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Separating fog from fact on charter schools

Stop the presses!

This is anti-charter-school week at the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

But wait, you may say, doesn’t that describe just about every week at firebrand Barbara Madeloni’s MTA, with the possible exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Ah, but this week is special. This week the MTA will be providing its membership with “memes,” “easy-to-post information,” and “sample messages for letters to the editors” as part of its latest effort to discredit Massachusetts public charter schools. (Talk about teaching to the test!)

Memes. Imagine. Why, the very sound of it makes one wax poetic. Let’s see:

Don’t expect accuracy to reign supreme in every anti-charter meme born of Barb’s far-left regime. Why, some may even seem to scheme toward a badly misleading theme. So let’s use some facts to shine a beam through the mist about to stream from her union fog machine.


Ahem. Sorry about that. But perspective is important here, particularly since the MTA’s anti-charter effort comes in the very week when the Massachusetts Senate holds the first of several informational caucuses on charters, a commendable educate-the-members effort by President Stan Rosenberg as that body starts to contemplate the charter-cap-lift issue. Meanwhile, Governor Baker’s charter bill, designed to be more palatable to legislators than the planned lift-the-cap ballot question, is set to drop this week.

So let’s turn to the MTA’s memes:

If past is prologue, you may well hear that charter schools achieve their eye-catching MCAS results by pushing out underperforming students. Actually, the drop-out issue has been examined several times by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“In general, the data doesn’t show that high-performing charter schools in Boston and other cities are losing students at a greater percentage than other urban schools,” says DESE Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson.

Further, a 2013 MIT study of Boston schools found that though the charters studied had a lower four-year graduation rate than the district schools, they had a higher six-year graduation rate. That data, it hardly needs be said, doesn’t suggest a success-through-attrition strategy.


A favorite Madeloni theme is that charters aren’t public schools, because they aren’t answerable to local officials. That’s akin to saying that the state police aren’t public law enforcement officers. Authorized by the state’s landmark 1993 education reform law, charters are approved and overseen by the state Board of Education, which has the power to close them.

Another claim the MTA will push is that charters “exclude English-language learners, special needs students, and the most economically disadvantaged students.” Perspective: This spring, a study by CREDO, a Stanford University think tank, found that Boston charters had slightly more low-income students, while the district schools had slightly more special-education kids. Charters did have significantly fewer English-language learners — 8 percent versus 30 percent — but those kids were hardly “excluded.” Still, that’s an area where charters need to do better.

You’ll also hear that charters siphon, drain, or divert funds from district schools. Why, the MTA has even come up with a handy-dandy digital map to help its troops “find out how much your community is losing to charter schools.”

Three things to keep in mind. First, charters are public schools educating Massachusetts kids. Second, a charter’s funding reflects the cost of serving its students. Third, even after a student leaves a district school for a charter, the district school receives up to 225 percent of the cost of educating that student, spread over the next six years.


In conclusion, be forewarned: Not every meme is what it seems.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.


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