Many charter schools have among the best state standardized test scores, but state officials have closed some because of poor performance. Their growth is restricted to appease local school districts and teacher unions, which say charter schools unfairly divert funds from traditional public schools, even though they are left with fewer students to educate.
A few years ago, Governor Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, other elected officials and advocates — motivated by the growing wait lists and charter school results — successfully pushed for a 2010 law that called for the doubling of charter school seats in Boston and other school districts with the lowest state standardized test scores.
That effort helped fuel the opening of 18 new schools, and along with them more waiting lists. But even then, debate swirled around the accuracy of the waiting list tallies.
Consequently, the 2010 law instructed charter schools each year to send to the state education department the names, addresses, and grade levels of the students on their waiting lists. The intent was for the state to weed out duplicates and create an accurate count. But the department never executed that statutory provision.
State education officials said budget and staffing constraints have prevented them from devising a new way of tallying waiting lists. But they hope to have one in place next year.
“It is disappointing and upsetting not having a measure [implemented that] we all agreed to,” said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, which pushed for a more accurate waiting-list count. “It continues the tension between charter and traditional schools.”
Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, chided charter school officials last week in his weekly e-mail bulletin for using waiting list tallies to justify an expansion.
“It does a disservice to public discourse and knowledge to be fed a steady stream of inaccurate numbers to prove their point,” he said in an interview.
At least one Boston charter school is seeking a more precise calculation of demand. The Brooke Charter School has opened two additional schools under the 2010 expansion law, and each school must keep separate lists, which range between 1,007 and 2,537 students, according to state figures. Jon Clark, Brooke’s codirector, said he knows duplication exists — his two children are on lists for all three campuses — but doubts that it is widespread. “We’re just curious about how many duplicates there are,” he said.