Will Massachusetts decide the future of U.S. charter schools?

There is a tremendously important vote taking place today and it has nothing to do with who will be the next President of the United States.  There is a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools.  The outcome at the ballot box could decide whether charters continue to grow in America or whether they turn into a short-term experiment that dies at the vine.  Here is why.

Education policy analysts who rarely agree on anything line up together on one main point.  Children who attend Boston charters that predominately serve low income pupils  significantly academically outperform their peers that go to traditional schools. This is from a New York Times article that ran this past weekend by David Leonhardt:

“When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that’s uncommon for academic researchers. ‘Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains,’ said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.”

But because this is a political year objective facts may be insufficient to sway the public.

Democrats, who are often beholden to teachers’ unions, are arguing that the money for charters takes away funds from the regular schools and therefore harms the students that remain in them when there is a option to enroll somewhere else.  Charter schools rarely have unionized teachers.  Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren:

“I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth,” Ms. Warren wrote, “especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

We have seen the identical impact that powerful unions play when it comes to school choice here in Washington, D.C.  They have exerted every bit of influence they can to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides scholarships for students living in poverty to attend private schools.

Now the sad part.  Because charters are concentrated in Boston but Question 2 is voted on by everyone in the state, where most public schools are good, observers now believe the measure will fail.  But there is always hope.  Many people, despite ideology, will simply look out for the benefit of the children.  For example, despite the opposition, keep in mind that the OSP is still alive here in the nation’s capital after sixteen years.  Let’s conclude with a comment by Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan professor who was one of those that looked at the performance of Boston charters.

“The gains to children in Massachusetts charters are enormous. They are larger than any I have seen in my career.  To me, it is immoral to deny children a better education because charters don’t meet some voters’ ideal of what a public school should be. Children don’t live in the long term. They need us to deliver now.”

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