Pro-charter vote doesn’t diminish district commitment

We can improve district schools and allow more charters

ON NOVEMBER 8, I will vote yes on Question 2, the referendum that would allow for controlled expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts. I have always embraced any social invention, including charter schools, which gets any child out of the educational wilderness of poor schooling. Thousands of students in the Commonwealth now languish in underperforming district public schools, which eliminates the possibility of them achieving their potential in life.

Nearly a half-century ago, my wife was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), a program through which 3,330 Boston and Springfield students of color attend schools in 35 suburban districts. At its founding, many opponents rallied against METCO, claiming that it would take the best students out of these urban schools and cripple improvements there. These charges proved to be false. Without this opportunity, thousands of METCO students would have never gone to college and thrived in professional careers.

The majority of public charter schools are located in our cities, focused on underserved neighborhoods and attracting almost exclusively low-income black and brown children. Not a single urban charter school is ranked by the state as underperforming. By contrast, about half of district public schools are underperforming. Expansion of the charter school option is simply a matter of social justice.

My yes vote does not diminish my enduring commitment to the improvement of district public schools. After all, the vast majority of students are served by district public schools. To abandon them would be foolhardy.

Through Higher Ground, Inc, a nonprofit service organization that I founded in 2010, we are fiercely engaged in working to transform three underperforming schools in Roxbury into effective schools. I am a strong advocate for universal pre-kindergarten education throughout the state, as a foundation for schooling, particularly in urban schools. I vigorous supported the 1993 Educational Reform Act, which pumped millions of dollars into our public schools in search of improvements. I will continue to fight for more funding for district public schools. In 1970, I played a pivotal role in the passage of Chapter 766, the special education law in Massachusetts, that guarantees that students with special needs receive mainstream education and are not marginalized in any school.

My commitment to district public school does not allow me to overlook the reality that too many urban district schools are broken systems. It will take years for many of them to repair themselves so their students receive the high quality education they deserve. We have ample data to prove that if an urban student is not achieving at grade level by sixth grade he or she is on a path to academic failure and will probably not graduate from high school. It is unconscionable for 10,000 Boston students – more than 30,000 students statewide – to languish on charter waiting lists when they could receive an education in an effective charter school.

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We should remember that charter schools are publicly funded and held accountable for their performance by the State department of education. If they fail, their charters to operate are terminated. Let’s not get caught up in this district public school versus charter school war of specious accusations. Such polarization does not serve the interests of the children of the Commonwealth. Join me in voting yes on Question 2 on Tuesday.

Hubie Jones is dean emeritus of the Boston University School of Social Work and the founder of Massachusetts Advocates for Children.