In the last few months as we approach Election Day, I’ve been troubled by some of the discussion around Question 2 on the upcoming ballot. My hope is that you will vote ‘Yes’ for charter schools and share this message with family, friends and coworkers.
I have grown passionate about urban education after my wife Liz taught in Atlanta with Teach For America. I saw how bad a bad education can be, with teachers cheating on standardized tests for their kids and where 5th graders could not read. With all due respect to my wife, it was clear how bad the school was when the parents were fighting to have their kids in her class when she had just 6 weeks of teacher training.
When she returned to Boston, I learned that the Boston Public Schools are also not effectively educating our kids. The results from the district are staggeringly bad. In Boston alone, district enrollment declined by 4.5% over the past six years while the annual district budget increased by over 23% in the same period. This equates to an additional $192 million per year. Yet, that increase in funding has not translated into meaningful improvements in academic outcomes. In Boston’s district schools, only 39% of students in 3rd through 8th grade are proficient in English and only 34% are proficient in math. Two thirds of the children in the Boston Public Schools are not on grade level and only 10% will graduate a 4-year college. Most of these children are low-income children of color.
When Liz went to work at The Edward Brooke Charter School, I studied the school and other charter schools in Boston and found high-achieving schools outperforming wealthy suburban towns with kids graduating at high rates and headed on a path of educational success. Boston’s charter schools outperform their district peers by 20% across the board (see chart below). I have attended many lottery nights where families cry with joy when one of their children wins a seat in a charter school because they realize that their child has a chance for a better life!
This educational divide is a social injustice of massive proportion. If passed, Question 2 would permit the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts. I have friends in both district and charter schools and this is not intended to be an attack on teachers in the districts whom I know work tirelessly. But the fact remains that children in the City of Boston are doomed if they attend the average district school. If this kind of injustice was happening to our kids in our town, we have the flexibility to leave the system. Families living in Boston don’t always have that choice, so Question 2 is an effort to change the system. This is the greatest civil rights embarrassment of our day.
This is a unique ballot question because it is statewide, but the outcome will impact children and families chiefly in 9 urban communities that need help (of the 403 state school districts). In other words, my vote in leafy Dover with great schools is going to impact the school children and families of Boston, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, Fall River, Everett, Worcester and Holyoke, MA. Why wouldn’t those among us with good fortune provide a life raft to these kids?
My great grandfather, Kivie Kaplan who was President of the NAACP during the civil rights movement, used to say that the greatest asset one has is their education because it can never be taken away. I urge you to vote ‘Yes’ on Question 2 to provide families in Boston and other urban communities with a better option. Now is the time to act!
Jake is the chair of the Brooke Foundation and is a trustee at The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology