In Massachusetts voters are being asked to vote on Ballot Question 2, deciding whether the current cap on charter schools should be lifted to allow for the expansion of 12 new charter schools per year. Despite being a state-wide referendum, most communities in Massachusetts, particularly the suburbs, will not be affected by it.
This concentrates significant influence among communities with little or no direct perspective, which puts them at risk of being misinformed by special interests. I am trying to counteract that.
The Impact of Charter Schools in Salem
Salem is an example of a community that is directly affected by this referendum, as it struggles to meet the needs of a diverse student population. Nearly 60 percent of the public school population is defined by the Department of Education as having “high needs” (economically disadvantaged, non-English speaking, students with disabilities, etc.).
As of 2011, the district was deemed among the lowest 20 percent in the state— graduating far fewer students prepared for college or work. Students with high needs were disproportionally represented in the group that did not have the skills to be successful.
Our local public charter school, Salem Academy, has consistently achieved the highest level of success possible while serving a similar population of students and families. The governance structure allows for the kind of flexibility necessary to reach these outcomes. It has also helped our district schools improve.
Specifically, it helped the district (in addition to successful initiatives the district has executed on its own) adopt the Salem charter school’s method for curriculum design, implementation and grading. This was made possible through a federal grant and these proven practices are now being implemented in the traditional district schools, meeting one of the original mandates for charter schools as innovators.
I have had students in both the traditional schools and the out-of-district charter school, who view the charter as a resounding success in terms of meeting community needs. There is no comparison when it comes to clarity of expectation. All members of the charter school community are acculturated to help all students be prepared to make a choice that includes access to college. And they have the flexibility to alter schedules and supports to accommodate specific learning needs.
A culture of excellence propels a culture of inclusion. This looks like all students having equal access to all levels of rigor and families being treated as partners in their students’ learning. A culture of excellence also propels a culture of professionalism.
While the rules are strict at the charter school, they are in no way excessive, unequally applied or restrictive. In fact, they were a relief to my child who declared: “Finally, I get to learn in all my classes every day because no one is allowed to disrupt everyone else.” High behavioral standards are equally applied to the benefit of all.
In short, districts with a disproportionate share of high-needs students need excellence within an accelerated timeframe. Charters offer this possibility. I ask for your help and support in passing this important ballot question. The next phase of this experiment should be to work together to fully fund reimbursements, clarify enrollment to all schools and encourage community involvement, whether to an elected committee or a board of trustees.
If you believe that:
- All students, regardless of where they come from and what resources they have deserve access to high quality education;
- An educated population engenders stronger economic and civic engagement;
- Traditional schools could benefit with greater creativity in addressing student need;
- A zip code should not determine a student’s ability to go to college; and
- Parents have the right to choose the educational setting that meets the needs of their child(ren)
Then please vote “yes” on Question 2.