In this Boston Globe op-ed, award-winning educator and author Jonathan Kozol makes a comprehensive case for why Question 2 is the wrong direction for our commonwealth's schools. We need a fairer, more equitable, and better-funded public education system in Massachusetts that works for all our children: Question 2 would push us away from that urgent goal.
Kozol joins countless local elected officials, school boards, parents, and community groups who have declared their opposition to Question 2, including Schott Foundation’s President & CEO Dr. John H. Jackson. Dr. Jackson recently co-wrote an open letter with Josie Greene, a Director of the Josephine & Louise Crane Foundation, detailing how Question 2 would divert funds from public schools, erode local accountability, and take us further away from the educational quality, equity, and opportunity all our communities deserve.
Vote ‘No’ on Charter Schools
By Jonathan Kozol
The Boston Globe, October 27, 2016
IT’S NOT EASY to compete with buckets of money pouring into Massachusetts to convince the public to lift the cap on charter schools but, as a former teacher who has worked for more than 50 years with children in the nation’s schools, here’s my entry into the debate.
1. SOME CHARTER schools do an excellent job with the students they enroll. Many come up with better test scores than do their public counterparts. It does not mitigate the victories these schools may have achieved to state the clear and simple fact that, on average nationwide, charter schools are not running circles around the public schools that serve the vast majority of children. Some do better. Some do worse. Some have been consistent disappointments. The pattern here in Massachusetts may, for now, appear to be a rare exception to the norm, but as charter schools proliferate, their record seems to be increasingly uneven.
2. PARTISANS FOR Question 2 have not been eager to let the public know where their money’s coming from. But we know enough about some major sources of their funds to set off alarm bells for anyone whose political allegiances are even faintly liberal. The primary source of funding is a controversial group of New York hedge-fund billionaires that goes under the misleading name of Families for Excellent Schools and which, in turn, receives substantial sums of money from the Walton family billionaires in Arkansas. In addition, nearly $2 million more has come into the state in individual donations from two members of that family.
The Walmart heirs have every right to pour their money into causes they support. But voters also have the right to get some sense of what those causes are. The Waltons have for decades been standard-bearers in attempts to undermine support for public education — which they and their allies have derided as “the public school monopoly” — by breaking up the public system and replacing it with vouchers, a longtime goal of right-wing intellectuals. In recent years they’ve added charter schools to their agenda. Question 2 supporters would like the public to believe that ideology is not at stake in this debate. Thoughtful citizens may find this unconvincing.
3. MASSACHUSETTS WENT through paroxysms of divisiveness on racial issues half a century ago and has for many decades since. We’ve made some progress since those days, but it’s not all behind us. This is why it’s relevant to note that charter schools are significantly more likely than their public counterparts to be profoundly segregated institutions. This is the case, as Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA has observed, even in cities where black and Hispanic children already undergo a high degree of isolation as a consequence of residential patterns — an excuse the charter schools don’t have, because they’re free to draw their students from all neighborhoods. This pattern is observable in Boston, where 60 percent of the city’s 34 charter schools fall into the category Orfield has defined as “hypersegregation” (90 percent or more black and Hispanic), while only about one third of Boston’s public schools fall into this category. At nine Boston charter schools, less than 1 percent of students are white children. Only two of the city’s 118 public schools achieve this extreme degree of isolation.
The racial insulation that typifies most charter schools has clearly not deterred large numbers of black and Hispanic parents from applying to these schools and competing for admissions to the best of them. Some parents may, indeed, subscribe to the belief that children of minorities are more likely to succeed in schools where education can be tailored to meet what are alleged to be uniquely different needs.