Sunset the Lawrence district school monopoly

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One of two kids in the Lawrence Public School system do not cross the 12th grade finish line. Even that is beyond what the “soft bigotry of low expectations” crowd can explain away on the basis of factors like poverty and family situation. Sadly, that dropout reality holds true in a couple of other urban districts around the state. But no other district is in school receivership… in a city that is in state fiscal receivership. And no other district can boast of the on-the-record, court-documented corruption within the school district office that we’ve seen in Lawrence.

As noted in several previous blogs (such as this one), in Lawrence, just over 1,000 students of the 13,000 in the district will be affected by the new school receiver’s plan to introduce charter operators to help out and even run district schools. So, the question becomes, if charters are working well in Lawrence, why are we keeping the charter caps in place in in a city where the state effectively picks up 100% of the cost of the public schools?

Well, just how well are the charter public schools doing compared to their district peers?

Click here for comparison of performance for the charter schools currently in existence, Lawrence Community Day Charter Public School (LCDCPS) Upper and Lower School and Lawrence Family Development Charter School, and the city’s district middle school counterparts. In 2009, LCDCPS had the top rated 8th grade class in the state, notwithstanding poverty and all the other usual factors.

So, then, why such a limited charter effort? Is it due to lack of interest on the part of parents?

Not at all. There is clear evidence of great parental demand for charter school options in Lawrence at the charter public schools currently in existence. And thanks to the 2010 law that partially lifted the cap on charter schools in districts with failing schools, the LCDCPS school network is opening two new charters this September: the Gateway and Webster schools (the latter named after the education philanthropist Kingman Webster, who has long been committed to improving the Lawrence schools). The Lawrence charter school waiting list is by some reckonings in the thousands, perhaps encompassing as much as 30% of the overall district’s student population.

Another indication of demand comes with a June MassINC Polling Group survey of 400-plus adults in households with Lawrence public students, whether they were in charter public or district public schools. Notwithstanding the fact that the group surveyed was only 48% familiar with charter schools (26% and 25% of respondents were either not too or not at all familiar with charter schools) and only a majority aware (51%) of the state’s strict limits on charter schools, a majority of respondents wanted to see the caps removed. Once the respondents were informed of the length of the waiting list, the percentage of respondents opining that the caps should be removed leapt to 71%.

The language in the survey informing respondents about the waiting list was hardly leading: “Currently, there are about 4,100 students on the waiting list to get into the charter schools in Lawrence, who are unable to attend the city’s charter schools because of the limit on the number of students who are allowed to attend.”

So why are we limiting charter public school options, when charters are working so well in Lawrence and the rest of the state? Why can charter public schools provide options to no more than 18% of the district population, even in a case where the need is so obviously extreme? And why are we keeping the caps on charter schools in Lawrence when any number of charter operators that I have spoken to, charters with excellent records in Massachusetts, who meet the state’s new bar of being so-called “proven providers,” would step up and expand in Lawrence in a heartbeat?

Chalk the lack of legislative leadership on this issue up to the adult protection racket that controls Beacon Hill. It’s time for special legislation expanding charters in Lawrence. Anything less than that is simply kicking the can down the road. And when each high school dropout ends up costing fellow citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars in entitlement support, public services and more, that’s a mighty expensive can to kick.

Crossposted at’s Rock the Schoolhouse blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.