The Codcast: Charter school lesson plans

It feels like an odd time to be celebrating charter school success in Massachusetts, but that’s just what Cara Candal does in a new book that not only touts the schools, but telegraphs a bold claim about them in its title.

The Fight for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation, published by the charter-friendly think tank Pioneer Institute where Candal is a senior fellow, leaves no doubt about the author’s view of the independently operated, but publicly funded, schools that were first authorized in the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act.

But Candal is an honest broker. She doesn’t ignore criticism of charters, such as their long-standing practice in the past of not “backfiling” empty seats during the school year. And she says charters have, as some critics charge, not always made good on the promise that these schools would share with districts best practices and other lessons to improve education more broadly.

Criticism aside, Candal says Massachusetts is home to the highest-performing charter school sector in the country, a claim backed by rigorously conducted research studies from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. The “fight” at the start of her book title relates to what Candal calls on this week’s Codcast the great Massachusetts charter school paradox: The state with the best charters in the country has also been home to some of the most divisive fights over their expansion, culminating in the 2016 ballot question where voters resoundingly rejected a proposal to allow more charter school growth.

Candal doesn’t mince words, saying charter proponents ran a horrible campaign, while opponents were well organized and delivered a thumping to the charter cause. She says opponents were able to exploit confusion about charter school funding, though she faults them for mischaracterizing the complicated issue. Candal says there are a small number of situations in which a surge of charter growth hurts districts, but she argues the broad claim that charters “drain” money from districts doesn’t hold up.

Candal argues that one largely unrecognized obstacle for the 2016 ballot question campaign was a well-intentioned move several years earlier to allow more charter schools. In 2010, the Legislature raised the limit on charter schools but did so with a measure referred to as a “smart cap.”

The law allowed for more charter growth, but restricted it to the state’s lowest performing school districts. What’s more, it limited new charters to those proposed by “proven providers,” operators already running successful charter schools. “I would argue in hindsight it wasn’t particularly smart,” Candal says of the smart-cap legislation.

She says the focus on low-performing districts led to a framing of charters as mainly an escape valve from failing districts, a dynamic that upped tension between charters and struggling urban school systems. Meanwhile, the “proven provider” requirement, she says, killed one of the original premises of charters — that they would be a place for new, outside-the-box education innovation across the state. “We need to break out of this mentality that charter schools are just for a particular type of community,” she says.

Candal says the state should remove the “proven provider” clause, and she argues that charters would develop a broader constituency if innovative proposals landed not just in urban districts with struggling schools, but in suburban areas with better-regarded systems where some families might nonetheless be looking for a different approach to schooling. That seems to sell short, however, the idea that such moves would also increase resistance to charters in areas that had not previously had to contend with their impact on school enrollment and funding.

Candal doesn’t have a clear idea of the way forward for the state’s charter sector that includes a further expansion of the charter limit — other than to say it will have to be done legislatively and have to be bipartisan. She also says it will have to be tied to a bigger education package, as was the case with charters’ arrival as part of the 1993 reform law.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Jack Schneider of UMass Lowell says the new civics education law misses the mark. (CommonWealth) A Berkshire Eagle editorial takes the opposite stance.

William Smith of the Pioneer Institute says the Baker administration’s Health Secretary Marylou Sudders is taking the wrong tack on controlling pharmaceutical prices. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A former Rockland health agent has been charged with 22 counts of fraud after town officials say she forged signatures and submitted bogus reports on at least 11 restaurants and other food establishments that she never inspected. (Patriot Ledger)

A playground in Buzzards Bay that was closed after a child was injured going down a slide following a $2.3 million restoration remains closed after an audit determined the park still did not comply with federal and state accessibility mandates, though town officials refused to release the report. (Cape Cod Times)

Globe columnist Adrian Walker, who has opposed the idea pushed by some black activists in Boston to rename Faneuil Hall because its namesake was a slave trader, says last weekend’s reenactment there of a slave auction did nothing to change his mind. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In a two-part editorial, the New York Times makes the case to increase the House of Representatives by more than a third, adding 158 seats to the current 435 that was set in 1920. The Times, which uses Massachusetts as one of its prime examples, argues expanding the chamber would make congressmen more responsive to a smaller number of constituents as well as increase the chances for more political diversity in states.

