The public schools of New Bedford, Massachusetts, have gone through a remarkable turnaround in recent years. They are getting better and better. In 2016, nearly 60% of the voters of New Bedford opposed any increase in the number of charters in the state. But now the state—in the hands of charter zealots—wants to expand the number of charter seats in New Bedford. These two citizens of New Bedford explain why this is a terrible idea that will do irreparable damage to the public schools.

The authors of this article are Joshua Amaral, a member of the New Bedford School Committee and the chair of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees Division IX (urban districts), and Bruce Rose, president of the New Bedford NAACP. “Ignore the Charter School Think Tank Crowd,” they say, and they are right. Why sink the ship for the benefit of a leaky rowboat?

They begin like this:

YOU ARE AN EDUCATION RESEARCHER sent to discover best practices in urban schools so that you can replicate them to create results for more kids—kids who you believe are trapped in mediocre schools. You look at three exemplar schools to scale up:

School A has 336 students and rates in the state’s 85th accountability percentile, a measure now used to aggregate a school’s performance on MCAS relative to other schools in the state. This school made 95 percent improvement toward its own goals, such as increasing the percentage of students who score advanced or proficient on statewide exams, or improving attendance rates. Remarkably, 46 percent of this school’s students have a first language other than English, and 75 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The school has been named a School of Recognition by the state, among only 50 others.

School B has 730 students and rates in the state’s 59th accountability percentile and made 83 percent improvement toward its targets. The school is home to specialized classrooms designed to serve students with severe behavioral and developmental delays, and 27 percent of the school’s students have disabilities, 44 percent are economically disadvantaged, and 21 percent have a first language other than English.

School C has 413 students and rates in the state’s 38th accountability percentile and made 47 percent improvement toward its targets. At the school, 23 percent of the students have a first language other than English, and 58 percent come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

If you had to make the call on which school to expand by 300 percent – to double- or triple-down on – I suspect you would favor schools A and B, New Bedford district public schools Congdon and Pulaski, respectively, over School C, Alma del Mar Charter School, the school actually proposing such an extraordinary expansion.

The New Bedford district public schools have a plethora of higher performing schools. Not just Pulaski and Congdon, but 10 of New Bedford’s elementary schools finished higher in accountability ranking than Alma del Mar, more than half of the city’s primary schools. On improvement toward targets, 18 of the district’s 23 schools exceed Alma’s 47 percent improvement rate. And among those performing worse than Alma? The city’s other two charters: Global Learning and City on a Hill. The district educates a higher percentage of English language learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students and has schools soaring past Alma nonetheless.

Why siphon from the most successful of New Bedford’s schools, which outperform charters with a more challenging student population, just to increase charter seats? With a concerted and well-funded public relations strategy unmatched by cash-strapped district schools, it seems the only advantage charters have over traditional public schools is in the marketing department. It’s a credit to the public relations efforts of charters that the success of the New Bedford district public schools relative to its charters comes as a surprise.

The New Bedford district public schools have undergone a marked turnaround over the last six years, stemming the tide of mediocrity and ineffectiveness that branded the district poorly across the state. The wave of accountability that rolled in post-ed reform hit New Bedford hard. Systems were put in place, issues were corrected, difficult decisions were made. The road to improvement has not always been smooth, but focused leadership and putting students first has left the district primed for takeoff, not takeover.