Leveling the Playing Field for Massachusetts Families

It’s hard to argue that there’s sufficient equity in the Massachusetts public schools. While the state ranks high on most measures of academic performance, there’s one place where it’s close to dead last: opportunity gaps for our most vulnerable children. Only one state does worse than Massachusetts on the gap in performance between White and Latino children, and the gap between White and Black students is almost as bad. When it comes to Advanced Placement scores, students of color in Massachusetts perform at levels below their peers in other states, lest we assume that the real problem is that our White students are performing at such a high level that the data becomes distorted.

Fortunately, there are myriad efforts to level the playing field. There are STEM programs throughout the state aimed at our most vulnerable kids, state interventions in chronically failing schools, innovative high school designs, and nonprofits of varying size. While the results from some of these efforts are “mixed,” the state also has a set of charter schools, the highest concentration of which serve low-income families in Boston. Those Boston charter schools happen to be some of the highest performing public schools in the country, according to research conducted at Stanford. Those schools have been a huge part of leveling the playing field for Boston families, and more than 30,000 parents and kids are on those schools's waiting lists, because they want more of them.

Unfortunately, politics is getting in the way of expanding these schools, as the legislature will not act on a bill that would expand an arbitrary cap on the number of public charter schools that can operate in Massachusetts. Because of this failure of leadership, particularly in Stan Rosenberg’s state senate, where similar bills have languished for years, the issue of creating more schools will be on the November ballot. The ballot is a terrible place to set policy for families in Massachusetts's cities, as their interests risk being drowned out by a general election electorate that is much whiter, richer, and more suburban than the families whose interests are at stake here.

When those suburban voters head to the polls in November, they should consider the advice of this Brookline resident:

“For those of us who care about the broader picture and believe, like I do, our best path forward lies in educational equity for all children, why would you oppose any possible solution, especially if it doesn’t negatively impact your schools?”

Expanding public charter schools for the children in Massachusetts who most need great alternatives will have little impact on families outside of Boston, as Boston is the only major jurisdiction affected by the current arbitrary cap. It’s only fair that parents and families in our cities should have options, like those in the suburbs do. The Boston public charter schools certainly are not perfect, as all of Boston schools are wrestling with complex issues of race and class, but the public charters get better results with fewer resources than their comparable public schools, all while serving the state’s most vulnerable children. That's why there’s been significant bipartisan consensus in the past for expanding them. We know that opportunity gaps exist between our cities and suburbs in Massachusetts. Lifting the charter cap is one way to level the playing field and give Boston’s families more options, while we continue to pursue various means of assuring equity for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable families.