Yvonne Abraham

Application simplification would bring welcome change

City on a Hill Charter School volunteers checked names of future students drawn from a list of hopefuls on lottery day last year.
City on a Hill Charter School volunteers checked names of future students drawn from a list of hopefuls on lottery day last year.GLOBE STAFF/FILE

It is criminal how hard Cassandra Cumberlander had to work to get her kids into a school they love.

Figuring out how to gain entry to the Boston public school of your choice is hard enough, even when you have the time to do the research. Applying to charter schools as well means signing on for another level of pain: separate applications for each school, different deadlines from the district’s, gut-wrenching lottery nights where parents hold their breath as kids’ names are pulled from a box.

“I was making charts and tables and trying to figure out what the heck was going on,” said Cumberlander, a realtor and IT consultant who lives in Mattapan. “I thought the hard part was going to be figuring out what was the right school, but it turned out to be managing [the application] process.”


Eventually, her daughter got into the Neighborhood House Charter School. She had no idea it existed until she overheard other parents talking at a district school open house. Now her son goes there, too. She loves the place so much she became a member of a charter school parents’ organization.

On Thursday, Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston Compact announced an effort to streamline the snarled path into Boston schools. The idea is to have just one application for district and charter schools. Parents would choose from a list of nearby schools of both kinds, and all students would be plugged into the same algorithm, then, ideally, assigned to a school they want.

The devil is in the details, of course. Six upcoming community meetings will begin the process of hashing them out. It’ll be a couple of years before a new system is in place.

But it is a great idea. It would make life easier for parents, who deserve a serious break, and inform them of all their options, including the charters they might not have considered. That’s especially important in parts of the city that don’t have enough great district schools. And it brings charters, which currently enroll citywide, into the neighborhood-based assignment process. Educating more students closer to home makes for stronger communities and lower busing costs.


All good stuff. But already, the proposal has become another front in the battle waged by those who see charters as the enemy. Kenny Jervis, of the Citywide Parent Council, told the Globe that making it easier to apply to charter schools is a bad thing because, well, more parents will apply to charter schools.

“Any new parent would . . . think the shiny brand-new school building would be the best place for your child,” he said.

Never mind that plenty of charter school facilities could charitably be described as dumps. The way to discourage parents from applying to charters is to make district schools irresistible, not by keeping the school enrollment process punishing.

QUEST, the district school parent organization, also frowned on the unified application , raising their usual concerns about charters — some spurious, some legitimate.

They complain that charters cream off the best students, a criticism that isn’t borne out by the research. More accurately, they say charters don’t educate enough English-language learners and kids with special needs. But that grows less true every year, as charters enroll more and more kids with challenges.


In any case, many of their criticisms would be moot under the new system. Nobody would have to take the charters’ word for it anymore: Their students would look exactly like those in any district school, guaranteed, because they would all be part of the same applicant pool and assignment system.

Why wouldn’t those who say charters don’t serve all students welcome that? Why shouldn’t the needs and dreams of children and their parents come first?

“This is not about which schools are better,” Cumberlander said. “This is about trying to increase the options parents have. Every parent has the right to make the best choice for their children.”

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.