US Catholic bishops put off a planned vote to increase accountability standards on themselves on sexual misconduct issues in response to an 11th-hour directive from the Vatican. (Boston Globe) A Globe editorial says it’s clear that bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves and that law enforcement officials must step up.

Peter Lucas says reporters have it in for President Trump, especially CNN’s Jim Acosta, who he says is not a reporter but a “self-serving opponent, and a nasty one at that.” (Boston Herald)

The Camp fire in California has now claimed 42 lives, with more than 200 people missing, making it the deadliest wildfire in state history. (Los Angeles Times)

ELECTIONS

Newly elected Democrats of color in Massachusetts talk race and racism, with rep-elect Nika Elugardo calling the party “straight-up racist.” (State House News)

Jaclyn Cashman says Gov. Charlie Baker, less than week off his reelection (and his vow to absolutely serve a full four-year term), is “mulling” a 2020 challenge to US Sen. Ed Markey. (Boston Herald)

Richard Parr and Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group say Baker shows a Republican can do well in urban areas. (CommonWealth) A Lowell Sun editorial says the state Republican Party needs to learn from Baker and adopt his brand if it wants to become relevant.

US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has been declared the winner in the tight Arizona election for the seat being vacated by Sen.Jeff Flake, becoming the first Democrat elected from the state to an open Senate seat since 1976. (New York Times)

The number of suits in Florida’s hotly contested Senate race has grown as Republicans, led by President Trump, are making baseless claims of fraud and forgery. (Washington Post)

US Rep. Katherine Clark played a key role in Democrats’ campaign efforts to flip the House back to their control. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 600 points Monday with technology stocks beginning the run before it spread across all sectors. Among the losers was General Electric, which hit a new all-time low before closing under $8 a share for the first time. (Wall Street Journal)

Watertown health care technology firm athenahealth said it will be acquired by two New York financial firms. (Boston Globe)

As expected, Amazon today will announce its selection of New York City and Crystal City, Virginia, as the two sites to split its HQ2. (Wall Street Journal)

The owner of Lizzie Borden’s final residence in Fall River is appealing to the state to grant him waivers to allow him to open the mansion as a bed and breakfast, saying many of the mandates from the city such as installing an elevator and other changes to make it handicapped accessible would destroy some of the historical and architectural significance. (Herald News)

EDUCATION

Two New Bedford officials, including a member of the school committee, dismiss the “charter school think-tank crowd” and urge rejection of a proposal to expand the Alma del Mar charter. (CommonWealth)

University of Massachusetts Boston officials vow to take swift action following a Globe report on multiple problems with the school’s vaunted entry into the residential campus world with the opening this fall of its first dormitory. (Boston Globe)

Two nursery school officials urge everyone to go see the Reggio Emilia exhibit and see why early education is not child’s play. (CommonWealth) Research shows preschoolers are far more likely to be expelled than any other type of student. (Governing)

Why Marian Court College in Swampscott closed abruptly in 2015 remains a mystery. (Salem News)

UMass Amherst officials are warning students there in advance of the likely opening of the state’s first retail pot shop in Northampton that toking up sends GPAs down and that no one under 21 can possess or use marijuana on campus. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

A Boston City Council hearing will consider the idea of lowering the default speed limit in some areas to 20 miles per hour, a move that comes two years after the city lowered the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. (Boston Herald)

CASINOS

Joan Vennochi calls Steve Wynn’s lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which aims to block release of its investigation of what the Wynn Resorts company knew about sexual misconduct allegations against its founder, “diabolically brilliant.” (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The FCC is proposing a new regulation limiting the amount of money a cable company would have to pay for community programming, a move local officials say would gut community television’s ability to cover municipal meetings, elections, and events. (Wicked Local)

PASSINGS

Comic book legend Stan Lee, who led Marvel Comics during its height and was responsible for creating such iconic characters as Spiderman, the Hulk, Thor, and the Fantastic Four, died in Los Angeles Monday. He was 95. (New York Times)

Grace Corrigan, the mother of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger, who traveled the country after the tragedy to carry her daughter’s message about the importance of education, has died. She was 94. (MetroWest Daily News)