As proponents and opponents wrapped up their battle over Question 2, which asked voters to allow the state to grant up to 12 new charter schools a year, Worcester State University’s Latino Education Institute  and University of Massachusetts Boston’s Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy  presented their research on charter schools’ education of Latinos last week at the DCU Center.
Their presentation, “How Do Latino Students Fare in Massachusetts Charter Schools?”, sought to provide an unbiased, facts-only look at the performance of Latino and English language learners (ELLs) in 10 charter schools across the state.
The small group of attendees included representatives from both LEI and Gastón Institute, as well as local public and charter school officials who offered their perspectives during the panel presentations.
Alex Zequeira, headmaster of Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury and the past chair of LEI, offered opening remarks and stated that he was proud to see that LEI was continuing its mission of assisting Latino students and families.
“Over 40 percent of students in Worcester identify as Hispanic,” said Zequeira, “so this is topic is especially resonant here.” Zequeira also thanked WSU President Barry Maloney’s efforts of “connecting WSU to the Worcester community” and providing opportunities for involvement.
WSU Assistant Vice President for Urban Affairs and LEI Executive Director Mary Jo Marión detailed the efforts and effects of LEI’s presence in Worcester and Springfield public schools, and said that Question 2 directly affects its mission. “Latinos have the most to gain from the passage of Question 2, but also the most to lose,” she said.
The study itself had a wide range of results that provided evidence for both anti- and pro-Question 2 activists, although the presenters stressed that their data was incomplete and more research was needed for definite conclusions. Among the 10 towns—Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, New Bedford, Southbridge, Springfield, and Worcester—the charter schools, despite improvements, continued to serve lower proportions of Latino students, ELLs, students with disabilities, and low-income students compared to traditional public schools. Additionally, the ELL population differs greatly between charter schools and traditional public schools for all communities, not just Latinos.
However, the data also suggests that Latino students in charter schools have superior standardized test scores compared to Latino students enrolled in traditional public schools, although graduation, college enrollment, and out-of-school suspension rates showed mixed findings due to the data being incomplete.
After the research presentation, two panels on the subject of the financial implications of charter school funding ensued, with activists from both sides of the issue airing their frustrations and, ultimately, acknowledging that the contentious 2016 election has made rational discussion about important local issues more difficult. The panels were moderated by WSU Assistant Professor of Urban Studies Tom Conroy, Ph.D., and Associate Director of the LEI Hilda Ramirez.
However, both sides agreed that public schools need more funding in order to function properly, and that the charter school movement resulted from deterioration of traditional public schools.
“We’re fighting over scraps here,” Conroy said. “Education in general needs a lot more money instead of going at it with each other over these small amounts.”
The panel members also questioned the large amounts of campaign money being poured into the state over Question 2 as well as Governor Charlie Baker’s public endorsement of the ballot measure.
“Ultimately it’s about having an equitable choice,” Ramirez said. “Having our governor so publicly support [the ‘yes’ vote] on Question 2 makes you wonder whether he really supports our traditional public schools or it’s all talk.”
“While we don’t want to divide, ultimately we do have a choice to make, and I hope this study provided more information on the two perspectives of this issue,” she continued. “I know my eyes have been opened to some of the data presented here and that some of the narratives I’ve been listening to may be wrong. Hopefully I’m not the only one.”
The study was sponsored by LEI, Gastón Institute, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.