Targeting charters

One has to wonder at what point charter schools will no longer be the education lightning rod. Long the target of union and administrator angst for what they perceive as drawing on tight public resources, charter schools have been attacked from all angles since they came into being as part of the Education Reform Act.

The latest rationale against the autonomous public schools – and keep that phrase in mind – is the supposed lack of outreach to underserved populations such as special education and bilingual students. Teacher unions and district administrators claim a look at many charter schools enrollments will show decreasing populations of hard-to-teach and expensive students and a lack of commitment in resources and educators toward the goal. They say, like regular public schools, charters should open their doors to more diversity and not be selective.

Those comments, though, are made with the clear-eyed vision of hindsight, scrolling through the enrollment numbers and making the judgments based on that. In Haverhill, the city’s teachers’ union voted to shut down Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School which, after initial problems getting untracked, has become a high-performing Level 1 school. The union president said the rejection was because the school did not reflect the district population.

“It was a fairness issue, pure and simple,” Lisa Begley said in a statement last week announcing the vote results.

Begley had said the union might have a different view if Silver Hill administrators would consider a weighted lottery. That was either a stunning misunderstanding by a high-ranking educator or a cynical offer she knew could not be met. By law, charter school admissions are only by lottery except for schools allowed to have sibling preferences if one member of a family is admitted.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden is also coming under fire on a number of fronts. The school, which boasts a 40 percent minority enrollment, was at the center of a national spotlight when administrators banned students from wearing hair extensions, a prohibition that had more effect on blacks than any other culture.

Just as that tempest was calming down, the Boston Globe relit the spotlight, focusing on the school’s high performance at the detriment of special ed and bilingual students.

“The more we look at the school, the hair problems appear to be the tip of the iceberg about issues of discrimination,” Sarah Wunsch, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts, told the Globe.

Like other charters, opponents point to special needs students who have won admission to the school only to drop out because of lack of services and resources.

“I had a student who was 16 in sixth grade,” Lucas Donohue, a former teacher at the school, told the Globe. “He was Haitian, his family spoke no English, and he was in sixth grade for the third time… What Mystic Valley was doing was not happenstance. Keeping students back was in the interest of Mystic Valley, [because] over the course of time, eventually those kids would leave. When those kids leave, their MCAS scores go with them.”

But Alexander Dan, Mystic Valley’s interim director, said the school is doing its job, with black students outperforming their peers around the state and the school’s attrition rate lower than surrounding communities.

Dan said the school is doing outreach to lure more needy students to apply for the lottery but, again, it is a lottery. Critics can point to enrollment numbers to buttress their arguments but they are anecdotal with few studies done to determine why charters lag in the populations that need the most help. Until someone comes up with a fairer way to determine admission, they will continue to be a target.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The House walked away from a deal that would have given control of the Cannabis Commission to Treasurer Deborah Goldberg amid speculation the move may have been connected to Rep. Mark Cusack’s anger that the Lottery (which Goldberg oversees) may be moving out of Cusack’s  hometown of Braintree. (CommonWealth) Boston Herald columnist Hillary Chabot calls the House bill a Cheech-worthy goof. But a Herald editorial says the House bill is superior to what the Senate is proposing. And a Boston Globe editorial sides with the House on the need for a higher tax rate on pot. A Gloucester Times editorial, however, sides with the Senate on the need to keep the tax rate at the lower level approved by voters.

