SchoolFacts Boston, the new group Connolly is helming on a Barr Foundation grant, is purportedly meant to help parents "navigate" the complicated BPS school selection process. What (rather, who) is the Barr Foundation, and what is this really about? The Barr Foundation is Amos Hostetter, Cablevision mogul, mega-philanthropist and corporate shaper of public services. His money has elevated his acolytes, protégés and flacks to public "service" (and I use that term loosely) and has given him enormous power over the public realm, à la Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who use their money to become policy kings. Talk about a seat at the table! Amos Hostetter IS the table in Boston. Read all about this unelected mayor of Boston at https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2016/01/31/barr-foundation-boston/
Amos Barr Hostetter (hiding modestly behind his middle name) is, as the Boston Magazine article explains, a major charter supporter:
Barr has been generous to several charters, making public education advocates fear that the foundation is on the same path as such charities as the Gates and the Walton foundations, which have poured huge amounts of money into charter schools and are pushing a drive for public policy to support them.
Members of the Citywide Parent Council and Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST)—two groups staunchly opposed to charters—are wary of Barr and its grant-making. They are highly critical of the Boston Compact, a coalition of charter, district, and parochial schools that is funded by Gates. Barr has paid out $150,000 to Boston Public Schools and Wheelock College to help establish the Compact here. The Compact is the driving force behind Boston’s “unified enrollment” plan, which will change the way students are assigned to schools. Barr is also investing $5 million in the Fort Point–based Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE), which runs a nationally recognized teacher-training program as well as a charter school. These connections—combined with Barr’s enormous wealth, influence, and political clout—raise fear and suspicion among parents and advocates who adamantly support public education over privatization. “A small group with a great deal of power and influence is shaping a plan with little input,” says Mary Battenfeld, a member of QUEST and the Citywide Parent Council, and it “will radically restructure and possibly destroy Boston Public Schools.”
Connolly is a perfect tool for Hostetter's scheme to corporatize public education via charterization. His mayoral campaign was chosen for backing, to the tune of $500,000, by Stand for Children, a genuine parents' group that was hijacked and subverted into a charter lobby; when that contribution became public (https://www.wbur.org/news/2013/08/21/connolly-rejects-outside-money), he knew enough to vociferously refuse it. He hoped to avoid the political controversy, but the exposé revealed his true colors. Since his political defeat, he has been advising "turnaround" (read: charterized) schools in Lawrence (https://commonwealthmagazine.org/education/connolly-named-chair-new-lawr...) and Salem (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/06/year-after-mayor-race-john-...). Now he's with SchoolFacts Boston (https://schoolfactsboston.org), a new non-profit purporting to be "founded and run by Boston families" to bring "fact-based information" to BPS parents.
I think we can anticipate SchoolFacts Boston's solution to navigating this awful, failing, crumbling public school system: Create more charter schools. Stevil is right to be skeptical of this "parents' group," but he can rest easy -- they're on his side. They don't need to do a City tax grab, as he fears, to "throw money at the problem." They can get all the money they want, public and also private -- if they go charter. Charters are supported by private "philanthropy" -- because they are created to "prove" that good education requires a market approach, using cheap, non-union, untrained and uncredentialed teaching temps, robotically funneling students through a dumbed-down curriculum dominated by test prep, and weeding out students who might lower the aggregate standardized scores, all with minimal public accountability and many lucrative opportunities for high executive salaries, self-dealing contracts, etc. The charter school fraud machine is amply documented. Google pops up 18,300,000 results.
Stevil argues passionately that charters are better for the students:
"Why do people believe they provide a better education? The results speak for themselves (if you get through - and the dropout rate and funding formulas are a legit beef with charters)"
But it's not a "dropout" rate. It's a "throw-out" rate -- very different. The results speak exactly for that: charters throw out (or push or drive or coerce or threaten or intimidate or whatever you want to call it) students who threaten their stellar aggregate test scores, and thus their fat contracts (and the hedge fund investors behind them -- look it up). That's why they look like they provide a better education -- they can start with a hundred kids in a class, eject the lowest layer of test-takers every year, and then boast high scores and graduation rates for the couple of dozen who make it till the end; the more grades in a charter, the fewer survive the winnowing process. If the BPS schools could choose their students, they'd look much better-performing, too. As Mayor Tom Menino said back when he still told the truth about charters (before Obama paid the states to charterize), “In Boston Public Schools, we take every kid. We don’t discriminate. We take special education, we take English-language learners,” he said. “Some other schools? ‘Oh, no. We don’t want those kids.’ They dump those kids into the Boston Public Schools. They want 100 percent graduation rates.”
And charters benefit from their cherry-picking another way: They get the same per-student money allocation as BPS schools, but they don't have to handle the students that are most expensive to educate, those score-lowering special-needs, English-learner, and behavioral issue students that they dump back into the BPS schools. I believe charters also get to keep the year's allocations they get for students they throw out during the year; I've never heard of a "reject refund." Further, the state gets to authorize charters, but fails to reimburse the cities as required by law, requiring BPS to cut back services or take money from other City departments. In short, charters drain BPS resources while they leave BPS to serve the most expensive students. And as charters siphon off students and their allocations, they leave BPS with less money for fixed building and program costs.
Yes, Stevil, as you said, "the dropout rates and funding formulas are a legit beef with charters." In fact, they ARE the beef. Those are the basics of the charter school business model: maximize profits, minimize services, wangle public money on bogus "public welfare" arguments, and unfairly disable the competition. Exactly how the ed-reform billionaires "succeeded" in making their fortunes.
