Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Testimony, City Councilor Tito Jackson Charter School Attrition Hearings. December 15, 2015

Thank you for having these hearings, and for allowing me to testify today.

My name is John Lerner, I'm a BPS parent and I'm here to try and open some eyes to the reality of many, if not most, of Boston's charter schools.

It seems that I can't go for more than a few days without hearing about how Boston has the “highest preforming charter school sector in the country”.

That's a pretty incredible statement. In studies all over the rest of the country charter schools have been shown to be: some better than the local public schools, some the same as the local public school average, and some worse than the local public school average, but Boston, Boston's different. Our charter schools are better than all the rest, and not just a little better, they're leaps and bounds better. Our charter schools are miracle charter schools.

Except that they're not. Most of Boston's charter schools, if not all, cheat. The ones that don't cheat, or cheat less, struggle, and sometimes they actually get closed down.

They cheat by who gets in to their schools, and they cheat by skimming the cream of the crop of those that do get in.

We've been hearing a lot about English language learner populations (ELL) in Boston's charter schools lately. Entry into Boston's charter schools is by lottery. One would assume that with a lottery entry system that the charter schools student population would reflect the population of BPS. It doesn't. BPS has an ELL population that hovers at around 30%, yet I see charter schools (Brooke Charter, Roslindale, for example) that has an ELL population that is consistently below 1%, and in some years falls to as low as 2/10 of 1%. I'm not cherry picking data here. I looked at Brooke because they just became the highest preforming district in the state, so I looked at them, and I saw that how they got that statistic is, they cheat. They skim.

Two new studies, one by an MIT economics PhD candidate, and another by Boston's very own think tank “The Pioneer Institute”; tell us how well Boston's charter schools are doing with increasing ELL populations. The new Pioneer Institute study specifically cites Excel Academy in East Boston as an example of how charter school populations of ELL's are rising. Well... the fact is Excel Academy has an ELL population that is 48% lower than the BPS average. The Pioneer Institute would like you to believe that 48% lower is apples to apples - and that this is a good example of how charter schools are playing on a level field and doing a better job. They're not. Study after study that I see leave out small details - like populations that have a difference of 48 percent or more.

I could go on and on about the different ways Boston's charter schools cheat, because that's what it is when you claim you're the same as, but better than, and you're not, but this hearing is about attrition, namely, charter school attrition.

First, I'd like to point our that the attrition numbers on the DESE web site are useless. A direct quote from the DESE website:

This report provides the percentage of attrition by grade from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next for students enrolled in public schools, including charter schools, in the state.

AKA, over the summer.

The thing is, over the summer is not when the kids leave. The kids leave during the school year, and from what I hear, most leave right before testing in March. The fact that there's such a huge discrepancy between that the DESE website states as attrition, and the results you get by actually tracking a cohort through, is direct evidence that the students leave during the school year - and not over the summer.

I've tracked the true attrition of Boston's Charter High school cohorts, and I've tracked the attrition of some Boston Charter middle and elementary schools. The number I'm coming up with for an average is 13.49%. From what I've seen, Boston's charter schools lose an average of 13.49% of their students, each year. That's 40% of all the charter school kids every three years - 67.45% every four years.

With Boston having a charter school population of 8,500 - that would mean that somewhere around 1,150 children are returned to BPS, each year.

It goes without saying that some schools are better than that, and some schools are worse. The absolute worst I've seen (and I'll call them out on this because I think it might actually be criminal) is City on a Hill Charter School, Dudley. In 2013 - 106 children entered 9th grade at City on a Hill, Dudley. Only 55 of those children remained to return to school the next year. That's a loss of 48% of the cohort, in one year. 

I'd also like to mention that the out of school suspension rate for City on a Hill, Dudley was sky high that year, at 49%. For comparison, the state average for the same year was twelve times less than that, at 3.9%.

I call it “Punish/Push Out/Rinse/Repeat”.

That's one way you get the “Highest preforming charter sector in the country”.

I wouldn't care about this as much if this scam weren't hurting the vast majority of the children in Boston, but it is. The charter schools are now taking $122 million a year (nearly $1 million per school) away from BPS, and that harms 57,000 BPS school children, one of which happens to be my daughter.

I hope today's hearing marks the beginning of a much higher level of scrutiny of the Think Tanks and Economics Majors claims of the superiority of Boston's charter schools. I hope that myself and the other people testifying today are able open some eyes to what I consider to be nothing more than a house of cards. I hope that someday soon, possibly today, we can start to focus on what's necessary to actually educate Bostons children and not simple privatize education at the expense of Boston's children.

Thank you for your time and for your service.