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John Connolly's new gig

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.

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Comments

Hell, Walsh was barely elected too. 38% turnout says what?

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Where you can send him a personal email instead of posting it here?

I see you are focused on the rate of graduation 'on time'. Got to get those kids out of English and dumped out into the word ASAP am I right? Who care how prepared they are for adult life, they are getting out on time. What a truly stupid way to measure if a high school is effective.

Please explain to me how hedge fund fat cats are profiting off the Brooke building a new high school (for like 1/2 of what BPS would pay) using loans from local banks. It must be a truly devious plan because from my perspective it seems like more Boston kids have a chance to attend a brand new building vs. watching the paint flake off the walls in the flagship of BLS where water fountains can't even be used due to lead pipes.

Are we under threat of massive charter expansion? No, this was put to a vote and the charter cap was not lifted (by a wide margin). So we have some charters and won't suddenly be gutting our school system by adding tons of more seats. And that's fine. The Barr Foundation may be shady but you're making them out to be some kind of super villain organization that can't be stopped. They've lost this battle. The end.

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Shirley has my personal email. We are actually very good friends and on many issues we say she goes left, I go right and we end up with a great answer in the middle (and invariably none of the politicians ever have an interest in a real answer that sits so well between the right and the left).

I'll digest the rest of this and maybe check back in.

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Shirley states:

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.

Once again, we have a charter critic applying charter rules in other states to Mass.

1) There is no business model - these are non-profits strictly regulated by the state
2) Minimize what services - one of the big advantages is that the school day is MUCH longer than BPS. And as Shirley notes - these are PUBLIC schools, funded with PUBLIC money.
3) Unfairly disable the competition - you mean BPS that shrinks every year and still gets funding increases at twice the rate of inflation? With the 8th highest paid teachers in the state and one of the smallest student to staff ratios in the state? That's "disabled"?

And keep in mind - the charter students are likely not the ones that would otherwise go to BLS and BLA. They are mainstreamed students. I don't think these schools are excepted from the analysis. Imagine the comparison of charters to just mainstream students.

Charters aren't perfect and the funding should track the students back to BPS if they leave (although we are likely not even talking a rounding error in the BPS budget).

This is the problem with the discussion - people throw the union talking points out without analysis and those points rarely if ever stand up to scrutiny. But people don't read past the headlines. Some, even much, of this may be true in other states or even outside Boston. But like so many other things especially those involving education, we do it better in Mass.

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Imagining that requiring some kids to spend an extra year in high school is unambiguously bad.

Does the extra year increase the odds kids will go to college prepared, and finish college?

If I understand recent reports, one of the biggest problems facing kids coming out of Boston high schools is not lack of college admission but lack of college readiness and completion.

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This is some great reporting, Adam. Well done and most appreciated.

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Shirley Kressel is the author.

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Did not see that. Well thanks to her and thanks to you for passing it along.

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to Shirley for this writeup.

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Adam, what happened to the author being displayed on the home page? You now have to click on the article to see if it's one of the rare posts by someone else.

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I removed it a few months ago to try to tighten up the look of the home page, even if just by a little bit. But maybe I'll put it back as part of a the endless redesign I'm working on (at this point, more to fix some issues with the mobile version of the site rather than some Grand Bold New Thing).

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Adam, I really think you should add it back - it should be very clear on the homepage when it's not your post. Folks can say what they want about Connolly/BPS/Charters/etc., but the fact remains that your reporting is more balanced, whereas the article here is basically a diatribe.

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You could try only listing the author if it's someone other than you.

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If the author can provide citations, that's more helpful than thousands of readers independently trying to find the information.

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Assuming that you're referring to the author of the original post, she does provide citations, and lots of them. Be happy.

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And what is wrong with helping to give families choices for school decisions that help them stay in Boston?

I wholeheartedly supported Connolly partly because he understood that for many many middle income families who help improve the fabric of the city - who coach sports, who volunteer at school, etc - and improve it in ways that benefit many, including rich and poor, the school choice eventually becomes the choice to move to Braintree, Stonehsm, Westwood, Medfield. This is often not because the families are excited about moving, but because they have experienced the morass that can be the Boston Public Schools, and just refuse to subject their kids to that. The school lottery is just an intro.

