Tuesday, October 21, 2014



Dear Charter friends,

The Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester today announced that he would be making a recommendation concerning the Brockton & Fitchburg charter school applications for the Board to vote on November 25th at their regularly scheduled monthly meeting. 

The Chair of the Board Margaret McKenna announced further that the Board of Ed would hold a special public hearing on this issue sometime before November 25th on a date/time/location TBD. 
During the Commissioner's remarks he indicated he was closely reviewing the Department of Education's interpretation of the state law that prioritizes applications in the lowest 10% and has been cited by the department as their justification to disqualify the applicants.  

The MCPSA and the Brockton and Fitchburg founding groups have argued to the Department of Education that they misinterpreted this law and mistakenly used it to disqualify the candidates.
Following the Chair and Commissioner's remarks, public comment turned to three speakers arguing against the applications including the Brockton and Fitchburg Superintendents and MTA President Barbara Madeloni.

Then supporters of the charter school applications were given the final three speaking slots:  Beth Anderson, MCPSA Vice President and Phoenix Academy Charter School leader; Michael Sullivan from the Brockton founding group and Jennifer Jones from the Fitchburg Charter School.  All three speakers did a wonderful job explaining the situation from their particular perspectives.  I observed the Board of Ed. members listening quite attentively to all three of our speakers! 

A big thank you to the many parents, leaders and supporters who came today!  It was great turning the corner onto Pleasant Street and seeing a big crowd in front of the Department!
As soon as we know the date for the special public hearing, we'll be sure to pass it on!


Saturday, October 18, 2014



Date Published: 
October 17, 2014

 News Type: 
Members of the founding groups from two proposed charter public schools for Brockton and Fitchburg formally asked the state’s Education Commissioner to grant them waivers from provisions in state law and regulation that would allow their applications to move to the next round of review.
Just eight days after they were told they had been approved as finalists, the founding groups were told by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that their applications were no longer valid – the result of new regulations adopted in June and a provision in state law adopted in 2010.
As a result, no new charters will be approved this year for the first time since 1996.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which would have to approve the waiver request, meets this Tuesday, but the Department has indicated it would not put this issue on the agenda. Instead, the Department has indicated it will wait until the Nov. 25 meeting to put the issue before the Board.
“We sincerely hope the Department and the Board can come together with the applicants to resolve this issue at the meeting on Tuesday,” Marc Kenen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said. “Waiting a month leaves our applicants and the families they seek to serve in Brockton and Fitchburg in limbo.”
In addition, the Nov. 25 Board meeting comes 11 days after the deadline for filing final applications (Nov. 14).
“This process has been confusing enough,” Kenen said. “One day our applicants are given the green light; the next day they are told never mind. As of now, they are being told their applications are no longer valid. And the deadline for filing final applications comes 11 days before they will know whether they are being given a waiver to continue.”
In the waiver requests, the applicants argue that the Department misapplied its own regulations and misinterpreted state law to effectively change the rules in the middle of the application cycle. The groups submitted their applications in good
faith in July relying on 2012-­‐2013 MCAS data from the Department that showed both Brockton and Fitchburg were included in the lowest 10% performing districts.
On September 26, 2014, more than two months after submission of the applications, the Department posted new calculations based on 2014 MCAS scores and a new system of ranking the lowest performing schools. These new rankings placed Brockton among the lowest 17% and Fitchburg among the lowest 12%.
Four days after that, on September 30, the Department notified the groups that they had met initial criteria for approval and could proceed to the final round. On October 7, the Board said it had overlooked a provision in state law that says that “not less than” two charters awarded in any cycle must be located in a district that performs in the bottom 10%, and reversed their initial approval.
The groups claim the Department should be using data from the two years prior to the application cycle, which would be based on MCAS scores in 2012 and 2013 – and not 2014.
The groups also argue that the Department misinterpreted the requirement that at least two charters be awarded in the lowest performing districts.
“We believe that the purpose of the 2010 Achievement Gap law was to allow for the expansion of charters, not prevent them,” Kenen said. “The intent of this provision was to prioritize the adoption of charters in the lowest performing districts when there were many competing applications in the same cycle. Since the proposals for Brockton and Fitchburg would be the only two moving into the final round, there are no competing applications.”
In this case, applying that provision to deny both applications would result in zero charter growth this year, which runs contrary to the intent of the Achievement Gap Act.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Families and children in Brockton and Fitchburg deserve better!

Ed officials: Hands tied on charter rulings

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service
UPDATED:   10/15/2014 08:59:11 AM EDT0 COMMENTS

BOSTON - A top state education official on Tuesday said the department's hands were tied over the disqualification of two new charter school applicants despite both leading candidates for governor urging reconsideration of proposed charters in Fitchburg and Brockton. With three weeks remaining before the election, Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley on Tuesday seized on a report that state education officials are not likely to green-light any new charter schools this year. Charter schools pitched for Brockton and the Fitchburg area were dropped from consideration because they are not located in districts that are among the lowest-performing in the state.

"This isn't a judgment call on our part. This is a state law that we are tasked with enforcing whether we agree with it or not. We could reconsider, but the state law is pretty clear," said Deputy Education Commission Jeff Wulfson. Baker urged the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to reconsider its decision, and called on Coakley to join him in calling for expanded access to charter schools in Massachusetts.

"As Governor, I will fight any attempts to put politics ahead of children in the Commonwealth's cities and I hope the Department of Education will reconsider their decision to limit access to quality schools," Baker said in a statement. A little over an hour later, Coakley responded with a statement doing just that: "Today's news that all new charter school proposals were rejected is disappointing, and I am calling on the Department of Education to reconsider the decision.

Families and children in Brockton and Fitchburg deserved better. We shouldn't let a technicality get in the way of offering increased opportunities to our children in school districts across the state."

