Who’s a Little Massachusetts Charter School Fear Demon?

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So in a delightful episode of the television series classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Scooby Gang discovers that the demon terror du jour is approximately six inches tall. The demon babbles on about his fearsome power as the Dark Lord of Nightmares, only to have classy Giles admonish the good guys for taunting the boastful mini-monster in preference to a quick dispatching and well deserved stomp.

So…for some reason this scene came to mind when I read a letter that the Massachusetts Charter School Association sent to Elizabeth Warren opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Ok calm down-I know you have a lot of questions: Yes the same charter school association that helped burn through tens of millions of other people’s money only to lose decisively on a ballot measure to allow 12 new charters a year to open in the state. The same association whose sector is too small to meet the minimum reporting requirements in either Massachusetts or even Boston. Yes the same Elizabeth Warren that turned on them when they went to the ballot.

Well then, what do the wee-tiny Dark Lords of the Bay State’s safely contained charter sector have to say for themselves?

By all independent accounts, Massachusetts has the best charter school system in the country. We are providing high quality public school choices for parents across our state. Our urban schools are serving the highest need children in Massachusetts, and are producing results that have researchers double-checking their math. These gains held across all demographic groups, including African American, Latino, and children living in poverty.

(https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/03/18/gains-boston-charter-school… according-six-year-study/hCpVGMeEQvNODUvB6bXhcK/story.html)

The cornerstone of the Massachusetts charter public school system is accountability. The process of obtaining and keeping a charter is deliberately difficult. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is the sole authorizer and historically has approved only one out of every five applications. Once approved, each charter school must submit to annual financial audits by independent auditors and annual performance reviews by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Every five years, each charter must be renewed after a process as rigorous as the initial application process. For-profit charter schools are prohibited by Massachusetts law.

Tremble before their fearsome technocratic awesomeness or they will DESTROY YOU!

Okay, so here is a new independent evaluation for you- MA charters are apparently effective for many of the small number of kids who will ever have the chance to attend them. That’s wonderful, but outside of that one can’t help but notice that very few people in MA, including Senator Warren, seemed overly impressed with either their bureaucratic compliance or test scores during the initiative. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with a sector that has approximately zero prospects for growth.

Moreover, if you find yourself stalemated at the legislature and crushed at the ballot box, does the scroll inside the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” box say “Write a pompous letter to someone who was already a ‘no’ denouncing someone who supports your cause?” Let’s ask the 8-Ball whether it would be good to follow that advice:

Oh and by the way, the independent evaluations referenced in the letter that like Boston charters also like Detroit. As Max Eden noted:

The 2013 study of Michigan charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that “charter students in Detroit gain over three months per year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.” A 2015 CREDO study of 41 major cities concluded that Boston, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, “provide essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality that can serve as models to other communities.

Some of these charter sectors-like Detroit btw- delightfully have the opportunity to grow and serve more students. Others apparently prefer to accept their containment and babble about their fearsome powers. Somehow it is not hard to imagine why Massachusetts voters administered a ballot box stomp.


4 Responses to Who’s a Little Massachusetts Charter School Fear Demon?

  1. Right on, Matt Ladner. Not only did Sen. Warren turn on MA charters, the Boston Globe also did an about-face, rapidly. Somehow, it never occurred to either of them to address parents’ concerns. Do parents matter to anyone?


  2. Greg Forster says:

    Would be nice if we could avoid a break between charters and private choice, but apparently not in Massachusetts.

  3. Mike G says:

    Hi Matt,

    I think Jay has written before something like “No reason to be pro charter but anti voucher potential political advantage of triangulation.” That’s not a quote – that’s my hazy recall.

    Assuming that’s what they’re trying here.

    Now maybe triangulation vs Trump is wrong strategy for blue states.

    Or wrong execution of that strategy.

    Let’s stipulate that.

    Just to pose a hypothetical, let’s assume the opposite. For fun.

    If for our hypothetical

    1. There was a 50% chance of significant anti-charter law being passed on Beacon Hill.

    2. An ongoing triangulation effort (remember, hypothetical) DID reduce that chance to 20%.

    3. None of any MA effort would influence anyone outside of the state – nobody would care.

    If you believed that, would you support the triangulation?

    • matthewladner says:


      I don’t believe in betrayal of long-time allies or in appeasement of people who only recently put a dagger into your back, nor do I view such behavior as sound strategy. So I guess you can put me down as a no for the hypothetical.

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