Charter Schools

The Problem With Charter Schools  charter2

Lost Funding 

Charter schools siphon hundreds of millions of dollars a year from public schools. This year alone, Commonwealth charters will divert nearly $420 million from district public schools after reimbursements are taken into account. This means larger class sizes and less enrichment for students in district public schools.

Further Reading:

  • This short video from In the Public Interest clearly explains how charter schools drain scarce resources from existing district schools. 
  • The Massachusetts Teachers Association has a charter school toolkit, with a map of district funds lost to charter schools.
  • Read MassBudget’s clear, detailed explainer of how charter school funding works, here.

No Local Control or Adequate Accountability 

Charter schools are not accountable to their local communities. They are approved by the state, often over the objections of a large majority of local residents — the people who have to pay for them. Local school committees have no authority over these charter schools and no recourse if a charter school’s practices have a negative impact on students who attend the district’s public schools.

Further Reading:

  • For a current example of this problem, read CPS’s fact sheet, “New Bedford’s Alma del Mar Charter: The numbers behind the hype.” 
  • Despite the premise of market-based accountability, charter schools are not sufficiently being held accountable or regulated. In a research brief for The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, researcher William J. Mathis says that charter schools should not be excepted from the requirement that public money comes with reporting, transparency, and guidelines for spending and business practices.
  • A significant new report by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, released in March 2016, finds that parents are underrepresented on Massachusetts charter school governing boards, and that the dominant voices on those boards are from the financial and corporate sectors, not educators. Parents of students in charter schools comprise only 14 percent of charter trustees statewide, and only five charter high schools include any student representatives on the board of trustees, according to the report. Approximately one-third of charter school trustees in Massachusetts are affiliated with the financial services or corporate sectors, while less than a quarter have educational expertise.
  • Charter School Law Funded by Bill Gates in Washington State Ruled Unconstitutional, a Washington Post article regarding the Washington state Supreme Court decision to strike down that state’s charter law on Sept. 4, 2015. They argued that charters are private entities operating schools that use public taxpayer money with no oversight by locally elected school committees.
  • Leigh Dingerson, a consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School
    Reform at Brown University, testified at the charter bill hearing. She cautioned against lifting the cap on charter schools. Click here to read her testimony.
  • A former New York high school principal discusses why charters are a threat to democratically governed public schools and questions their lack of accountability in a Washington Post article entitled, “Why Charter Schools Get Public Education Advocates So Angry.”

Students Pushed Out

Charter schools create a two-track system of public schools, described by the national NAACP as “separate and unequal.” Charters typically underserve special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. Many use harsh discipline policies to push out the students they don’t want.

Further reading:

  • Massachusetts Charter School Special Education Performance: By the Numbers — The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has documented “inappropriate or excessive use of long-term suspensions and expulsions and disproportional rates of discipline of minority and disabled students” at a number of Massachusetts charter schools. This report, by Michael Robinson, looks at data on charters and special education regarding preparedness of staff, enrollment, and practices such as discipline. Among the findings,  “91.3% of districts with highest discipline rates for special education students are charter schools.”
  • High Charter Attrition Rates Inflate Test Results — Boston parent activist John Lerner compiled the data on Boston charter attrition and showed how, as students departed, test scores soared. Click here to download a PowerPoint presentation of the data. (Credit also goes to Bill Schechter and Katie Solomon.)
  • Do Choice Policies Segregate Schools? School choice advocates have contended from the outset that choice policies would advance integration by giving students the opportunity to attend a school outside of highly segregated neighborhoods. Authors William J. Mathis and Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center examine the research evidence. They conclude that, while choice policies might be designed and implemented in ways that advance integration, this has not been done—and the result has been increased stratification by race, ethnicity, special needs status, income and first language.
  • Charter Schools, Civil Rights, and School Discipline, a report from The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project, UCLA. It finds that black students and disabled students are suspended from charter schools at much higher rates than white and nondisabled students.
  • Who is Being Served by Massachusetts Commonwealth Charter Schools, a report from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, October 2015.
  • A report by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Not Measuring Up, found that, while some traditional public schools have high suspension rates, charter schools are among the worst offenders when it comes to harsh discipline and school exclusion.

Poor Teaching And Learning Conditions

Rather than innovate, most charters focus on test prep and drill. In addition, they have high teacher turnover rates as a result of poor working conditions, long hours and lack of teacher autonomy. This undermines school stability and students’ learning conditions.

Further reading:

  • new study suggests that any purported charter benefits stop at the school door. Charters may boost test scores, but they don’t help students get better jobs or earn higher incomes.
  • Emily Kaplan, an elementary school teacher, questions the “no-excuses” attitude of many charter schools and makes the case for developmentally appropriate activities rather than early attainment of academic skills. Click here to read her post.
  • Lucas Donohue, a 5th grade teacher in Watertown and a former charter school teacher, describes his experience teaching in a charter school at the charter bill hearing. Click here to read his testimony.
  • Layla Treuhaft-Ali, an aspiring teacher and senior at Yale College, questions the “Teach Like a Champion” teaching model that has “become a fixture of most *high-performing* charter school networks.” She argues that these techniques place emphasis on “order, efficiency and discipline” and prepare [mostly black and latino/a] students for “social, economic and political subservience.” Read her analysis here.
  • Ramon Griffin, former dean of students at a New Orleans charter school, wrote, “An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools,” urging them to consider the psychological and emotional costs of the no excuses model.

*Click HERE for a downloadable fact sheet!

** Looking for more specific information (with references) to back up the arguments for keeping the cap on charters? Click HERE for a detailed, downloadable fact sheet with references.

***The Campaign to Save Our Public Schools has a new web site where you can “Get the Facts on Charter Schools in Massachusetts. Click HERE

Thanks to the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) for some of the information above. Citizens for Public Schools is a member of MEJA. 


Citizens for Public Schools believes that allowing or promoting more charter schools in Massachusetts would drain desperately needed resources from traditional public schools, which continue to serve our neediest students and families. Rather than focus attention and resources on schools that serve just 4% of our students, let’s focus resources and support on the schools that serve the vast majority of all students: rich and poor, black and white, typical and disabled, English speakers and English language learners. We need an independent study of Commonwealth charters and we need to fix the funding mechanism for charter schools.

  • For a summary of bills regarding charter schools and accountability, click here.
  • Click here to read CPS’s 2-22-16 statement to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on charter school expansion.
  • Click here to read about the charter bill hearing that took place on October 13, 2015 at the Statehouse. 
  • To sign our petition to keep the cap on charter schools, click here.

Worth Reading

Charter Schools Promote Privatization and Profiteering:

  • The Business of Charter Schooling: Understanding the Policies that Charter Operators Use for Financial Benefit, a report from the National Education Policy Center. To show how charter school policy functions to promote privatization and profiteering, Bruce Baker and Gary Miron explore some of the ways that individuals, companies, and organizations secure financial gain and generate profit by running charter schools, leading them to operate in ways that are sometimes at odds with the public interest. Read the report here.
  • The Education Opportunity Network chose “Charter School Scandals” as the “Education Newsmaker of the Year,” with a catalogue of examples of charter school scams.
  • Yes! Magazine released an infographic, “Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools,” explaining privatization and profit. Check it out here.
  • “Charter lobby group details contributions,” a CPS analysis, peers into the deep, deep pockets of the charter school lobby and sees how much money there is and where it comes from. Given the lobby’s largesse, it’s not surprising that it had so much influence on the recent Massachusetts “education reform” bill.
  • Read about, “How Massachusetts Became Ground-Zero for Corporate Education Privatization.”
  • Samuel E. Abrams, the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of, “Education and the Commercial Mindset,” discusses, “Why The Movement To Privatize Public Education is a Very Bad Idea.”

Charters Schools as “Separate and Unequal”:

  • A report released August 1st, 2016 by the ACLU and Public Advocates (a California civil rights organization) entitled, “Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment” highlights many illegal policies in charters schools. The report analyses illegal charter school policies, explains the laws that prohibit such exclusionary policies, and provides recommendations to ensure equal admission.
  • A recent report by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice found that, while some traditional public schools have high suspension rates, charter schools are among the worst offenders when it comes to harsh discipline and school exclusion. Read the report, “Not Measuring Up,” here.
  • Who is Being Served by Massachusetts Commonwealth Charter Schools, a report from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, October 2015. This report from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees was summarized at the October 13, 2015, State House hearing on charter school legislation. Its key findings are that charter schools educate different students with disabilities than district schools, educate fewer English language learners than district schools, have serious enrollment problems, favor female enrollment and fail to fill empty seats. The report is available here.
  • Charters: Better than or just different from district schools? Kathie Skinner, head of an independent consulting firm and former director of the Center for Education Policy and Practice at the Massachusetts Teachers Association, analyzes the data put forth by the report above, Who is Being Served by Massachusetts Commonwealth Charter Schools.
  • If DESE is going to expand charters, it should look beyond the “no excuses,” harsh disciplinary approach that has caused such trauma and harm to students like Steven Thomas and others. Jennifer Berkshire gave him a forum to tell his story, here:
  • The Program in Human Rights and the Global Economy issued a report called “At What Cost? The Charter School Model and the Right to Education.” The report examines how charter school policies and funding align or conflict with international standards regarding the human right to education. It concludes that while charters have advanced the right to education for “some of the children able to enroll” in charters, “[t]he ongoing expansion of the charter sector, along with the accompanying pressure on public school budgets, undermines the ability of some local districts to preserve and protect the rights of the larger group of children remaining in traditional public schools.”
  • “Charters: Students With Disabilities Need Not Apply” by Thomas Hehir of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says it’s time for policymakers to directly address the issue of charter schools’ imbalanced enrollment of students with disabilities. “Traditional public schools are serving far greater numbers of them than charter schools, particularly those whose disabilities require significant special education services,” Hehir writes in Education Week, January 27, 2010. (Note: Education Week restricts full access to its articles to subscribers, but allows nonsubscribers to view a limited number of articles per week.)
  • Roger Garberg, PhD, a member of the Gloucester School Committee, has compiled some important data comparing the enrollment statistics of Massachusetts charter schools with those of regular public schools in the sending district. [Click to read “Are Charter Schools a Plausible Remedy for the Achievement Gap?” Garberg, 2009. Click here for a table comparing charter school enrollments with their sending districts.] The data show clearly that regular district schools for the most part enroll many more of the students with the greatest learning needs—e.g., students with disabilities, limited English proficient students—than do charter schools. He also shows how charters are an obstacle to racial and ethnic diversity in Boston. [Click to read “More Charter Schools: A New Obstacle to Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Boston,” Garberg, 2009.]
  • Boston Globe:Charters Must Commit to Diversity,” by Susan Eaton and Gina Chirichigno, July 19, 2009.
  • Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, explains why charter schools are not the answer to the economic and racial inequalities that plague many communities in the Commonwealth. Read this Op-Ed from The Boston Globe here.