Working to improve all the schools- district, charter, private- helps to stem that loss which leaves the city with a huge middle income gap, and concentrations of rich - who only try to use BPS for exam schools- and poor - who are trying to make ends meet, rather than volunteer.

Metco families make similar choices but their kids have the better school experience without moving. But this option is not available to most city families because of limitations on race and enrollment numbers.

Charters absolutely need more oversight, and the funding setup needs to change, but they often give families better options than the district schools, without needing to abandon the City of Boston, or let your kid be in an environment of constant disruption.

In terms of stats-
BPS graduation rates are a sham when kids don’t have to pass the state exam, and end up in remedial college courses while they take on student loans. The Globe series on valedictorians was a heartbreaking show of how ridiculous the boasts from BPS admins can be.
The reality is that the districts are often better placed to handle needier students, with specialized programs, etc.

Charter does not mean good school, and, BPS does not mean bad school, but people should have access to better info on the options out there for them. I am pleased Connolly continues to work to improve all the options available to families.

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In my experience, these families move out of the city because they've been scared away by the talk about BPS. Most of them that I've talked to have never set foot in more than one BPS school. They don't get their first choice, so they're out. Or they talk about an environment of constant disruption, as you mention above, but where is this happening? Please be specific. I have literally never heard of this, even anecdotally.

And here's the rub. These families move to Milton and find that Milton buses it's kids to different elementary schools, and has kids sitting on the floor eating lunch because their schools are so overcrowded. Busing is acceptable to them then because they're being bused to white schools. And then they ask me about my children's school and are shocked at the level of education they are getting. And again, as I mentioned upthread- my kids' school is a middle of the pack BPS school, not one of the "big name" schools. And it is truly excellent. They have never been in an environment of constant disruption.

The problem in Boston is not BPS, the problem is racism. The problem is parents not wanting to do the work of joining the parent council and making the schools great. The problem is politicians constantly complaining about the schools- demoralizing BPS staff and families, and convincing the public that BPS schools are horrible/unsafe/ineffective, and parents with no personal experience, repeating this as fact. The problem is how do you change the culture where people complain about the schools all the time. And the problem is charter schools cherry picking students makes the families left behind feel like they lost.

I'm not saying the schools are perfect. It would be great if we could make the (non exam) high schools more attractive to the average student. I would like to see an overhaul of reading instruction in the early grades, which I believe is the key to closing the achievement gap and the school to prison pipeline. I would like to see more people educate the public on how Boston educates most of their high special needs students in house, while suburban schools outsource them, so school ranking websites and comparing MCAS scores are not valid.

I agree with you when you say that people should have better access to info, but a self-serving, pro-charter group is not whom I want disseminating that info.

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at Charter Schools had the same sad outcomes as the group examined from BPS.

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“will radically restructure and possibly destroy Boston Public Schools.”

I would argue, and many would agree with me, that what the Boston Public Schools could use is some good old radical restructuring. And when someone's stated opinion involves saying the schools will be "destroyed", I just can't take them seriously.

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It's clear that this is a pro-charter group. I just wish they weren't fronting as a parent advocacy group when they're clearly a pro-charter group. I think that these parent groups and the BTU are really doing a disservice to the BPS. Constantly harping on what's wrong with our schools, when in reality there is so much right. My kids' middle of the pack BPS school is phenomenal.

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I think the hiding is from a Koch Bros way to hide what the majority would reject if we knew what their real values and goals were. For them, it's getting rid of all publicly funded schools (including charters) because they are taking the poor bros tax dollars. From their point of view, if you want to send your kids to school, pay for it yourself. If you're sick and don't have health insurance or can't pay for chemo, well, you'lll die. If you'd like to read more about them, pick up Democracy in Chains by Nancy McLean who found the entire archive of work by the economist who connected with them around their shared agenda.

