The Charter School Hustle

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Is it worth the gamble?
We’re in a pretty sad state of affairs if the fate of a child’s academic future comes down to how lottery balls maneuver in a bingo drum.

Charter school applications are reaching all-time highs in Massachusetts. This climbing popularity over the past decade is a testament to the fact that something about the charter school concept is working, and working well. With stacks of applications rolling in, it’s also no wonder that over-subscriptions are the norm in a state that caps charter school enrollment, resulting in an array of admissions lotteries. Sadly, that’s just the way the ball bounces in Massachusetts- for now, anyway.

There are many critics of charter schools wondering: why go through the agony of uncertainty? Are these random lotteries even worth all the stress? The numbers speak for themselves. Although there always seems to be a way to sneak a jab in at the charter school system in Massachusetts, there is no refuting that they are outperforming most conventional public schools. What may even be more crucial is the fact that charter schools are challenging those same schools to improve their regimens, and if the public education system really is in a funk, they surely stand a shot at breaking it.

If I’m not convincing you, go look at the numbers for yourself. With Pioneer Institute’s MassReportCards, you can access and compare data for any public school in the state, viewing important information such as student-to-teacher ratios, overall teacher quality, and whether or not the school’s students are going on to college. For this particular example, I’ll be comparing public high schools and charter schools in three major areas in Massachusetts: Worcester, Fitchburg, and Hyannis.

Worcester, MA

North High School and Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School in Worcester coexist in close proximity to one another- it’s only about a ten minute drive from one to the other. In fact, the schools are even similar in size, with North High having a teacher staff of 100 to Abby Kelley Foster’s 102, although the latter is K-12. This is where the commonalities between the two schools begin to drop off. North High sees approximately 23.8% of its students going on to either public or private four-year colleges, post-high school. The Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School sees 100% of its students going on to 4-year colleges after high school. This trend continues with drop-out rates, where North High sees 17.1% of its students dropping out to Abby Kelley Foster’s 0%.

Pioneer Rating

North High School: B-

Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School (High School): A-

Fitchburg, MA

Fitchburg has a similar duality in its midst between Fitchburg High and the North Central Charter Essential School. Fitchburg High, with its staff of 79 teachers, saw 41.2% of its graduates going on to four-year programs, whereas North Central Charter’s 34 teachers saw 50.1% of its students doing so. Fitchburg High had a stronger drop-out rate at 10.8% to North Central Charter’s 16.4%. Lastly, North Central Charter Essential School boasts considerably higher MCAS scores than Fitchburg High.

Pioneer Rating

Fitchburg High: B

North Central Charter Essential School: A-

Hyannis, MA

In Hyannis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, Barnstable High School and Sturgis Charter Public School show varying numbers. Barnstable High, a behemoth in comparison to Sturgis, holds a teacher count of 147 with a Student-to-Teacher ratio of 14.4 to 1. Sturgis, by contrast, has 40 teachers with a Student-to-Teacher ratio of 10 to 1- an attractive figure to most parents. 80% of students go on to four-year colleges after graduating from Sturgis, a fifth more than Barnstable High’s 59.9%. Lastly, Sturgis holds better attendance records and a drop-out rate half the size of Barnstable High’s 9.3%.

Pioneer Rating

Barnstable High School: A-

Sturgis Charter Public School: A+

Looking at these numbers, can we say that all the sweat and toil of admissions lotteries is worth it? Absolutely. Yet with success stories like these, one has to wonder why we don’t simply create more charter schools in order to eliminate the need for lottery systems- looking at you, caps. After all, when it comes down to a child’s education, it should come down to parents will, not to lotteries that benefit some while hurting others.

Charter school enrollment caps must be lifted, and that’s the just way the ball should bounce.

For more information on the schools in your area, go explore Pioneer’s MassReportCards.

Adam Campbell is an intern at Pioneer Institute and a graduate from Sturgis Charter Public School.

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