Charter Schools and Misinformation:

  • The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Oversight of Charter Schools, a report by the the Office of the State Auditor, Suzanne Bump. This report was issued on December 18, 2014.
  • State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s testimony at the charter bill hearing regarding her findings that were published in the report above.
  • Education Blogger, Edushyster’s, interview with State Auditor, Suzanne Bump, to discuss her findings regarding the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s oversight of Massachusetts’ charter schools.
  • An influential 2009 study funded by the Boston Foundation, while sophisticated and sound in methodology, is seriously flawed and has been widely mischaracterized as “proving” the superiority of urban charter schools: The study’s conclusions are based on 26% of the charter sample (0 out of 5 charter elementary schools, 4 out of 13 charter middle schools, 3 out of 9 charter high schools) that had waiting lists (most of the rest had bad records or no waiting list). Of course, the schools with good records and waiting lists are the high performers, while the lower performing charters, including two that have since been closed due to underperformance and one that has been recommended for closure, were left off the lottery study.
  • The National Education Policy Center reviewed CREDO’s latest pro-charter school study and found it lacking, here.
  • Two recent reports on charter schools in Massachusetts contradict the talking points of the pro charter school movement. One highlights the sky-high attrition rates in Boston Charter Schools. The other reports on the lack of ELL (English Language Learners) in charter schools throughout the state.
  • A national study of charter middle schools found students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools performed, on average, no better in mathematics and reading than their peers who lost out in the random admissions process and enrolled in nearby regular public schools. An article on the study in the June 29, 2010 Education Week is here. The study is here.
  • And a recent report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools. The report is available here.

Charter Schools and Accountability:

  • Public education advocate Jennifer Berkshire spoke with Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump about charter schools, resources, and DESE’s use of subjective standards when it comes to charter schools in the Commonwealth. Read the interview here on Edushyster.
  • CPS Co-Chairs Ruth Rodriguez and Barbara Fields wrote a letter to Governor Deval Patrick asking that he use his power to rescind the charter granted in Gloucester under indefensible circumstances.

Prospects for the Future:

  • What can be done? See the Annenberg Institute for Public Education’s report with concrete ways to improve charter school accountability.
  • Lessons of the Gloucester Charter Collapse” by Peter Dolan. Dolan explains how and why the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School failed and what lessons it offers for charter school policy in Massachusetts.
  • A pillar of the pro-charter argument is that parents are consumers who should be able to choose their school, just as they choose their brand of toilet paper, and competition improves educational quality. But the director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Margaret Raymond, recently said she’s reached the conclusion that free-market competition doesn’t work in education. “I’ve studied competition markets for much of my career…And [education] is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” (CREDO’s charter school studies are funded by the Walton Family Foundation of the Walmart billionaires.)
  • Are Charter Schools the Answer?” Mary Jo Hetzel of Work-4-Quality/Fight-4-Equity and the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, examines the charter school track record in Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New Orleans and Ohio and concludes they are not the answer to providing quality and equity to our public school children.

Letter to the editor of the Boston Globe from CPS Board Member, sent and published:

With a faltering economy compounding the woes of struggling families and students (and the schools that serve them), Governor Patrick’s newfound faith in charter schools is deeply troubling (“Test scores drove charter decision,” July 17. Despite considerable hype, charters are unproven, leaky vessels that are unlikely to reach the promised land of educational excellence and equity. Worse, they divert scarce resources from schools that serve the neediest students and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

There is scant evidence, though much ideology, behind the notion of charter school superiority. The overall record shows charters do not outperform traditional public schools serving similar students. Moreover, some of the most highly praised charter schools lose most of their students between freshman and senior year (then claim 100% college going rates for the small fraction who remain). Where do they go? They either drop out or return to district schools.