charter schools

Boston charter schools' chiefs rake it in

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Wages certainly aren’t lagging for company and “nonprofit’’ organizations’ executives as more and more of the country’s wealth goes to a sliver of people at the top, in a winner-take-all economy that eschews sharing with lower-level but essential employees.

Consider The Boston Globe’s Aug. 1 story “Some charter school leaders’ pay far outpaces their public rivals’’. See:

The Globe discovered that the “median pay package for the top leadersof the 16 charter schools in Boston was $170,00 last year.’’ Some Rhode Islanders might remember the former Providence school Supt.  Diana Lam. As the boss of Conservatory Lab, she got a $275,000 in salary and $23,000 more for unused personal time off in 2016.

That was more than  Boston School Supt. Tommy Chang’s totalcompensation of$272,000 in 2016.

These just-before-retirement pay packages are used as the basis for maximizing the departing executives’ pensions, which approach $200,000 a year.

Remember these charter schools are public institutions.

Over the years of looking at executive-suite compensation I’ve there’s often remarkably little connection between execs’ pay and the success of their organizations,  in the public or private sectors. They mostly get these pay packages because the boards authorizing them are composed of very affluent people made uncomfortable by the idea that these execs should be paid at rates commensurate with common sense and reality. Hey! We’re rich and so you should be too! Meanwhile, lower-level employees often see their pay and benefits slashed.

(If Hollywood, publishing houses, basketball teams, etc., want to pay their stars millions for bringing in these organizations’ revenue, that’s perfectly fair. Clear talent.)_

U.S. Education Secretary Best DeVos, wallowing like much of the Trump regime in economic conflicts of interest, wants to dramatically increase the number of charter schools. If that happens, let’s hope that more attention is paid to  their executive salaries.


James P. Freeman: Boston shows that Charlie Baker was right about charter schools

Plaque on School Street in Boston marking the first site of the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635 as the first public school in what would become the United States.

Plaque on School Street in Boston marking the first site of the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635 as the first public school in what would become the United States.

Boston's charter schools have received a record number of applications. This welcome development should prompt  Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who rightly and robustly supports charter schools, to renew efforts to reconsider expansion of these schools.

As reported in The Boston Globe, 16 charter schools in Boston “collectively received 35,000 applications for about 2,100 available seats,” according to the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. Those same schools received 13,000 applications in the previous period. It is believed that a new online application system contributed to this year’s spike, making it easier for applicants to apply to multiple schools.

It is yet unclear if the number of applicants increased. Unquestionably, though, demand far outweighs supply; the odds of getting into one of these schools this fall have risen to 16 to one. Previously, there were three or four applicants per seat, The Globe notes, citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

Such a surge in applications may be surprising since a ballot measure  in Massachusetts last fall seeking to expand the number of charter schools failed overwhelmingly, by a margin of 38 percent to 62 percent. Baker supported the measure.

“Opponents,” wrote last November, “apparently swayed voters with their arguments that charter schools do not serve the neediest students, drain money from district schools, and could have proved ‘apocalyptic’ for city budgets and led to less state oversight of how charters are run.” (Under a reimbursement formula, the state pays school districts 100 percent of per pupil revenue lost to charters in the first year and 25 percent for the next five years.

In the same article, WBUR quoted Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson (now a mayoral candidate) as saying: “We need to have a communal mentality -- one where we elevate all of our young people.” And Jackson was “calling on state lawmakers to fully fund education -- and focus on building up schools in areas like Boston.”

Describing himself as a “longtime supporter” of Boston’s charter schools, in an opinion piece that appeared in The Globe before the ballot measure vote, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (now running as an incumbent for mayor) nevertheless also opposed the ballot question. The “reckless growth” of more charter schools, he feared, “would change our charter culture and greatly increase the likelihood of school failures that hurt kids and discredit the reform movement.” And he added, bizarrely, that charter expansion would have been “fundamentally hostile to the progress of school improvement, the financial health of municipalities, and the principle of local control.”

Last January, in another editorial for The Globe, Walsh called for a 10-year, $1 billion investment plan to build “beautiful, innovative new buildings,” and to presumably renovate Boston’s existing 127 schools. The initiative, part of BuildBPS, is “an incredible opportunity,” he said. He ruefully asserts that “generations of struggle for equity in urban schools have left trust gaps.”


Both Jackson’s and Walsh’s statements -- along with those who oppose increasing the number of charter schools -- reflect today’s progressive orthodoxy and expose the weakness of today’s progressive impulses. For progressivism demands greater access to everything -- healthcare, contraception, happiness -- but not greater access to better education, which charter schools provide. And the progressive state -- harking back to the days of classic liberalism -- believes that an endless stream of monetary inputs (“equity”) results in higher cognitive outputs for public school students, who are threatened by additional charter schools.

What do progressives tell those students whose names this week were not be selected in the lottery that determines enrollment? That Boston Public Schools are a better alternative to charter schools?

Charter Schools, independent public schools that operate under five-year charters granted by Massachusetts’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, were first authorized by the  Education Reform Act of 1993. The first 15 schools opened during the 1995-1996 school year, serving 2,500 students. In 2000 and 2010, legislation was passed to add more schools, to satisfy demand. Today, 78 charter schools educate over 42,000 students annually (representing 4.2 percent of all PK-12 public school population), with nearly 30,000 on waiting lists; Boston is home to 22 charter schools while another 38 are in spread among urban areas outside of Boston.

