Question 2 – What Is A Charter School?

I have done more studying on this one issue than any other I have covered.  That is saying a lot.  Charter Schools are the children of our frustrations with the school departments that we hear about, and they stand to compete with our school system for students and money.  Some say that they are good things, that teach our students to focus in a more penetrating way on the lessons of the day.  Others say that they are akin to private schools,  taking students out of the mainstream and giving them less of a chance to make a mark on their world.  One woman scolded me when she found out that I was against Question 2, telling me that they were smaller schools and they were more efficient.  My response was not to respond.  I just turned and walked away.

First, there is no accountability in Charter Schools.  There is no public method to allow taxpayers to scrutinize Charter Schools.  In Massachusetts, which has the reputation of being one of the most progressive and accomplished school systems in the nation, if not in the world,  Massachusetts schoolchildren are “Number One in the Nation.”  So where is this pressure coming from to make us see our school system as a failure which needs fixing and Charter Schools?  According to Paul Georges, the Union President of the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL), it is coming from Madison Avenue where there is reportedly a significant effort to make Charter Schools into  something that is possibly wrong for the State of Massachusetts.  The no accountability argument is Paul Georges.’  There is no School Committee in a Charter School.  Little has to be done to make the school liable to any of the rules written into the legalities  of the laws which force school systems to perform in an acceptable fashion in exchange for their receipt of tax monies.  Charter Schools do have a master,  but they do not need to deal with a School Committee, a State Department of Education (DOE), or any other of the recognizable barriers that regular school systems must dance around.

Accountability is an issue.  There is no requirement that students have certified teachers in a Charter School.  All that the schools require is a Bachelor’s degree in a subject related to their classroom curriculum.   The Master of the school does not need to be certified either.  He or she is governed by an independent board.  “Money is paid by taxpayers,” according to Mr. Georges.  In Lowell, Massachusetts the independent board released a director who was “doing a good job.”  The concept was that Charter Schools would offer options, but one option that they offered was to return recalcitrant students to the public schools, helping the student body in the Charter School believe that they were special.  Not as in special needs, special as in better than  those students forced back into the regular system.

The idea in Massachusetts, with the acceptance of Charter Schools was that the school would offer options.  The idea was working back in the 1990’s, creating the fertile field on which Charter Schools were able to grow.  “Wall Street takes an interest in Charter Schools because it benefits their bottom line,” says Mr. Georges.  Education in the United States, if I got this right, costs 500 Billion a year.  It is a big business.  The local newspaper, which is quoted by the people in charge of the Charter School challenge, stated that 10.7 Million spent on changing the Charter Schools and opening them up for Question 2, was forwarded to the state by outside funding sources.

“Hedge fund operators,” according to Mr. Georges, are vitally interested in Charter Schools.  But the question remains, why change when your public schools are making the school systems in the public arena first in the nation?  The narrative has been about a system of failure.  But the Massachusetts teacher is hardly a failure if our students are first in the nation.

Compared not only to other states, but compared to the western world, Massachusetts students are also on the top of the list.  Boston, and Boston is tough, has one of the finest city school systems in the country, it is said.  Testing determines that rank but testing of the entire school system in a city or town, has been taking place since the 1860’s.  If you have been reading my articles, you know this.

“Now we have high stakes testing,” says Mr. Georges.  “I would give them a quiz once a week to see what they retained,” he stated.  All teachers want to know if their lessons have been retained.  Few wouldn’t.  Testing has added a whole new dimension.  You emphasize testing now.  At one time the educators, some of them anyway, bought into a grant called “Race to the Top.”  This was not done in collaboration with educators.  I personally have a problem with “Best Teacher” awards.  Most teachers are the best teachers.  But, in some cases, the fellow teachers are the ones who pick the best teachers.  Then the teacher will usually say that they could not have done it without their fellow teachers.

“Common Core” is a problem, according to the UTL.  The problem with Common Core, they say, is that a group of investors in Manhattan   believed that Common Core would “make a new market for a product,”  according to Mr. Georges.  That undermines support for the product you are using now.  You start to believe that it is not working.  It portrays negatives.  We had to make allowances in the 1980’s and 1990’s for our own influx of new immigrants, many of whom could not speak the language.  They were still sent to public school.  Charter Schools would not have had to take them into their bosum.  Many of the students had no idea how to live through the winter, because there is no winter in Cambodia, Vietnam, or Thailand.

