With apologies to songwriter Joni Mitchell, a version of her signature classic “The Circle Game” has, apparently, been adapted for the charter school movement.

“And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of ‘hype.’”

Hype, charter school style, is the rote method of reciting a list of worn out slogans intended to polish the brand. The plan’s not working with the Legislature, so it’s now on a beeline to the voters.

In Your View (Public charter schools should be allowed to expand” Nov. 4), Marc Kenen states that “charters offer longer school days … longer years … establish a culture of excellence … set high standards for teachers and students … provide additional supports to promote success.”

Does “more time on task” mean higher graduation rates, better services for English language learners and special education students? More importantly, does longer mean a better education?

Unfortunately, in most media circles, these questions about the charter movement’s performance level are hardly investigated, seldom asked. One merely has to check the Massachusetts Department of Education website, though, to locate answers and facts.

The DOE lists Boston Preparatory Charter’s class of 2013 as starting in sixth grade (2007) with 102 students and upon graduation a mere 32. Nearly two-thirds of the students, therefore, were lost to attrition.

Over the course of the journey, Mr. Kenen’s prized “culture of excellence … setting high standards … (and providing) supports to promote success,” apparently, became unhinged. 

And Boston Preparatory Charter (BPC), winner of the prestigious Pozen Prize in 2013, is a bellwether of inner city, charter prototypes.

BPC’s website stated: “For the fourth spring in a row, 100 percent of BPC graduating seniors have been accepted to college.” However, what’s hidden is the ugly truth behind the numbers: 93 of the original 106 who entered as sixth-graders in 2005 did not graduate from BPC, a staggering attrition rate of 88 percent.

How do the charters reject so many, succeed with so few, and never get taken to task for it?

The trick is in the innovative way charter schools downsize enrollment for English language learners, special needs, and behavior-disordered students through a Draconian discipline policy. It’s the behind-the-scenes way of keeping the elite students, while sending the more challenging ones back to the district.

A report in 2015 by Advocates for Children of New York Inc. revealed that discipline policies implemented by charters suspend students summarily without a hearing or without differentiating among alleged offenses.

While consistent limit-setting is the hallmark of a therapeutic discipline code, it is corrosive and unjust to equate throwing food in the cafeteria with having one’s shirt untucked; swearing at the teacher with chewing gum; pushing a classmate in line with keeping your eyes facing forward in that same line.

The New York report concludes that such practices, “gave school staff unbridled discretion to impose suspensions of any length … for infractions as minor as chewing gum … and for infractions as vague as engaging in ‘unacceptable behavior’ and ‘refusing accountability.’” Are these the dubious “high standards” that Mr. Kenen refers to?

In the hypothetical case of Johnny, a learning disabled student with a medical diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, he has been tabbed for enrollment at a charter school. Johnny has above average ability, but has trouble processing information and lacks focus. At charter school X, we find him often guilty of an untucked shirt, which earns him numerous detentions, and after the fifth uniform malfunction, Johnny is suspended out of school. When he returns, his teacher counsels Johnny about turning around in class. No behavior intervention — a vital first step for any ADHD student — is planned to help Johnny decrease this diagnosed inattentiveness. He is, simply, reminded to follow the rules. Johnny keeps turning around, is suspended again. His parents realize the charter has no plans to individualize a behavior plan, no plans to “provide additional supports to promote success.” They realize that a return to the public school is the better alternative for their struggling child. At least there, Johnny will get help with his disabilities.

And the charter school’s carousel can continue to go round and round in its circle game.

One thought on “Charter schools engage in ‘Circle Game’ By Bruce Ditata

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