According to statistics released by the Massachusetts Department of Education, they are remarkably diverse. For the 2016-2017 period, students deemed economically disadvantaged constitute 35.5 percent of charter school population (compared with 27.4 percent for the overall state school population). African-Americans comprise 29.9 percent of charter school population (8.9 percent for the state), while Hispanics are 31.7 percent of charter population (19.4 percent for the state).

And charter schools are remarkably effective. “Charter School Performance in Massachusetts,” a comprehensive study at Stanford University, concluded in 2013 that, “Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in TPS [traditional public schools], the analysis shows on average that students in Boston charter schools have significantly larger gains in both reading and mathematics.”

The Baker administration refutes charges that charter schools siphon funds from public schools, to their detriment. In an email communication, Brendon Moss, Baker’s deputy communications director, said that the administration “will continue to make investments in our public schools at historic levels.” Indeed, Moss wrote, funding local schools under the current administration is at an all-time high, now $4.68 billion. The proposed fiscal 2018 budget includes increasing support by more than $90 million, twice the amount required under state law.

Baker understands fully the benefits provided by charter schools and he was right to support their expansion last year. Armed with a record number of applications this year, he should now demand that the legislature correct the mistake clearly made by misguided voters by approving charter school expansion – action that conservatives should robustly support, too.

James P. Freeman, an occasional contributor to New England Diary, is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.


Charles Chieppo: Fighting charter-school success

Charles Chieppo: Fighting charter-school success
Given the powerful, well-funded interests behind the plan, no one would describe it as the kind of grassroots effort the Founding Fathers had in mind when they dreamed of a dynamic democracy driven by engaged citizens. But you can't help but wonder if L.A.'s charter advocates arrived at their plan after studying Massachusetts's experience.

Charles Chieppo/Jamie Gass: Legislators do the wrong thing for students

BOSTON After losing the 1958 governor's race, George Wallace, then considered a moderate on segregation by mid-20th century Alabama standards, said he would never get "out-segged" again. Four years later, after his election by the state's virtually all white voters, it was easy for him to declare in his inaugural address, "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Five months later, it was easy for him to "stand in the schoolhouse door" and attempt to block two qualified African-American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

Fast forward more than half a century, and it was easy for Massachusetts state senators to appease the monied interests of the education establishment and reject legislation that would have raised the cap on charter school seats in the lowest-performing 10 percent of Massachusetts school districts from 18 percent to 23 percent of overall enrollment.

It was easy for supposed charter school "supporters" to file poison-pill amendments to the bill, then wait until it was clear that the legislation was going down before casting their votes in favor.

But in politics, what is easy is often wrong.

Despite historic educational improvements over the last two decades, nearly 100,000 largely poor and minority Massachusetts students remain trapped in chronically underperforming district schools.

In Boston, over 15,000 students vied for just 1,700 charter school seats last year. Statewide, there were over 40,000 students on charter school wait lists. For these children and their families, there are no school choices and no way out.

Charters came within two points of closing the 20-point wealth-based achievement gap on 2013 MCAS tests. The year before, 20 charter schools, including many urban charters, finished first in Massachusetts on various tests. Many inner-city charters outperform even affluent suburban schools.

A 2013 Stanford University study found that Boston charter-school students are closing the achievement gap faster than any other public schools in the country. Students learn as much from one year in a Boston charter school as they do in two years in the Boston Public Schools.

The study also found that Massachusetts has the nation's best charter schools. Statewide, charter students gain an additional month and a half of learning in English and two and a half months in math each year compared with the commonwealth's traditional public schools.

These facts build upon the findings of a 2009 Boston Foundation report that the academic impact of a year spent in a Boston charter was comparable to that of a year in one of the city's elite exam schools. In middle school math, it was equivalent to one-half of the achievement gap between black and white students.

Charter schools are also affordable. When students choose to leave a district school to attend a charter, public funding follows the student. A recent Pioneer Institute report showed that raising charter enrollment to accommodate wait-listed students up to the current spending cap of 18 percent in the commonwealth's 17 lowest-performing urban districts would only increase the funds flowing from districts to charters to 5 percent of the districts' $2.5 billion in net school spending.

Districts would get more than a quarter of that back over a decade thanks to generous state reimbursements for students the districts no longer educate.

Massachusetts' s barriers to educational opportunity were not left here by glaciers, they are man-made. Entrenched special interests with nearly limitless bank accounts lobby Beacon Hill to maintain obstacles like enrollment caps, huge wait lists, and needless red tape that deny educational opportunity to underprivileged children, but ensure the continuing comfort of adults in the system.

In the 50th anniversary edition of Simple Justice, Richard Kluger's definitive history of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down the doctrine of "separate but equal," he concluded that "America is a colossus of contradictions… justice of any type cannot materialize… without the binding up of its constituent elements."

In rejecting legislation that would have lifted the charter-school cap, the Massachusetts Senate blocked justice from being done and approved the 21st century version of segregation by preventing more poor and minority children from accessing high-quality educational opportunity.

It was an easy vote; it was also wrong.

Charles Chieppo is a senior fellow of and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.