A veteran educator explains why she will vote NO ON Question 2.
My background and position as a high school administrator have led people to ask me about Question 2, the ballot proposal that would allow expansion of Massachusetts charter schools. I have been around public education my entire life. My father was a Superintendent of Schools in Pittsfield, Brockton, and Weston. My husband taught English at Brockton High School for almost 40 years. I was a practicing attorney for 25 years, changed careers, and am now the very proud principal of Falmouth High School, which my own three children have attended.
With that as a backdrop, I remain baffled as to how charter schools are considered public schools, and how they can take taxpayer money to run smoke and mirrors operations.
I do not pretend to know all charter schools in the Commonwealth, but I do know the one in Hyannis, Sturgis Charter School, which has garnered not only local, but national recognition as a tip top so-called “public” high school.
This is where I get confused. I would like someone to explain how charter schools are “public” schools when the one in my neck of the woods allows for the following:
• None of its teachers are required to be licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) which oversees all of the state’s public schools, and mandates licensure of public school teachers.
• Its teachers are not subjected to the same public school educator evaluation regulations (603 CMR 35.00) that every other public school teacher is bound by (http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=8004).
• Although it claims to admit students by public lottery, it gives applicants priority status if they have a sibling attending the school, it reviews discipline records of applicants before deciding to admit them, and it outright refuses to admit students in grades 11 and 12.
The Sturgis website proudly proclaims that given its lottery admissions process, “All students who wish to attend . . . have an equal chance of getting in.” How is this possible when the enrollment policy clearly states that the number one priority for admission is whether an applicant has a sibling who attends the school? And Sturgis gets to exclude students who want to apply in grades 11 and 12? What other public high school gets to do that?
Moreover, despite the statement on its website that Sturgis “is a tuition-free, public high school [see footnote below] that accepts students through public lottery regardless of past academic records,” Sturgis nevertheless exercises discretion to condition admission upon the review of an applicant’s discipline record. That is some lottery. Indeed, I thought “lottery” meant everyone who plays has an equal chance of winning.
The Sturgis brand of lottery sure sounds more like a stacked deck than a lottery.
Sturgis is a top “public” high school that is not required to follow any of the hiring, licensing, educator evaluation, and admissions practices required of every other public high school in Massachusetts.
And Sturgis is run by a principal, excuse me, an “Executive Director,” who touts the school’s high MCAS scores – why wouldn’t he when the scores are statistically skewed due to cherry-picked students?
Indeed, according to the most recently available DESE data, Sturgis has ZERO English Language Learner students, has almost half the number of High Needs and Economically Disadvantaged students as Falmouth High School, and doled out discipline to just 12 students in the 2014-2015 school year.
I am proud of what we do at Falmouth High School, where we have been able to maintain our Level 1 status for several years now without having to resort to elitist and exclusionary admission practices. Falmouth High School students are regularly awarded top prizes in state science, history, math, foreign language, writing, music, and art competitions.
We have AP Scholars and National Merit Scholars, and our athletic teams can boast regional, state, and even national titles. Falmouth High School students have been admitted to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Middlebury, Amherst, Wellesley, Smith, MIT, Williams, Columbia, University of Chicago, the Air Force Academy, Northwestern, and a slew of other top tier colleges and universities. According to its own 2015-2016 school profile, from 2002 to 2015, it appears not a single Sturgis graduate had been accepted to Harvard or Yale — http://www.sturgischarterschool.com/documents/ProfileWest.pdf — nor to Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, or Middlebury, the top four liberal arts colleges in the country.
In its 2016-2017 school profile, Harvard was finally added to the list — http://www.sturgischarterschool.com/documents/2016ProfileEast.pdf. Nevertheless, hidden deep within the Sturgis website is a veiled warning that colleges do not always look so kindly on the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme (http://www.sturgischarterschool.org/guidance/IBCollege.html). So it runs a “Programme” with two “m’s” and an “e” at the end, that despite its fancy, pretentious sounding name, may hinder a student’s ability to enter a top college? I’d like to see that disclaimer on the website of any real public high school.
But what is most important, most impressive, is that Falmouth High School is a public school where nobody is turned away. Nobody. We don’t have the right to exclude anyone, and we don’t want that right — because we are a public school. We take every child, whatever his status or ability, and still we retain our Level 1 standing and our sense of dignity. This is what real public schools do, all of them.
As a taxpayer, I am outraged.
As a school administrator, I am angered that not only must we fight for every dollar, but we must fight to keep families from being bamboozled by so-called “public” charter schools. It is nose-on-the-face plain that charter schools are not public schools. Real public schools do not participate in elitist and exclusionary admissions practices that are axiomatically antithetical to the meaning of public education. Go ahead and let charters do what they want, but let’s stop pretending they are public schools, and let’s stop funding them as such. Please vote no on Question 2.
Mary Whalen Gans, J.D., M.Ed.
footnote: Why the need to proclaim that it is a “tuition-free public high school”? What public high school charges tuition? Is it that Sturgis is trying to connote that it’s giving something of great quality that you’d otherwise have to pay for in the private sector? Ridiculous….