Elizabeth Warren Opposes Expansion of Charter Schools in Massachusetts. Why?

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal criticizing Sen. Elizabeth Warren for opposing a state ballot initiative in her home state to expand the existing 120 charter schools by an additional twelve has provoked in us the curiosity to look into the whole issue of charter schools and the situation in Massachusetts in particular.

According to the Wall Street Journal Sen. Warren has said that many of the existing charter schools “are producing extraordinary results” with some of their students. So why has she come out against their expansion?

We soon found out. In another article by Jeff Bryant published by the Education Opportunity Network she is quoted as having said, “Public officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of children [those that are doing very well] but to all of the children, to make sure that they receive a first-rate education.”

The article goes on to quote a council member from Northampton, “Public school districts across the state are losing more than $408 million [to charters] this year alone—a loss of funds that is undermining the ability of districts to provide all students with the educational services to which they are entitled.”

The article continues: “Research studies have shown that the current model for financing charters harms the education of public school students. As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally. That would increase class sizes and leave the remaining students under served. So instead, the school cuts a program or support service—a reading specialist, a special education teacher, a librarian, an art or music teacher—to offset the loss of funding.”

Further on we read that charter schools have a tendency to exclude certain students that are more difficult to teach. “Massachusetts charter schools in particular have had a history of cherry picking students. . .

“Another exclusionary tactic charters often employ is to use harsh discipline codes and out-of-school suspensions to push out students who exhibit behavior problems or who struggle with school rules and academic work.” (One Boston charter school had suspended 60 percent of its students, we are told.)

Winslow_Homer_-_The_Country_SchoolThe traditional one-room American schoolhouse of the 19th century. Painting by Winslow Homer

“Students who are frequently suspended are much more apt to leave, and once they leave, charter schools are not required to fill the empty seats with new students. As students progress from grade-level to grade-level, this allows the charters to sort out “the chaff” among its students until the entering grade class is reduced to only those students who are more apt to score well on tests and eventually graduate. This filtering process shows up in the high student attrition in charters.”

Thus, the freshman class that had enrolled in the school originally eroded in size by the time of graduation. In one case, a charter school’s freshman class shrank by more than half by the time they were seniors.

Finally let us find out who is financing this ballot initiative. Who is behind it? We learn that foremost among its sponsors are the two Walmart billionaires, Jim and Alice Walton, from Arkansas. From Arkansas? What are they doing in Massachusetts?

Other funders of the campaign include New York-based Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy and Education Reform Now Advocacy, both of which have strong ties to the hedge fund industry. These two groups, along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, put in $6,240,000. Political scientist Maurice Cunningham explains that funding to support this ballot measure is driven by a handful of wealthy families that . . . largely give to Republicans, and they represent the financial industry.

Why are they trying to destroy the public school system in this country? Is it the powerful teachers’ union they are afraid of? Charter schools won’t hire union members.

Yes, there is great room for improvement within that closed shop. But the way to fix it is to work within it, not to try to wreck it as they are our national health system.

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