September 29, 2011; Source: Dorchester Reporter | In Boston the success of charter schools throughout the city is starting to pose a threat to the funding of Boston Public Schools. Throughout Boston eight new charter schools are expected to open in the next two years, while many BPS schools are in danger of closing and enrollment has dropped 10.1 percent.
The planned expansion of charter schools, which could raise the number of pupils attending them by 55 percent, could direct an additional $35 million in city funding to charters by 2015 as compared to 2011—a 64 percent increase. The “Race to the Top” law that Bay State lawmakers passed in 2010 has led to a majority of federal dollars now going toward charter schools. The law raised Massachusetts’ limit on charter spending in districts with underperforming schools and also endorses the opening of so-called “innovative” public schools.
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a former teacher, voiced her concern to the Dorchester Reporter about how charters were previously intended as “incubators for best practices” and not meant to be set up as “a parallel [education] system to district schools.” But now that two different education models have been implemented at scale in Boston and across the nation, more such competition is likely.
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Statistics appear to indicate that at least in Boston, charters are advancing student performance at a distinctly higher rate compared to district schools.
For example, Boston Collegiate Charter School (BCCS) in Dorchester ranked among Massachusetts’ best performers in 2011, and the school also had a 100-percent college acceptance rate. Tenth-grade students at BCCS even ranked first in the state on the English Language Arts and Math exams. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test has been proven very difficult for students statewide, with 82 percent of schools failing to meet performance targets established by the No Child Left Behind Act. BCCS and other charter schools appear to be doing better on the MCAS than the regular public schools.
A recent contract signed by the Boston School Committee and charter school officials could facilitate public schools’ implementation of some of the policies that have been successful in charter schools. Education is not an issue that can be solved by finding alternative programs for children to excel in while letting others fall behind. The competitive challenge presented by charters to traditional public schools could and should lead BPS to make changes in district schools to make them attractive and competitive enough to retain pupils.—Aine Creedon