An editorial yesterday by Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh (“A new actor on the school stage,” 4/3/13) highlights recent poll data that showed Boston voters care about improving education quality as much or more than they do about creating jobs and fighting crime. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed support charter schools, and half said they would send their child to a charter over a district school. As Mr. Lehigh notes, education reform is sure to be a hotly debated issue in the next Boston mayoral campaign.
Mr. Lehigh’s piece drew a string of venomous comments from charter school critics, a group the poll found to be in a minority — only 18% of the likely voters surveyed oppose charters outright. The critics trotted out the same stale myths that we have tried to debunk in prior posts (for example, that charter schools cherry-pick the best students and are not accountable to the state for the funding they siphon away from traditional public schools).
We applaud Mr. Lehigh for taking the time to jump into the hurlyburly of the comment thread and for patiently providing fact-based rebuttals. Here are a few examples:
Myth #1: Charter schools waste taxpayer money and undermine district public schools.
Lehigh: Charter schools are public schools. And for the same (or actually a little less) per pupil, taxpayers are getting a significantly longer school day and, in many cases, year — and the better educational results that follow.
Myth #2: Charter schools cherry-pick only the best students with the most-involved parents.
Lehigh: That’s an unfounded accusation. Students are selected by blind lottery.
Myth #3: Charter schools only get better results because they don’t have to educate students with (expensive) special needs.
Lehigh: You are no doubt aware of the long effort the state underwent in 2004 to respond to this complaint by reworking the formula to reflect actual per pupil costs. Further, taxpayers are getting a bargain with charters re the student population they do educate. Take Boston, for example. The union wouldn’t agree to any new teaching times for the money Boston offered, so kids in the traditional schools aren’t getting a longer day. But charter students are, because charters offer that longer day for the same dollars that only buy a traditional day in the regular schools. That big boost for students and taxpayers is something that surely needs to be factored into any equation about what charters do and don’t do. Then, of course, you also have to consider that the traditional schools continue to be reimbursed for the students who have left for charters for six years after they are gone. (The old formula was 100 percent the first year, 60 the second, 40 the third; a few years back it was made even more generous: 100 percent the first year after a student has left for a charter, then 25 percent for each of the following five years.) That’s also money those schools can use to defray any higher costs they may have.
Myth #4: Charter schools were created, in part, to foster innovative practices; instead they just offer intensive test-prep so naturally their students score higher on the MCAS.
Lehigh: Most people realize that the charters offer significantly more school time than Boston’s traditional schools. Your argument implicitly ask people to believe that there is no educational value to that extra time and that, instead, the charters are turning in strong results others ways. Now, ask yourself: Does it make sense that an extra 1.5 to 2 hours a day of learning time has no effect? Further, there are now several very good studies showing that charters do a better job than the traditionals educating the same basic pool of students.
Myth #5: The poll (conducted by Democrats for Education Reform), showing strong voter support for charter schools, was biased.
Lehigh: I looked carefully at the questionnaire. It is true that, later on in the poll, it tested arguments. That is, it had questions that said, If you knew that (and then supplied information), how would you feel. Or, Supporters (or Opponents) say this or that. But the responses I’ve used came at the front of the survey, before any information-providing questions. (Support for charters improved significantly after the informational arguments.)
Myth #6: The Globe itself is biased and only prints editorials that support charter schools.
Lehigh: Well, anyone can submit anything for consideration. It’s not up to me what runs on our page. But I do think that charter skeptics/opponents at least need to craft arguments that take into account the relevant research, including the Harvard-MIT study and the (very recent) Credo study. Sometimes you guys act as though if you just ignore those very positive and well-done studies, they will simply disappear.
Myth #7: All the Globe’s positive press about charters ignores that some charters are failing and are on probation (e.g. Boston Renaissance).
Here, another reader (“FredBil”) had the best rebuttal: That charters can fail is one of their attributes. A poorly performing public school lingers on and on, but a poorly performing charter will be out of business in fairly short order.
Tell Mass. Lawmakers You Support Charter Schools
We encourage all charter school supporters to make their voices heard on Beacon Hill by attending the annual State House Day on Thursday, April 11, from 9:00 AM-2:00 PM on Beacon Street, Boston.