The "better education" claim is disproven in a huge body of research. See https://nepc.colorado.edu and https://dianeravitch.com for real charter facts. And Stevil, please don't cite the "research" paid for by the charter-lobby Boston Foundation. All their glowing study results are the product of invalid research design and/or misrepresentation of results. Here's an important example, in a letter I wrote to the principal author of one of these propaganda reports:
To Professor Joshua Angrist, MIT Department of Economics
In the charter school report "Stand and Deliver," ( http://economics.mit.edu/files/9799)
your up-front Abstract gives all the positive findings, however slight:
“We use admissions lotteries to estimate the effects of attendance at Boston's charter high schools on college preparation, college attendance, and college choice. Charter attendance increases pass rates on the high-stakes exam required for high school graduation in Massachusetts, with especially large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored college scholarship. Charter attendance has little effect on the likelihood of taking the SAT, but shifts the distribution of scores rightward, moving students into higher quartiles of the state SAT score distribution. Boston's charter high schools also increase the likelihood of taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam, the number of AP exams taken, and scores on AP Calculus tests. Finally, charter attendance induces a substantial shift from two- to four-year institutions, though the effect on overall college enrollment is modest. The increase in four-year enrollment is concentrated among four-year public institutions in Massachusetts. The large gains generated by Boston's charter high schools are unlikely to be generated by changes in peer composition or other peer effects.”
But you don't include in the Abstract -- nor in the Conclusion, the two sections most people, including legislators, are likely to read -- the one negative finding, substantial and statistically significant:
"Does charter attendance also increase high school graduation rates? Perhaps surprisingly given the gains in test score graduation requirements reported in Table 4, the estimates in Table 7 suggest not. In fact, charter attendance reduces the likelihood a student graduates on time by 12.5 percentage points, a statistically significant effect.
Why do you gloss over this astonishing and important finding without any effort to explore the reason? If all the factors associated with graduation are positive, why on earth would this one be so negative?
And not only is this factor not prominently presented and examined, but you try to present it in a positive light, as if it is just something the student prudently has decided to do, instead of being forced to do by the school:
“...it appears that charter students take an additional 12th-grade year to graduate, perhaps due to more rigorous graduation requirements. The subset of students taking an additional year in high school may be substituting the high school year for remediation in community college, which is less expensive for the student.”
What are these "more rigorous requirements" that would "perhaps" explain it? Why would the students "taking an additional year in high school" (more accurately, "held back to repeat a grade") need an additional year to substitute for remediation in community college, when they were doing so well in all the other ways? Wasn't the excellent charter education supposed to be the remedy for remediation that kids in ordinary public schools need?
Don't you think that parents applying to charter schools, and legislators who vote to increase the amount of the public education budget devoted to charter schools, might want to know of this likely surprise at the end of high school?
And why, in view of the many positive results, is the effect on college enrollment "modest"? Isn't that the point of the charter schools -- isn't the motto "college and career ready"? What's the meaning of the high test scores as a criterion of school "success" if the kids can't graduate and go to college?
If the charter schools in this study, the six Boston high-performance, over-subscribed, no-excuses, "model" charters, better than any others in the state, on which the future of charters seems to be riding (despite the fact that most charters produce worse results than local public schools), if they significantly lag behind the crumbling, failing, teachers'-union-ruined public schools on timely graduation, and can barely move the needle on college enrollment -- why does this study come out championing charter schools?
I am wondering if, as often happens with sponsored research, the funders of the study, the New Schools Venture Fund and a federal administration committed to a proliferation of charter schools, directed the research team to present this as scientific proof of charter superiority.
The report is on the MIT website as a "working paper" under the color of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), but with a disclaimer that:
"The views expressed here are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER working papers are circulated for discussion and comment purposes. They have not been peer reviewed or been subject to the review by the NBER Board of Directors that accompanies official NBER publications."
(Did you get any comments on it?)
However, the Boston Foundation has re-packaged and published it, as seems to be their pattern, as one of their official reports commissioned by the Foundation and the New Schools Venture Fund, titled "Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice." The report is legitimized by the credibility of a research team from MIT and Harvard, and is clearly intended to represent a piece of unassailable scholarly and peer-reviewed research -- not the views of the authors alone in a non-official NBER publication. I didn't compare the two documents systematically -- but I did notice one big difference: The negative result on timely graduation rates was described in "Stand and Deliver " (p.15) as "statistically significant" -- but in the Boston Foundation report (p 24), it is described as "a statistically insignificant effect." Perhaps you can explain.
I did not receive an explanation from Professor Angrist.
SchoolFacts Boston is yet another stealth move, another smiley-faced Trojan horse, to expand the charter market in this city, to counteract the overwhelming public vote against Question 2 (https://www.wbur.org/edify/2016/11/08/charter-school-ballot-question-res...), which would have allowed unfettered charter proliferation. Ultimately, A. Barr Hofstetter is another corporate privateer, in the Koch/Walmart/Gates/Broad club, using his multi-billionaire status to make the world safe for investors. Public education, with its bottomless pit of tax money, is the next industry they want to take private, a multi-billion-dollar sandbox for them to play in. The result will be -- even more harmful than unjust enrichment of investors and administrative profiteers at taxpayer expense -- the production of a docile work-force, trained only in basic literacy and numeracy and largely ignorant of history and civics, and indoctrinated not to think critically but to believe corporate propaganda and follow orders.