CHARTER SCHOOLS in Massachusetts have enjoyed important success with students who don’t always fare well in traditional public schools. Now the Massachusetts charters are starting a joint undertaking aimed at doing better with two groups where they fall short: special education students and those who speak only limited English.
That’s commendable, though, sadly, it’s unlikely to win charters any credit with inveterate critics. Determined naysayers routinely ignore the expanded learning time that charters offer, and instead try to dismiss, discredit, or explain away their successes.
Most of the anti-charter arguments don’t withstand scrutiny. Charters don’t, for example, somehow “cream” the best students; they must pick their pupils through blind lotteries open to all. Nor do charter students succeed merely or mostly because of motivated parents; several academic studies have shown otherwise. And while we’re at it, they don’t siphon off state dollars meant for the traditional schools; the funding charters receive reflects the amount the state and district would spend educating a charter’s students if they were in the district schools.
All that said, there are several areas of legitimate concern.
Charters do enroll a somewhat smaller percentage of special-education students and a significantly smaller percentage of English-language learners.
Now, with the help of a federal grant, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association hopes to improve charters’ ability to serve those students.
Marc Kenan, the association’s executive director, lists three goals for the newly launched collaborative. First, to offer intensive on-site training for charter teachers and administrators in the best practices for those students. Second, to develop a statewide network whereby charters can share the cost of educational specialists for those pupil populations. Third, to encourage some high-performing charters to develop expertise in particular areas of need for those students, so that charters can help one another.
“The goal is to increase the range of services for high-need students,” Kenan says.
In other words, rather than resting on their laurels, charters are making a laudable attempt to address areas of concern. It hardly needs be said that if they weren’t interested in educating students with special needs or limited English, they wouldn’t have launched this effort.