Charter Schools: Pros & Cons

Discussion leader: David Mace

Discussion Questions:
Our discussion on Charter schools will begin with a brief understanding of what is a charter school.
Who attends charter schools?
Who pays for charter schools?
Why do some charter schools succeed and others fail?
What is the impetus behind wanting to give children more school choices?

We will discuss the impact on the public school systems when local taxpayer dollars are redirected to support charter schools.

Do we think it is wise to direct more federal funding for education toward charter schools?

Should charter school teachers have to pass the same qualification exams as public school teachers or should we treat charter school teachers more like a private schools where teacher qualification is established by each school?

Is it appropriate for profit making corporations to manage and benefit financially from charter schools?

Finally, should we be lobbying the Department of Education in Washington to create more charter schools or should we be pushing back on this effort which Betsy DeVos says she wants to pursue?


Paper by Beverly Miyares, the Director of Education Policy for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Click here: Beverly Miyares

Charter Schools In Perspective: A Guide to the Research



This provides good, current data on enrollment trends. I would not focus on the outcomes section of this report, as it is biased.

This is from the Intelligence squared debates – topic “Charter Schools Are Overrated” Yes or No?.

Are Charter Schools Making a Difference: A Study of Student Outcomes in Eight States.
This small piece summarizes RAND’s 2009 study of charter schools. It’s dated, but gives a good perspective.

A twisted interpretation of historically black colleges paves the way for a failed market-driven education policy.

Here’s a late entry. (It is 10:20PM and I am cramming for the discussion.)

NYTimes: Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?

The arguments over the confirmation of the new secretary of education were about something bigger: which government institutions benefit which citizens.

The new studies come at an interesting moment, with a proponent of vouchers newly in charge of the Education Department.

Charter Schools in Connecticut

Basic FAQ’s from the state.

Charter schools in CT:

Achievement First is a high performing charter high school in Hartford. AF Hartford High School students outperformed the state average on the SAT, as well as earned the highest average SAT scores among low-income students in the state. On the 2015 Connecticut state SBAC exam, students achievement scores surpassed those of neighboring West Hartford. Watch the video.

From: “Miyares, Beverly”
Subject: RE: Charter Schools
Date: April 10, 2017 at 11:50:36 PM EDT
To: David Mace

Sorry again to take so long to reply. Here are my thoughts on your questions:

A. Why would the MA State Board of Education disallow a superintendent or school board from expressing an opinion on the establishment of a particular charter school? Whose interest is being served by this posture?
The MA Board of Education has always interpreted MA statues re: charter school approvals as prohibiting them from taking community opinion on the establishment of the charter school into consideration. The Board’s understanding is that they can consider only the merits of the charter application and not the impact on the traditional public schools. Many members have expressed frustration with that interpretation but it has not ever been challenged.

I am not exactly sure where this understanding comes from. I believe the Board can establish the criteria for approving a charter application. The regulations governing this process, in my view, do not clearly exclude consideration of community impact. However, it is the principle on which the Board operates. I will need to research this point further.

As to whose interests it serves, it serves the interests of charter school advocates. Given the funding mechanism, it is almost always going to be the case that the traditional public school will oppose the charter school. Prohibiting the decision makers from taking the funding loss into consideration is an advantage for the applicant.

For most of the charter school era, MA has had a governor who supported charter schools. The MA Board of Education has been much more conservative than the state as a whole given that the governor appoints the Board members. The Democratic dominance of the state legislature provides a veto-proof majority; and, in my opinion, a Republican governor leaves the legislature with more power than if there were a Democratic governor. The legislature has typically put the limitations on charter schools; left to its own devices, the Board would likely approve many more charters.

B. My impression is that a large part of the support for charter schools is to get the teachers unions off their back. Is this a fair statement? For example, some I have spoken with say it is very difficult (not impossible) to remove a teacher from a public school. Like the medical profession where doctors protect their own, teachers come to the support of teachers even when it is not warranted. I am asking my question this way purposely to anticipate those in our group who will support charters in all events. Your comment please.
Unions are required to enforce the contract and represent teachers when there is a question of whether the contract has been violated – they have no choice. Unions do not make the decision to hire a teacher; they do not make the decision to give them job protection rights – called Professional Teacher Status in MA; tenure in other states – and they do not evaluate them. Management does. When management has gone through all those steps – hired, awarded tenure and evaluated an person, it should have to follow the agreed upon process when a person who was once good enough to be hired, given tenure and received good evaluations no longer meets the standard of performance. Unions defend the process; not the person. In MA, management has a three year probation period before a teacher earns professional teacher status. During that time, there are very few requirement a district needs to follow in order to non-renew a teacher. Three years should be enough.

The term, “union contract” is a misnomer; a contract is agreed upon by both parties and, hence, is called a collective bargaining agreement. Both parties agree to follow the rules specified in the agreement. If the rules are too difficult, then management should bargain about changing those rules when the agreement expires. Typically they do not. And, often, management has not followed the agreed upon process in an instance when a teacher should no longer be employed.