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Billionaires v teachers: the Koch brothers' plan to starve public education
The charter-school movement is entirely an expression of rich people trying to profit from public schools. The students and their parents are pawns.

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Rich people profiting from charters?

It's my experience that rich people are donating millions to the schools and even after accounting for possible tax benefits, it would be impossible for this to be a net financial positive for them.

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Gut those and your stock in "private solutions" holds value.

Wreck a top public school system by bleeding it dry also removes options for underclass and working class education, creating cheap labor.

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How does this apply to Mass and particularly Boston?

BPS is far from getting gutted. In fact quite the contrary.

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How does the pay scale for the charters compare to BTU?

Yeah, I am stretching here.

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We have the nations top school system. Undermine a "weak point" in that system and ...

THIS IS ALL IN THEIR PLAYBOOK. Do your homework and keep up.

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If that's your answer, maybe Roswell is the place for you.

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You are the guy with the grand delusional union busting posts on education who thinks that hiring recent college or even high school grads and having them read from scripts to 35 kids at a time will improve education.

All one has to do is search your posts on education to know who is the delusional lunatic here.

Because Oklahoma gets such great school results!

Heck, replace all the trained professionals with minimum wage Pantless Alchoholics! That's the STEVIL DREAM!

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I'm sure I've spent WAYYYYYY more time standing in front of middle and senior high school classrooms than you ever will in your life. But of course, one time at band camp you taught a high school class.

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We can't really know because charter budgets are not open to public scrutiny for one. Another is real estate--in MA they're particularly crafting with many other states being openly corrupt. There are also CMO--charter management organizations--that we know nothing about except that they are there. Ask yourself--who owns the property outright? who is benefitting from the New Market Tax Credits with their 37% return on investment in 7 years (our taxes used to buy/build something that then becomes private property), conflict of interest between board members and those who benefit financially from CMOs, and we could go on....think real estate back room deals. Just much better hidden that in FL, OH, AZ, etc. When charters in MA go out of business, it ain't because of test score.....

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But I believe like other non-profits, charters answer to a board of directors and you'd have to have everyone on the board in cahoots to keep fraud, sweetheart deals etc. under wraps (and ultimately subject to audit by the state). As for the NMTC - 37% return in 7 years - meh. And that's not the fault of charters or the funders - call your congressperson on that one (one more of many things they should probably be fixing).

I've only seen one charter (not Boston) go out of biz that I recall. And I believe that was education related, at least ostensibly, not funding. And keep in mind, you only get what the district is spending - plus what you can raise in private dollars. But you have to pay your own real estate, you have much lower economies of scale, especially in a large district etc. Not saying there is no fraud or won't be, but that's not an issue I've ever seen a concern over in Mass other than from those looking for a reason to oppose charters.

And one more thing - per the comment below - charters don't get to pick and choose their students. It's a public lottery. If your kid has special needs - a charter is not likely the best place for him/her. I've said it repeatedly - BPS does a wonderful job for the high achievers and special needs. From what I've seen, charters offer a phenomenal opportunity mostly to those kids in the middle that might otherwise struggle at your typical BPS school.

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Charter schools that don't have to educate all children while taking BPS $ is a problem. They pick and choose who they want to educate, get rid of the "troubled kids" and then say "look we have the best and brightest!" That's easy to do when you don't have to deal with kids that have issues (whatever they might be). If these types of charters take tax payer $ then they should have to educate everyone - just like BPS.

You have a kid w/ mental health issues? Educate them. On the spectrum? Educate them. Kids with anger issues? Educate them. Kids that don't test well? Educate them. They don't have to follow BPS guidelines when it comes to kicking kids out and that a huge issue. You kick a kid out; the money should go with them back to BPS.

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Just the name "SchoolFacts" absolutely REEKS of astroturfing, and is similar to a slew of other industry-funded "scientific" and "grassroots" sites that came out about 10 years ago. I tried to dig up more information on them but was unable.

If they feel the need to hide who they are and where their money comes from, their "opinions" are of no use to me.

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