Charter advocates say the denial of applications for new charters this year will hinder development in cities where they say charters are most needed and where children are on waiting lists to attend the alternative public schools.

A push on Beacon Hill this year for legislation to provide a controlled lift of the cap on charter schools failed amid continuing division between charter advocates and proponents of traditional public schools, including teachers unions.

Coakley has said during the campaign that she supports lifting the cap on charter schools, and in her primary night acceptance speech said the state must learn from successful charters. Baker has been a more vocal advocate for charter expansion, strongly backing the failed legislation and proposing to not only increase the number of charter schools, but remove "arbitrary restrictions" on the number of students who can attend in the lowest performing districts.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in late September invited New Heights Charter School, of Brockton, and Academy for the Whole Child Charter School, serving the Fitchburg region, to proceed to the final stage of the licensing process and submit full applications.

That decision was subsequently reversed when educations officials realized that Fitchburg and Brockton are no longer among the state's lowest 10 percent performing school districts, disqualifying the applications based on a 2010 education reform law. While both cities were among the 29 lowest performing school districts in 2013, spring MCAS scores and a new formula adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in June elevated both districts out of the lowest 10 percent.

The change to the formula, which was adopted two days before aspiring charter operators were required to submit letters of intent to the board, gave districts credit for improved student performance from one year to the next in addition to raw MCAS scores. The new formula helped move eight districts out of the lowest tier, including Fitchburg and Brockton.

"Although that was the final board vote, everyone was well aware of what the proposals were," Wulfson said. "That didn't come as a surprise, but even if the board had not changed any of the calculations, because they are based on the spring MCAS there's always the issues of having to start working before we've published our list and they're told that."

Wulfson said the department has extended by over a week until Nov. 14 the deadline for final charter school applications to be submitted in order to give both applicants time to consider changing locations for their charter schools. The operators may also appeal to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a waiver from state regulations, though Wulfson said it's unclear what regulation could be waived. The department this fall and winter will also weigh three applications for new Horace Mann charters in Salem, Springfield and Boston. Horace Mann charter schools operate in cooperation with host districts and require the approval of the local school committee.

Board of Education policy KILLING CHARTER SCHOOLS!

Dear Charter friends, a great editorial in the Boston Herald calling attention to the state Board of Education policy that has resulted in no new charter schools being awarded by the state this year and the reversal on the Brockton and Fitchburg applications.

Boston Herald Editorial:  Slowly killing charters

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Just a few weeks ago we wrote about a recent policy change at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that threatened the expansion of charter school seats in some of the state’s neediest communities. Now it seems the worst case scenario is coming to pass.
Applications for new, independently-run charter schools in Fitchburg and Brockton were, until recently, in the final stages of approval by the Patrick administration (the Brockton school would be the city’s first). But thanks in part to that policy change, the administration is unlikely to approve even a single application for an independent charter, for the first time in more than a decade.
Charters, of course, provide alternatives to families whose children might otherwise be stuck in failing schools. But a statewide cap limits the number of charter school seats that can be made available at any one time.
A 2010 reform law raised that cap in the state’s lowest-performing school districts. Until recently, that would have included Fitchburg and Brockton.
But that June policy change — engineered by a panel of unaccountable political appointees that includes Secretary of Education Matthew Malone — has redefined what it means to be at “the bottom.” And because of recent gains in statewide test scores, Fitchburg and Brockton no longer fall into the bottom 10 percent.
A 2010 reform law designed to expand charter school seats requires that at least two approved charter school proposals be located in districts that fall into the bottom 10 percent. Because Fitchburg and Brockton have been promoted out, those applications appear dead. And it’s confetti time in superintendents’ offices and teachers’ union halls.
Now, let’s assume that the board’s tinkering wasn’t a calculated attempt to kill these specific applications. At best this is an embarrassing failure on the part of those in charge of evaluating charter applications, who now claim their hands are tied.
But the Patrick administration has a duty to fix what it helped to break.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Making those schools disappear

Proponents of a new charter public school for northern Worcester County had barely had time to absorb the good news from state education officials — they had passed a preliminary screening and were welcome to submit a final application— when they received word that there had been a mistake. 
It turns out the Academy for the Whole Child Charter School is ineligible because a 2010 charter school law says the first two commonwealth charters approved in any year must be in districts among the lowest 10 percent statewide. Some towns in the proposed district are in the lowest 10 percent, but Fitchburg is not. Thus, the school, and another proposed for Brockton, cannot proceed as originally planned. 
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said there had been an "oversight." 
So, we have a Legislature that rewrites the rules so that districts that surely could use additional school choices —
Fitchburg and Brockton are improving, but far from great — can't easily get them. And we have educational bureaucrats who can't even interpret the rules correctly. 
Forcing all communities to move at the speed of the slowest performers kills innovation and denies many children a better education. And raising false hopes doesn't help, either. 
What are parents with children in under-performing schools to do? 
For starters, seek a better school, even if it costs them money. But in the long run, they need to go to the polls and vote for new leaders willing to overturn a state education bureaucracy that simply isn't putting children first. 
Copyright 2014 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp


Coakley, Baker Criticize Charter School Decision

BOSTON — Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley are finding common ground on the issue of charter schools.
Coakley, a Democrat, and Baker, a Republican, both called on the state Board of Education Tuesday to reverse a ruling that all but eliminated Commonwealth charter school applicants in Brockton and Fitchburg.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the board found the applications could not go forward because of a state law requiring that the first two charters awarded in any given year go to school districts with average MCAS scores in the lowest 10 percent of the state.
It would be the first time in 15 years the state has not awarded a Commonwealth charter.
Charter schools are public schools which operate independently from local school districts.