ViewPoint: Lift the Charter School Cap to Compete

Feb 5, 2016Boston Business Journal, Council in the News

By Christopher Anderson, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and Al Bunshaft, CEO of DS Government Solutions, Dassault Systèmes, Co-chair of the Council’s Talent Development Policy Team

In the 21st century global economy, Massachusetts employers increasingly compete to succeed and grow with businesses located in cities and states around the nation and around the world. For decades, Massachusetts has had a not-so-secret weapon in this race: its first-in-the-nation public schools. As many other states have reeled from historic recessions and painful industry transitions, our commitment to preparing our children for entering the workforce has proven critical to our economic resilience.

That is why the commonwealth’s technology leaders, including the Mass. High Tech Council, have consistently engaged political leaders to ensure that our public education system is well-resourced, accountable to parents and teachers and driven by the pursuit of excellence and opportunity for all children. In many ways and many communities, those efforts have paid rich dividends in the form of high-performing schools and student achievement.

But, as great as our schools are, they are failing to reach everyone. According to a recent report from Great Schools Massachusetts examining the state’s swelling charter school wait list, more than a quarter of children in the state live in urban school districts that rank among the lowest performing in the state. And most of those children are low-income children of color. There’s something morally wrong when a state as enlightened and educated as Massachusetts leaves so many of its poor, black and Latino children to fend for themselves in public schools that expect so little from them.

As Massachusetts employers attempt to foster economic growth and boost employment, this represents a tragic waste of talent, one that no society can afford in the 21st century. As the report finds, students from these communities who attend a public charter school achieve results on par with students from wealthier, high-performing communities. The data reinforces what we have always known: given an equal shot at a quality public school, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can have same educational attainment as many other Massachusetts children.

And therein lays the problem: 37,000 children on public charter school wait-lists are shut out of the opportunity to attend great public schools because of the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Today, as the state Senate decides whether to debate a bill to lift the cap, and businesses search far and wide for the next generation of engineers, scientists and health professionals, it is clear that this outdated and arbitrary policy is holding back these students and our economy alike. Consider this: the average SAT score of public charter high school students in communities where the wait lists are longest is nearly 150 points higher than those of students who attend traditional district schools. And over two-thirds of charter high school graduates in these communities go on to a four-year college — better than Massachusetts’ already impressive statewide average.

The council’s continued support for expanding access to charter schools is one part of a comprehensive commitment to improving all public schools. Charter schools have proven to be incubators for new educational methods and models that can be leveraged and deployed to inject new ideas and drive systemic improvements across the public school landscape.

By increasing the number of public charter schools, Massachusetts can provide more children with the quality public education they need to compete in that race. By fixing a law that unnecessarily holds back tens of thousands of kids, we can address an injustice. We can progress toward a system that allows every child to thrive no matter where they live. And we can prove once again that reaching our economy’s true potential starts with our commitment to doing the same for all of the commonwealth’s children.

 

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