Oral Testimony (short)

Public Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart in Opposition to H.3928
to the Joint Committee on Education

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, Co-Chairs

Gardner Auditorium, State House, Boston MA 02133

Monday, March 7, 2016

10:00 AM

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. For the record, I’m Mary Ann Stewart from Lexington, parent representative on the state board of elementary and secondary education, speaking only for myself and in opposition to H.3928 - the act related to lifting the charter school cap.

At the board’s (BESE’s) charter-authorizing meeting last month, Secretary Peyser commented that for the past 20+ years he’s heard the same arguments against charter schools.1 We’ve all heard them, too: The problems with Funding. Governance. Transparency. The impact of increasing the number of seats and the drain on district resources from expanding charter schools.
The concern that continuing charter school expansion creates a two-tiered educational system.

I submit that these criticisms endure because they have yet to be resolved.

We’re all well-acquainted with the story of how charters were first promoted and then enacted as “laboratories of innovation”. Initially, a small amount of money from districts was needed for this experiment (effectively an investment in “R&D”) and especially that it came with the promise of bringing back replicable practices for implementation in the regular public schools.

That last part - the promise to bring back - has never happened. Families and districts, trusting that it would happen, want to know why it hasn’t.

Somewhere along the way, charter schools went from “labs of innovation” (that never shared what they learned) to schools in competition with regular public schools. When that happened, resources became less available for the regular schools.

At a time when regular schools have moved from isolation to collaboration across schools and school systems, charter schools remain marooned, apart from any system, apart from transparent practices and public authority. They’re a collection of “fiefdoms”, each charter school doing something different, out of public view and, by and large, doing it no better than the regular public schools do.

But now it’s time to find out: Has the charter school experiment been working? What are the innovations?

Until we know and understand the answers to our questions, perhaps no charter schools should be renewed or expanded and no new charter schools should be authorized.

We don’t need charter schools to know that the most important resource in a classroom is a highly qualified teacher.

We don’t need charter schools to know that districts must be adequately funded so students get what they need when they need it.

We don’t need charter schools to know that we need to make preschool accessible for more children.

We don’t need charter schools to know that children need a rich and varied curriculum at school and enrichment opportunities and support out of school all year long.

We know enough right now about how to teach ALL children. And we know that HOW children are treated matters; to know that classrooms and schools that are too punitive don’t help children develop tolerance, build resiliency, or foster curiosity.

Students leave charter schools at very high rates. Recent statements from the Office of the State Auditor inform of further problems with charter school waitlist data. So, something is going on with waitlists and something is going on with attrition rates.

There’s something about the enrollment practices of charter schools that create obstacles or barriers for students and their families, too. Why? What are they? Parents and taxpayers demand to know what that’s about. And we absolutely must know what’s going on before we begin to entertain a cap lift.