isn’t limited to charter schools in Boston or charter schools serving English language learners or charter schools serving students in special education but the grad student’s paper is limited to Boston charter schools, English language learners and students in special education. Even if the grad student’s paper was relevant and didn’t raise any questions it is still limited in how it can be used to advocate for an unlimited number of charter schools across Massachusetts. Given Massachusetts is already underfunding public education by more than $1 billion, and there’s no doubt about that, an unlimited expansion of charter schools will exacerbate the local public schools funding shortfall. The grad student received a lot of publicity on her discussion paper…a lot of publicity. Is it really a work that’s so outstanding or did charter school proponents jump all over the opportunity to publicize and reference the work? I honestly can’t ever recall a grad student’s paper being so widely cited as this grad student’s paper. I think it should be filed with all the other grad students’ papers…the circular file.

  43. It’s this kind of bullshit that makes me think that the opponents of charter schools are only angry because they want to protect union jobs and antiquated practices like “pay for seniority”, as opposed to “pay for performance”.

    Who cares if the paper was a “discussion paper” or a study? Are you saying that work done by an MIT grad student can’t possibly be correct?

  44. Again this is an attack on the people proposing question 2 as opposed to the efficacy of the proposal. Tell me if hedge fund billionaires argued that 2+2 = 4 would you dispute that too? There is nothing unusual about paying for signatures, which several political candidates and ballot initiatives have done. Many of those “hedge fund billionaires”, like Joel Greenblatt have actually lost business due to their support of Charter Schools. Are you implying that because someone runs a “hedge fund” fund for a living that they can’t have an opinion on public policy? Are you implying that because someone is successful that their opinion is invalid?

    Further you know as well as I do that those that oppose question 2 have a motive as well. More charters means fewer union jobs, and erodes standards like unlimited tenure and pay for seniority. The union seeks to protect all teachers even bad ones.

    Shouldn’t the only determinant be if the Charter Schools help students in these low income neighborhoods? You can’t possibly tell me that a student is better off at Independent High School in Lawrence where more than half the kids drop out than in a Charter School. How dare you tell these kids that they can’t have a decent education merely to protect a union agenda!

  45. Weather you like it or not students from these low income neighborhoods that are able to attend Charter Schools like KIPP, and others have thrived. That’s why there is a huge waiting list for these schools.

    Question 2 would give more of these students a chance to attend a school where learning, and not union rules are paramount. Look at how bad schools are in places like Lawrence even after five years of receivership. Don’t more of these kids deserve a chance at an education?

  46. First, Question 2 doesn’t limit charter schools to “low income neighborhoods.” According to the Secretary of State’s website: “This proposed law would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year. Approvals under this law could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment each year. New charters and enrollment expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them, and the amount of local school districts’ spending allocated to them.
    If the Board received more than 12 applications in a single year from qualified applicants, then the proposed law would require it to give priority to proposed charter schools or enrollment expansions in districts where student performance on statewide assessments is in the bottom 25% of all districts in the previous two years and where demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest.” So it takes more than twelve applications before priority goes to “the bottom 25% of all districts.”
    Second, when charter schools are approved they usually open with one or two grades then let those students advance while filling the lowest grade. Here’s an example: Earlier this year the state approved a new charter school in Springfield: Libertas Academy Charter School which will open in the fall of 2017. It will serve 630 students in grades 6-12, it will start with 90 sixth-grade students during its first year who will then go on to become the seventh-grade class the following year then the eighth-grade class. It will take 7 years before there’s a 12th grade class. As far as backfilling is concerned, “when a student stops attending the school for any reason,” Liberty Academy shall, “fill vacant seats up to February 15, excluding seats through grade 10. A vacancy not filled after February 15 moves into the subsequent grade, to be filled the following September except for grades 11 or 12.” I wonder what would happen if a public school adopted that approach to backfilling, or rather not backfilling, empty seats? If your family moves to a new community and it’s after February 15th or your children are entering grades 11 or 12 and the local public school district says there’s no school for them then how would that work out for your children? And why are new charter schools starting at grade 6 in Springfield? The Springfield Public School District knows how to educate students up to grade 5 but not so much with grades 6-12? And how important is this charter school to Springfield if it will take SEVEN YEARS FOR ALL THE GRADES TO BE OPERATIONAL? Wouldn’t it be easier to fix the foundation budget and give Springfield the money it needs to educate its children? VOTE NO on Question 2.

