Massachusetts Deserves Better Education Leadership
Education Secretary Matt Malone’s views on charter schools characterized by bigotry and demonization
Can Matt Malone provide educational leadership in a state with the nation’s most successful charter public school sector?
Emails recently obtained by Pioneer Institute show that Secretary Malone engaged in various forms of bigotry and demonization when, as superintendent of the Brockton Public Schools, he fought against opening the city’s first charter public school.
After the 2008 rejection of a proposed Brockton charter public school under highly unusual circumstances, another charter proposal was submitted by a founding group with deep ties to Brockton. The leadership group included former Mayor Jack Yunits, City Councilor Jass Stewart, and longtime advocate and business leader Faelton Perkins. If approved, the charter was to be operated by SABIS, a demonstrable “proven provider” in Massachusetts, given its successful management of a large, high-performing charter public school in Springfield. (Today, SABIS also manages charter schools in Holyoke and Lowell.)
In 2008, the proposed Brockton charter became the first – and so far, only – Massachusetts charter proposal ever to be rejected by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) after being recommended for approval by the state commissioner of education and the state charter school office.The Boston Globe lent its strong editorial support to the application and defended SABIS in a second Globe editorial:
SABIS has earned the right to expand in Massachusetts. While the for-profit business model may offend some local sensibilities, SABIS students in Holyoke and Springfield consistently outperform peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds in their home districts. More importantly, SABIS is closing the achievement gap between its mostly minority student body and white counterparts in the suburbs.
That’s why community leaders and SABIS remained dedicated to providing Brockton families with access to outstanding educational opportunities and why they submitted a second proposal in 2012.
Abuse of the public trust
Enter then-Brockton Superintendent Matt Malone. Emails demonstrate that Malone used his office and the administrative resources of the Brockton Public Schools to campaign against the creation of a new charter public school. He strategized, crafted anti-SABIS logos, and coordinated with union members and fellow local superintendents.
This was a highly questionable use of his public office, but Malone did much worse when he engaged in bigotry. On November 28, 2012, he wrote an email with attached talking points to the Brockton School Committee, in which he noted:
“This proposal is vague – it’s a school based on hope and good intentions, not research-based best practices. It is utterly lacking in specifics – it’s a boilerplate application from a for-profit education company based in LEBANON.”
In other emails, he and Ethan Cancell, his associate director of accountability, planning and technology, decried SABIS for being an “international” for-profit company and “implicitly discriminating against vulnerable and unprotected populations.”
Malone did not reserve his derision for “international” entities or the Lebanese. This public official was equally coarse in mocking a senior citizen seeking new learning opportunities for kids in the city. In discussing Faelton Perkins, a Brockton businessman dedicated to promoting the SABIS charter school, Malone’s communications officer Jocelyn Meek noted:
“FYI – I looked him up – Faelton Perkins is 92”
To which Malone mocked:
“Class of 92 or 92 years old”
So much for the Patrick administration encouraging its long-stated educational goals of global awareness, cross-cultural competence, and grassroots governing. This is evidence of Malone’s poor judgment and misuse of the public trust.
Malone spent at least nine months opposing the proposed charter school, enlisting unions and lobbyists. He also reached out to his peers – other superintendents such as Meg Mayo-Brown in Fall River. In response to her November 19, 2012 question, “What is your approach on the proposed charter schools in Brockton?” his reply was:
“We are trying a united front to battle the evil demons”
Holding Brockton Students Back
Low-income and minority students constitute a majority in Brockton and at SABIS’ Springfield charter school. But that’s where the similarities end.
- SABIS Springfield has a four-year graduation rate of over 90%, while Brockton’s is less than 70%.
- Two thirds of SABIS’ students scored proficient or advanced on 2012 MCAS English tests, while less than half did in Brockton.
- In math, the majority of SABIS students scored proficient or advanced, compared to 36% in Brockton.
- Every SABIS Springfield graduate has been accepted to college.
- U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek have recognized SABIS Springfield as one of the nation’s best high schools. Brockton public school students score in the bottom 10 percent statewide on MCAS.
Despite all this, the Brockton charter was once again rejected. Perhaps Malone himself put it best in an earlier email to the Brockton School Committee and several of his staff members: “It helps to have friends at DESE [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education].”
Is this really the kind of educational leadership we can trust to be an honest broker on charter schools and state education policy?