I don’t believe it is a case of “teachers protecting their own.” No teacher wants to teach next door to someone who is not able to do their job; nor does any teacher want to receive students from a teacher who has not taught children adequately. However, the agreed upon process must be followed. Historically, bargaining over dismissal processes comes from an era when patronage was an issue or discrimination on the basis of race and gender was common in employment practices.

C. Would you agree that some charter schools are exceptional because they have an outstanding principal and a strong board. If that is the case, then the strengthening of public schools can be achieved by having better principals and stronger school boards.

I am always in favor of good principals and I wish there were more concern about the quality of principals in our schools. We hear much about the “bad teacher” and not much about the “bad principal.” We have an extreme shortage of quality principals; teachers are not interested in the job even when they have the credential. In MA, we have thousands of teachers with principal licenses, but a shortage of candidates for principal positions. In MA, principals cannot be union members; they have a difficult job, often asked to be change agents and have no job protection. In fact, federal policy required that principals be replaced for low performing schools to receive federal school improvement funds- regardless of whether anyone thought the principal needed to be replaced.

I do not know of any research that finds that charter schools have better principals as a group. Research does show that charter principals have a higher turnover rate than do principals in traditional public schools. As I have described, the working conditions in charter schools are not sustainable over time; people with families and other demands cannot sustain what charter schools typically require of its staff members, including principals.

I would agree that many schools, not just charters, are exceptional because they have an outstanding principal and staff. Staff likes to work for an outstanding principal; they do not like to work for a poor principal. There is clear research that supportive leadership is more important than compensation when a teacher makes a decision about whether to work in a particular school.

D. My impression is that public schools are the responsibility of local cities and towns, not the Federal government. If so, how much influence can Betsy DeVos have in pushing for more charter schools at the expense of public schools? How much damage can she do?

What Betsy has an influence on is the federal funding specified in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor legislation to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, more recently known as the No Child Left Behind Act. This federal law covers a large number of federal funding programs, the largest of which is Title 1 that provides funding for low income students. MA receives about $250 million in Title 1 each year; most schools receive some Title 1 funds, but the bulk of it goes to large urban districts where a high percentage of low income students reside.

The US Education Department can set conditions on receiving this grant money through regulations and guidance. In the Obama administration, states were allowed to waive particular requirements of the federal law, but had to agree to other requirements, for example, regarding how teachers were evaluated. These “waiver” requirements were much more specific than federal programs had ever included.

Congress has now rescinded regulations for some of the programs included in ESSA; it is not clear at all how Betsy may advance a charter/choice/religious school agenda through requirements around eligibility for federal programs or perhaps through revisions in federal tax policy. Much more to come.

Hope this is helpful. Sorry to take so long – lots going on here. Feel free to send along any more questions – I am enjoying having to put my charter thoughts together!

Beverly Miyares
Massachusetts Teachers Association
Center for Education Policy + Practice
2 Heritage Drive, 8th Floor
Quincy, MA 02171-2119


This is from the CT Mirror. It highlights proposed change to the education funding formula. I is complicated to figure out if Charters are a bargain or a drain.

School choice

Even more controversial is Duff and Rojas’s proposal for funding charter and magnet schools and other choice programs. Currently, separate funding formulas or set amounts written into state law govern funding for various school choice programs.

Duff and Rojas want to end that and instead have all schools funded under the same formula used for traditional neighborhood schools.

However, there is one exception — and that’s where the controversy is rooted.

Since charter, magnet and other choice schools don’t have a local tax base and are primarily supported by state funding, Duff and Rojas propose the state calculate how much each local district spends to educate a student on average and then withhold one-quarter of that amount for each student who leaves for a magnet or charter school. The withheld funding would be sent to the school the child actually attends.

Currently districts do not get funding for students who leave for charter schools. However, districts still get state funding for students who leave for magnet schools, which is somewhat offset by tuition that magnets charge the sending districts.

The changes that Duff and Rojas propose would drive huge funding increases for several charter schools — including about $1,800 more per student for Achievement First Hartford Academy and $1,700 for Stamford Academy, according to a preliminary run done by the School Finance Project. Four of the state’s 22 charter schools would lose funding, with the largest being Explorations Academy, which would lose $475 per student.

The network of regional magnet schools opened in the Hartford region in an effort to comply with a Connecticut Supreme Court order to desegregate Hartford schools would be hit hard by the changes, with a loss of $3,569 per student.

Rojas and Duff said more money should leave than currently does when a student leaves to attend a charter or magnet school — but others see this as an effort to drain more money that would have gone to neighborhood schools.

“It’s a public school voucher plan. This is the Michigan model,” said Waxenberg, referring to the controversial approach Betsy DeVos successfully got into place in Michigan before becoming the U.S. education secretary.

Duff denies it’s a voucher plan.

“That’s not true at all. That’s over-the-top rhetoric that’s trying to fan the flames of fear rather than what this bill actually does,” he said, pointing out that no state funding will go to private schools. “For some reason opponents are hanging their hat on that instead of focusing on the fact that 550,000 public school students would be better served by this new funding formula. I would rather focus on those public school students.”