I remember my first few days in Lowell.  A twin girl and boy asked me to teach them English.  I would learn some Greek.  They would learn alot of English.  They did so well, that the girl became the Valedictorian of my graduating class in 1976.  Sometimes home-schooled students go to Harvard.  Not all but some.  Sometimes the quietest child will become the speaker at graduation.  You do not need Charter Schools to make wonderful things happen.

Lowell High School is the second largest in the state.  It has academies, like the Latin Academy, which does not teach Latin necessarily, it is just a group of students whose parents or who themselves wanted to focus on traditional academics.  Traditional curriculum.  The people pushing Charter Schools do not have this in their perspective.  “When I hear the scenario of failure, it creates an environment of distrust in the system.”  So saith Mr. Georges.  I have to agree with him.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, herself an academic in the past, states in the Boston Globe, that she will not be voting Yes on Question 2.  I blame John Adams for our eternal questions being given to the voters for their consideration.  Adams wrote the progressive Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which included ballot questions.  I come from states that rely on the legislature for direction.  They do not necessarily allow their citizens the right to change their own laws.  The legislature does that.

The refereendum is called Question 2, and it calls for lifting the cap “on the number of charters allowed in the state, allowing for as many as 12 schools a year.  Warren said that charter schools are “excellent” but voiced her concern about Question 2 meaning “this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters, Education is about creating opportunity for all of our children, not about leaving many behind.” (Senator Warren in the Boston Globe).  She takes exception to Charter Schools, pointing out that “Public Officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of children but to all of the children, to make sure that they receive a first-rate education.”  She obviously believes that the living in an academically separated society is not in the best interest of all of our school children.  “Public officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of chidren but to all of our children, to make sure that they receive a first rate education.” (ibid.)  Education guru Diane Ravitch reported on her personal blog that Warren is unlikely to fall in line with charter school doctrinaire.  “Now we know Ravitch’s assertions were well-founded.”  (ibid.)

The Charter Schools cadre who are pushing Question 2 say that they will not take money from the local school districts.  In fact, in addition to being ill-certified, Charter Schools are in fact draining their towns and cities.  Northhampton reports that six nearby charter schools are projected  to drain 2.3 Million dollars from their education budget.  The response was that the Council said that they would never support Question 2. One hundred fifty towns and cities had the same outlook.   Charters state that local schools are just moving money from one school to another.

That is not quite true, according to the newspaper.  “The money does not follow the child.”

Now, people are worried that Charters will have a tendency to exclude students who are more difficult to teach.  “Massachusetts charter schools in particular have had a history of cherry-picking students.” (ibid.)

Do charter schools have a history of under-enrolling students with disabilities?  Do they discriminate against  students whose first language is not English?  Do they discriminate against students who have problems with the harsher rules of the charter school?  It seems that the opponents of the current educational system believe that they do.

Finally, who is funding Question 2?  I do not know but they are interested in turning the good Massachusetts record around, it appears.  Today, I went by a local city park and found two signs stuck on public land in favor of Question 2.  Some of Massachusetts taxpayers feel that the use of public land for signs shows a lack of strong support for the initiative, whatever it may be.   Most of the money appears to be coming from outside of Massachusetts.  My question is, why are they picking on us?  We already have the best educational system in the United States.

The author of the article is Jeff Bryant, the manager of the Education Opportunity Network.  The article does not say if he is a liberal or conservative.

I believe that there is an interest in taking money from the public school system in the Charter School question.  I believe that few people in Massachusetts are so unaware of outside influences that they would vote for Question 2.  I do not know if I believe that outsiders are behind the question.  I do believe that Massachusetts citizens are too smart to be taken over by people trying to fund a question that is so biased against our excellent school systems.

Finally, in his book “A Call to Economic Arms,” my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas stated that “Education is America’s great calling…Republicans talk about it…Money for serious funding of schools?…Gee, that is really a local and state issue.” (Page 32)  I do not believe, had he lived until today, that Paul would have been interested in the Charter Schools referendum.  “Improvements in education, to many Democrats only means a lot more money.”  He asks, “Is public education in America the top priority?”  “The answer to the question must be a resolute Yes!”

Paul’s messages are still appropriate in today’s economy.  The answers to the question of rejection of Question 2 should be a “resolute Yes!”  Money needs to be poured into school districts.  Charter Schools should continue to be what they always have been.  That is a way to handle children with learning difficulties that need warm and caring teachers who can identify with their students.  It should not be a drop-off for children who can master the higher learning in an established district.  It should be a school for those with special needs.