  47. During the next month leading up to Tuesday, November 8, as you see or listen to the slick and expensive Madison Avenue-level TV/radio commercials promoting “YES” on Question 2 promulgating such lies as …

    “Question 2 will add more money to public schools (LIE: it won’t. In fact it will do just the opposite.


    “Question 2 won’t take money away from existing public schools (LIE: it will… a lot of money, in fact.)

    … or when view the slick mailers you find in your mailbox, or when listen to robo-calls, think about this following post:

    The latest is that over $21.7 million of out-of-state money from the most ruthless capitalists who have ever walked the Earth — Eli Broad, the Walton family of Walmart, Wall Street hedge fund managers, etc. — is pouring into
    Massachusetts to pass Question 2.

    Read this well-researched article here for that $21.7 million figure:

    These profit-minded plutocrats who are pouring in this money obviously …

    — do not live in Massachusetts,

    — have no children, grandchildren, or other relatives that attend public schools in Massachusetts

    — have never given a sh#% about the education of middle or lower income until recently, when they realized they could make a buck off privatizing Massachusetts schools via the expansion of privately-run charter schools,.

    They want to these corporate charter schools to replace truly public schools— the ones that, for generations, have been accountable and transparent to the public via democratically elected school boards, and which are mandated to educate ALL of the public… including those hardest or most difficult to educate … special ed., English Language Learners, homeless kids, foster care kids, kids with difficult behavior arising from distressed home lives.

    Are proponents of Question 2 seriously making the argument that out-of-state billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers are pumping in all this money because those folks care so much about the education of kids in Massachusetts?

    You really think they are NOT seeking a big money return on these ($21.7 million campaign donations?

    Does that pass the smell test?

    Can you provide an example of JUST ONE TIME in the past where they poured in this kind of cash to something … no strings attached, and with no expectations of return?

    If, as Q 2 supporters like Marty Walz claim, the most ruthless capitalists that have ever walked the Earth are now kicking in this kind of cash to pass Question 2 merely because they care about children’s education —

    … and if they are not about their profiting through the privatization of public schools brought about by the expansion of privately-run charter schools,

    … then I’m sure one of you Q 2 supporters could google and find a past example where they have done something similar .. .again out of generosity… with no expectation of an eventual monetary return…

    Something like …

    “Well, back in 2000-something, or 1900-something, these same folks donated $20 million to the (INSERT CHARITABLE CAUSE HERE). Here’s the link that proves this.”

    No, I didn’t think so. When this was brought up in a debate, Mary Walz refused to address it, saying, “We need to talk about the kids, not the adults.” Well, keeping money-motivated scum from raping and pillaging Massachusetts public schools IS CARING ABOUT THE KIDS, Marty! (By the way, those are many of the same folks who raped and pillaged the housing/mortgage industry a decade ago … go watch the film THE BIG SHORT to get up to speed on that … they’ve just moved on to new place to plunder.)

    So the real question is:

    To whom do the schools of Massachusetts belong? The citizens and parents who pay the taxes there?

    Or a bunch of money-motivated out-of-state billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers who are trying to buy them via Question 2, and the expansion of privately-managed charter schools which they control, or also profit from their on-line and digital learning products that will be sold to these charter school chains?

    If you believe the former, THEN FOR GOD’S SAKE, VOTE “NO” ON QUESTION 2.

    Send them a message: Massachusetts schools are NOT FOR SALE!!!

    Oh and go watch the John Oliver charter school video:
    Oh and listen to this dissection of a “YES on 2” radio ad:

Comments are closed.