Patrick’s school choice
A Boston Herald editorial today calls on Gov.-elect Charlie Baker to work to eliminate the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Baker has been a strong supporter of charters, independently-operated public schools that were first authorized by the state’s 1993 education reform law, and he is likely to try to push in that direction.
But the editorial and a recent Pioneer Institute report that examined current charter school law and regulations are as much a look back at Gov. Deval Patrick‘s legacy on the issue as they are a prescription for the incoming administration. And the assessment of Patrick’s record on the issue is that it’s pretty much been a muddled mess.
A 2010 law aimed at allowing more charter schools (a move Patrick embraced because of the potential to secure millions of dollars in federal aid as a condition of it) has had the unintended consequence of limiting innovation in the charter sector, says the Pioneer report. The report contends that because the law limits new charters in communities that saw their charter cap raised to “proven providers” — organizations with a clear track record serving similar student populations — it has led applicants to safely propose replicating what they have done with other schools rather than encouraging innovation with new models.
An even bigger impediment to charter growth, however, came with adoption of new regulations earlier this year by the Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that rework the formula for determining which districts are eligible for more charters under the 2010 law. The law allowed more charters in the lowest performing 10 percent of all districts in the state. That had been determined solely by performance on the state MCAS test. In June, however, the education board voted to make that determination based on a combination of absolute performance (75 percent) and growth in MCAS scores (25 percent). The result bumped from the bottom 10 percent a number of large urban districts with low overall performance and replaced them with small rural districts where growth has been somewhat lower but actual MCAS scores are higher. The regulation change was pushed by state Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville, a longtime charter school opponent, and charter school supporters say it undermined the intent of the 2010 law to make more charter seats available to students in low-performing districts.
Patrick’s own life story, as he often tells it, is one that was entirely transformed by educational opportunity. Raised by a single mother in a poor Chicago household, he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Milton Academy, from which he went on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Charter schools have served as a Milton Academy for the masses, giving thousands of families the type of choice of a more promising education that Patrick and a small handful like him have been able to so richly benefit from.
As has been done by education leaders like Geoffrey Canada, who was raised by a single mother in Bronx and went on to found the Harlem Children’s Zone, Patrick could have used his own story as powerful testimony to the need to shake up the education landscape and expand the options for poor and minority students. It’s ironic that despite winning the ultimate school choice lottery, he failed to make that connection.
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