Gov. Charlie Baker says he remains opposed to new taxes, though wouldn’t commit to a stance on the millionaire’s tax and said while the House’s proposed 28 percent levy on legal pot was too high, he wouldn’t offer a figure that was just right. (Keller@Large)

Stanford University’s Cristobal Young says his research indicates a millionaire’s tax wouldn’t prompt many wealthy people to move out of Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

The water system at MCI-Norfolk is a mess, and high levels of manganese may be contributing to health problems among inmates. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The city of Boston and other municipalities are taking climate change data scrubbed from the EPA website and posting it on their own websites. (Boston Globe

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A 48-year-old white man drove a van into a crowd near a mosque in London, killing one and injuring at least 10 more in what officials labeled a terrorist act and possible retaliation for recent vehicle attacks by Islamist extremists. (New York Times)

Mired in scandal, President Trump governs like he’s president of his base — roughly 35 percent of the population. (Boston Globe)

Trump says he’s under investigation for obstruction of justice. (U.S. News & World Report) No, he’s not, says his attorney. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Airbnb usage on Cape Cod and the islands is climbing rapidly. (Cape Cod Times)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to Twitter and asked for suggestions to give away some of his $80 billion to charity. Here’s some responses. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

The tab for the Essex Technical High School in Middleton came in just under budget at $133.8 million. (Salem News)

More school districts are turning to the school choice program as a way to supplement budgets and avoid cuts. (MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Despite two physician-reported deaths on Cape Cod, state officials say there have been no cases of the rare tick-borne Powassan virus. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

A Steamship Authority fast ferry traveling from Nantucket to Hyannis slammed into a jetty outside the entrance of Hyannis Harbor late Friday, injuring at least 15 people and requiring evacuation of passengers by helicopter and boat. (Cape Cod Times)

Growing support for a North-South Rail Link from the state Democratic Party and the state’s congressional delegation has the Boston Herald’s editorial staff nervous.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Andrew Savitz of Consumers of Sensible Energy says interest in building a natural gas pipeline stems from the desire to export gas out of the country. (CommonWealth)

Of the country’s 99 nuclear reactors, Pilgrim power plant had more incidents and safety lapses than any other in the last 40 years that could have led to core damage and radiation leaks, according to a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Breaking news: Police say a man broke into the firearms section of the Dick’s Sporting Goods store at the Square One Mall in Saugus. (Boston Globe)

Acting US Attorney William Weinreb is prosecuting far more people for illegal re-entry to the United States. (Eagle-Tribune)

Three juveniles from New Hampshire were arrested for attacking and stealing tips collected by street performer Keytar Bear. (Boston Herald)

A new report says the Webster police department is roiled by political infighting. (Telegram & Gazette)

  • Mhmjjj2012

    How “autonomous” are charter schools? They get to operate under a law and with regulations that would be unacceptable for public schools. For example, K-8 charter schools are not required to accept new students after grade 4, K-12 charter schools are not required to accept new students after grade 6, charter high schools are not required to accept new students after grade 9 and all charter schools are not required to accept students after February 15th. If every public school across Massachusetts could exclude new students by grade and by date then how would that work out for the students not admitted? It wouldn’t.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    It’s interesting the law regulating charter school admissions by lottery and giving a preference for siblings is mentioned but not the 2010 law requiring charter schools to have a student recruitment and retention plan with “deliberate, specific strategies…to attract, enroll and retain a student population that, when compared to students in similar grades in schools from which the charter school is expected to enroll students, contains a comparable academic and demographic profile…” What’s really interesting about this article is how it goes on about Silver Hill’s “supposed lack” of outreach to underserved populations such as special education and bilingual students while a previous CommonWealth story goes into specifics: “Of the 567 students enrolled at Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School in Haverhill, 18.7 percent are Hispanic, 3.9 percent are English language learners, and 24.7 percent are from low-income households. The Haverhill district has roughly double that representation of Hispanic students and English language learners, and a 75 percent higher rate of economically disadvantaged students. At the nearby Tilton Elementary School, Hispanic students represent 48.9 percent of the population, English language learners account for 17.2 percent, and 67.2 are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.” In other words, Silver Hill, an in-district charter school, isn’t serving the same student population as the other public schools in that city and that’s the case with most other charter schools in the state. So what’s the answer? Let the disparity continue “until someone comes up with a fairer way to determine admission?” In the meantime charter schools can continue with the practice of not admitting students after certain grades and after February 15th? What is the point of having a parallel school system operating like that?