Massachusetts’ Question 2: Regarding Marty Walz’s Pro-Charter Reasonings
On September 13, 2016, the Boston Globe reported on a UMass Boston debate concerning Question 2, a ballot issue that Massachusetts voters will face at the polls on November 08, 2016.
Representing the pro-charter set was former Massachusetts Representative Marty Walz (D- 8th Suffolk District), who is also senior advisor to Democrats for Education Reform in Massachusetts (DFER-MA). (For an informative, brief look at DFER, see this post by Pennsylvania teacher and blogger Peter Greene.)
In this post, I respond to particulars related to Walz’s pro-charter-expansion stance.
Walz maintains that “local control …got us into this situation,” and by “this situation,” Walz means, “thousands of students are being left behind by their school districts.”
So, according to Walz, if Massachusetts rid itself of local control, then those “thousands of left-behind students” would no longer be “left behind.”
Indeed. Without local control, those students might conveniently and completely disappear from any school roster.
Goodbye “left behind”; hello “gone.”
If Walz had her way, then there would only be individual, non-elected boards comprised of corporate and financial executives to oversee a school or a network of schools. So, if any students leave a school or network (whether encouraged to do so by that school/network or not), then the school (or network) responsibility ends there.
Massachusetts would be free to emulate Louisiana’s all-charter Recovery School District (RSD), a “portfolio” district (one where “there is no single entity responsible for all children”)– and one where assistant superintendent Dana Peterson publicly admitted that he doesn’t know how many students just disappear from those portfolio-ed, New Orleans schools.
But let us return to Walz’s sweep against local control of Massachusetts schools (meaning local control in the state as a whole). Given that America finds herself in the throes of the test-centrism worshiped by corporate education reformers, let us consider Massachusetts NAEP results for 2015:
Overall Performance for Reading
Massachusetts outperformed all of the other states in grade 4 and tied for grade 8.
Based on average scale scores, Massachusetts was first in the nation at grade 4. At grade 8, Massachusetts tied for first in the nation with three other states. …
Students in Massachusetts outperformed students nationally on the NAEP reading tests.
The average scale score of Massachusetts grade 4 students on the reading assessment was 235, higher than the national average of 221. Eighth-grade Massachusetts students (274) also outscored their counterparts nationwide (264).
Fifty percent of Massachusetts grade 4 students and 46 percent of grade 8 students scored at or above the Proficient level. These percentages were higher than the comparable percentages of students nationally who scored at or above the Proficient level, 35 percent at grade 4 and 33 percent at grade 8. …
Overall Performance for Mathematics Massachusetts tied for first with three other states on both the grade 4 and grade 8 mathematics assessments.
Based on average scale scores, Massachusetts tied for first in the nation at both grades 4 and 8 with three other states. …
Students in Massachusetts outperformed students nationally on the NAEP mathematics tests.
The average scale score of Massachusetts grade 4 students on the mathematics assessment was 251, higher than the national average of 240. Eighth-grade Massachusetts students (297) also outscored their counterparts nationwide (281).
There is much more to the 2015 Massachusetts NAEP report. However, I think it safe to say that blaming local control of schools for any sweeping failure of Massachusetts education is nonsense.
According to the Globe, Walz continues by citing the CREDO study of charter schools, which found via matched “virtual twin” participants that Boston charter schools outperformed the Boston public schools.
It is important to note that CREDO only matches students who change from traditional public schools (TPS) to charter schools and not the other way around. Therefore, if a student leaves a charter school and returns to a TPS, that student is excluded from the CREDO study.
It is possible that lower-scoring students leave charter schools and return to TPS. It is also possible that students with behavior problems leave charter schools and return to TPS. It seems that it is easier for students to exit a charter school midyear and enter a TPS than it is for a student to leave a TPS to enroll in a charter school midyear.
All of the above could artificially boost charter school results.
Furthermore, CREDO only compares charter students with “virtual twins” from TPSs that send some students to charter schools. Therefore, CREDO results cannot be generalized to TPSs that send no students to charter schools.
In other words, even CREDO has its limits.
As far as CREDO results for Boston are concerned, they do make for an impressive read– one which charter proponents such as Walz offer as justification for expanding charters ad infinitum. However, such results can only be generalized to Boston schools as they are at the time of the study. In other words, it is a serious jump in logic to assume that expanding the number of Boston charter schools (much less the number of charters statewide) guarantees a positive result because past CREDO studies on a specific set of Boston charter schools yielded a favorable result.
Nevertheless, regarding any “poorly performing” charters comes the stock corporate reformer response of just closing the “failing” schools and replacing them with “higher-performing” schools.
School closure is destructive to a community. There is no “just” about it.
Back to Walz:
Walz does not like that Boston Public Schools receives funds to offset its losing students to charter schools. Yet if there is to be compulsory education, there must be a system of schools in which students might enroll at any time. There must be a default system, a “catch all.” Otherwise, there will be students without a school to attend, for whatever reason, including the fact that Massachusetts charters are not required to backfill empty seats in all grades– which means the charters are off the hook for adding a single latecomer student to a number of grade level cohorts.
Unfortunately, the need for a catch-all combined with non-locally-controlled charters tends to create a dual school system– and a dual school system tends to foster segregation.
As for the out-of-state money flowing into Massachusetts for Question 2, Walz is fine with it, as the Globe reports:
“We’re delighted when anybody wants to step up and support our efforts,” Walz said. “The more help we get educating all our kids in this state — that is all to the good.”
Regarding Walz’s being “delighted” with out-of-state money ($1.8 million of which came from Alice and Jim Walton)– and even concerning the millions from in-state wealty, here is are a few issues for Massachusetts voters to consider:
First, DFER is a PAC founded by New York hedge fund managers, and Walz is a senior advisor to DFER-MA. As such, one should expect her to have no problem with wealthy donors (in-state or otherwise) spending to promote the anti-union, pro-charter DFER mission.
Second, the wealthy who are seeking to influence Massachusetts politics from other states have nothing to lose if what they pay to influence turns out to be detrimental to the Commonwealth. As such, consideration of what the actual motives of those out-of-state funders tossing millions into MA could be should give pause.
Finally, even the in-state wealthy who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting Question 2 (for example, the Fidelity Investments crew led by Abigail Johnson and Johnson herself) are hardly likely to be directly affected by the consequences of its passage (i.e., fiscal weakening/destabilization of Massachusetts’ system of public schools; community disruption caused by charter churn; potential fraud and mismanagement introduced by an expanding, under-regulated, decentralized charter sector; increased segregation of students as a byproduct of a dual school system). Massachusetts has a proliferation of private schools available to the moneyed. Then, of course, there are always exclusive schools in other states. So, if Massachusetts charter expansion passes and sours, *Commonwealthiers* are able to dodge it even if they paid handsomely to push it.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
Any issues of struggling students in Massachusetts should be addressed. Yet jumping to statewide decentralization via an ever-expanding charter sector as a solution is short-sighted for the reasons noted in this post.