High Demand for Public Charters in Boston

Climate change deniers often argue that some scientists agree with their position. Yet here in Massachusetts, we know that climate change is real—and we know something’s not right when a lone, climate change-denying scientist uses a questionable study to disagree with the vast majority of widely accepted scientific research. When evidence overwhelmingly points in one direction, we shouldn’t give equal weight to the one data point in the opposite direction, especially when it is questionably obtained. The same kind of logic should apply to the “debate” over public charter school demand in Boston.

Just like with climate science, the majority of evidence is clear: Boston parents and voters support public charter schools. An ERN poll last winter  —using President Obama’s pollster—found that more than 70% of Boston voters view charter schools favorably. A majority of respondents to the same poll said they would send their children to a Boston public charter school over a traditional district public school.

But, you don’t have to take just our word for it. WBUR (Boston’s NPR station) sponsored a September 2013 poll by MassINC that found 61% of Boston residents favor lifting the cap on public charter schools. A Herald/Suffolk University poll from July 2013 found that Boston parents would rather send their children to a public charter school than a district school. Now, as the MA Senate mulls a charter cap lift, a poll commissioned by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association found that 62% of parents support raising the cap. And these results are backed up by those with the most at stake—the 20,000 students on waiting lists for Boston charter schools.

As with climate change, the consensus is clear. But an article published in yesterday’s Boston Globe told a slightly different story. The piece reported on the latest poll finding strong support for lifting the charter cap—but allotted equal space to a BTU poll finding that only 29% of voters favored public charter schools in Boston.

The BTU poll is clearly an outlier, and looking at the wording of the question on the poll explains why: respondents were asked to choose between focusing on the “large majority of Boston’s students” instead of “charters that only serve a few.” While the Herald, ERN, WBUR, and MPCSA polls all asked straightforward questions such as “should the limit on the number of students who can attend charter schools in Boston be kept in place as it is today OR should the limit be raised so more students from Boston can attend charter schools?”, this push poll yields a strongly biased result—due to setting up a question that nearly anyone would agree with.

Maybe another poll, neutral and methodologically sound, could put to bed once and for all the doubts about charter school demand. Just as in climate change, we’re fairly certain results will be consistent.

But if the BTU is convinced to the contrary, they should develop a fair question for us to ask. They can even choose the pollster. Deal?

--- Liam Kerr, Massachusetts State Director, Democrats for Education Reform

Liam has advised nonprofits in Massachusetts, an NGO consultancy in the Czech Republic, a charter school incubator, and a charter school network. He has worked on statewide political campaigns in Massachusetts and Vermont. Prior to DFER, Liam worked for the management consultancy The Parthenon Group and the national venture philanthropy fund New Profit Inc.