Skip to content

Massachusetts’ Question 2: Regarding Marty Walz’s Pro-Charter Reasonings

September 14, 2016

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.



Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Mercedes, you continue to hand out the ammo we need to kill Question 2. Brava!

  2. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Thank you so much for your focus on Question 2 here in Massachusetts. I have been sharing your well researched position on our local Facebook page for the campaign to Vote No on 2, as well as my own Facebook page. You have also provided me a wonderful base of factual information as a reference when constructing a letter to the editor for my local paper.
    Last week’s paper had a grossly factually wrong letter written by a representative of Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. Their biggest push is that a No Vote would be denying “equal access to parents whose children are being educated in some of the worst school systems in the state.”
    Thank you again for your educated perspective on the money (investment) and profits of individuals, and the loss of community public schools governed by a publically elecyed board and accessible to all students – real public schools vs. Charters that are public only in their funding, not in there attendance or management.

  3. Maureen O'Connor permalink

    I attended the Marty Walz v Tito Jackson debate on 9/13 at University of Mass Boston. What you read in Michael Levenson’s report in the Boston Globe was biased in favor of the charter message. In addition to citing the Stanford Credo study,the WBUR radio host brought up Brown University’s Annenberg study re charters in Massachusetts which is largely critical, but Globe reporter never mentioned this. Jackson also mentioned the high number of suspensions in MA charter schools, but never reported. Levenson also gave more coverage to what Marty Walz said and less to Tito Jackson’s position and rebuttal. Troubling but no surprise since most of Boston Globe’s columnists and editorials favor raising cap on charter schools. Marty Walz is a white former state representative, while Tito Jackson is an African-American city councilor.

    Maureen O.

  4. Jake J permalink

    We spend a lot of time debating things like test scores when we should be debating corruption, as in the ability of an elite few to set the agenda for the many because of their outsized influence in the government and media.

    This elite few is not powerful because they are experienced or expert but because they have a lot of money. In fact their prescriptions have already failed, but they are still in use.

  5. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Uh, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the mayor of Boston advocates for a vote of No on Question 2. I believe that the mayor understands the problem.

  6. It is also worth noting if you didn’t already that the Massachusetts CREDO study was paid for by Pearson and the Walton Foundation.

    “In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools.”

    This report, Charter School Performance in Massachusetts, is part of a larger set of studies on charter school effectiveness that CREDO is conducting. CREDO gratefully acknowledges the support of the Walton Family Foundation for supporting this portion of the research. All results and opinions expressed in this report, however, belong to CREDO. (p 2.)

  7. Any single study outside of the lab can be cited for its limitations, CREDO’s study of MA charters included. But when you line up the totality of research done on MA charters the results are overwhelming. It’s not just researchers from Stanford who are finding stronger student outcomes in MA charters. It’s those from Harvard. From MIT. From Columbia. From Duke. Are all these studies flawed? Are all these researchers professionally compromised such that their work cannot be trusted?

    I’ve made an effort to compile a list of the studies that assess student performance in MA charters. It may be found here: The tally currently stands at a baker’s dozen showing incredibly strong results. I’ve yet to find a single study that shows MA students doing better in traditional public schools (and it’s not for lack of looking nor from asking my anti-charter friends to cite one).

    If evidence and reason matter, then then we’ve moved past the point of wondering whether students of all kinds perform better in MA charters. The evidence clearly states that they do.

    • What your list does not include is a single impact study on the consequences over time of steadily opening charter schools– economic ramifications for the stability of the MA economy to support such action, or for stability of compulsory education, or on the stability of neighborhoods, or adequate supports for monitoring/ preventing fraud/ mismanagement. No study addresses potential issues in the wording of Q 2, including the possibility of the likes of Walton preference in determining where charters are concentrated via their startup grants (in other words, the influence of billionaire choice on school location). So many unknowns not even considered, which is irresponsible given the botched chater situations in many states.

      If you think your past studies prove that a positive scaling up is a given, have a chat with Bill Gates. He’s been trying without success for decades to scale up something, anything, associated with market-driven ed reform.

      • Correct, these studies do not prove how well (or not so well) the MA system will scale; they simply prove all kinds of students can perform better in MA charters. What does provide strong evidence that the MA system will scale well is the last 20 years of the MA charter system scaling well.

        We have over 80 public charter schools now, and we do not see the kind of fraud or “billionaire influence” of which you describe. More than two decades into the program what we see is a still well-funed, best-in-the-nation traditional public system and a set of charters that perform even better. The MA charter system’s record with ELL and SPED is particularly remarkable. The neediest students deserve more help, not a cap on what has proven to help.

        There are 10,000’s of MA families who believe a charter education is the best option for their kid. Who are you, or am I, to say they’re wrong? We should let them choose.

      • They will choose at the polls on November 8th.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: The Reformers’ War Against Elected School Boards in Massachusetts | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. This week in the war on workers: 100 Massachusetts school committees oppose charter expansion - LiberalVoiceLiberalVoice — Your source for everything about liberals and progressives! — News and tweets about everything liberals and progressives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s