Behind the Headline: Racial Aspects Tinge Massachusetts Charter Debate

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Racial aspects tinge Massachusetts charter debate
The Boston Globe | 3/29/2016

Behind the Headline
Boston and the Charter School Cap
Education Next | Winter 2014

ednext_XIV_1_peyser_img01In Massachusetts, the political battle over whether to raise a cap on the number of charter schools has come to center around the issue of race. As David Scharfenberg of the Boston Globe observes

The debate has raised uncomfortable questions about charter school discipline of black children. It has left white liberals who oppose charter school growth in an awkward standoff with parents of color who support it. And it has put left-leaning politicians in a difficult spot.

Many black and Latino parents whose children are thriving in charter schools support the continued growth of charters. But some minority parents argue that charters are taking resources from traditional district schools.

In Boston and other large cities in Massachusetts, charter schools serve a higher percentage of minority students than district schools do. In some states, there are concerns that charter schools are increasing segregation, but as Scharfenberg notes, some of the charter schools in Massachusetts that serve large numbers of minority students are among the highest-performing charter schools in the nation. “Some parents, in fact, say they feel more comfortable in academically rigorous, heavily minority schools than in schools with whiter student bodies.”


The Winter 2014 issue of Education Next included a long look at the battle over the charter school cap in Massachusetts by Jim Peyser. Peyser concluded

The Boston story over the last two decades is a cautionary tale for charter school proponents everywhere. Even in a city with remarkably strong charter schools, supported by business, philanthropy, and the media, breaking through the political and bureaucratic barriers that limit growth is a persistent challenge. Mayoral control is often a blessing for education reformers, but it can also be a curse. In the end, mayors tend to follow, rather than lead, their constituents. In the absence of a sizable, well-organized and mobilized block of voters, the path of least resistance for most mayors is to focus on things that are within their control (like a school district), rather than on things are not (like independent education entrepreneurs). Ultimately, charter schools in Boston and throughout the country must wean themselves from dependence on a handful of friendly political and district leaders who come and go, and instead take control of their own destiny by becoming a more potent political force.

—Education Next

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