brendan halpin


Last time I wrote about Boston’s charter schools being in trouble, I theorized that the people who had bad experiences as charter school students twenty-five years ago were probably not going to send their kids to these schools.

That’s part of the picture. But with City on a Hill now set to close at the end of the school year and the Boston Globe blaming a drop in the school-age population (which of course affects all schools equally and is therefore a nonsensical explanation for one school’s problems), I think it’s an appropriate time to bring up another problem that charter schools, and especially City on a Hill, have.


Today’s Globe has an article about how bathroom renovations in Boston Public Schools are behind schedule. It quotes Vernee Wilkinson of School Facts Boston, “a parent advocacy organization.”

But here’s the thing about School Facts Boston. It’s not a parent advocacy organization. In fact, it’s unclear exactly what it is.

Here’s what we know: it was founded in 2019 by failed mayoral candidate/anti-public education activist John Connolly. According to Maurice Cunningham, who knows about such things, it was initially funded by The Barr Foundation, a “philanthropy” that funds a lot of education privatization initiatives.

On its website, School Facts Boston says it is a nonprofit. (It was incorporated as such with the Massachusetts Secretary of State). But it has not filed a form 990 with the IRS. It has a “family advisory board” but does not seem to have a board of directors. It lists no employees.

But on John Connolly’s LinkedIn, School Facts Boston is listed as his only job since 2018. I doubt he’s been volunteering this whole time. So who does he work for? For that matter, who at the group is a paid employee, and who’s a volunteer? How much money do the highest paid employees make? At legitimate nonprofits, this info is all on the Form 990. Here, it’s a mystery, despite School Facts Boston’s assertion on their website that they are “committed to transparency.”

So, okay, this whole organization is shady as hell. Who cares? The education privatization space is riddled with astroturf organizations funded by big pro-privatization donors: Democrats for Education Reform, National Parents Union, Latinos for Education, etc. School Facts Boston is just one more.

But here’s the thing—Vernee Wilkinson, who may or may not be an employee of School Facts Boston, was quoted in an article in the Boston Globe today about school bathrooms. The article, written by James Vaznis, identifies her as being “of School Facts Boston, a parent advocacy organization.”

A quick search for Vernee Wilkinson’s name on the Globe website shows she has been quoted in stories about the Boston Public Schools fourteen times in the last three years. Is there any other parent advocate who gets a call from the Globe once per quarter?

So this is why it matters. This organization has an outsized voice in issues of Boston Public Schools, and we don’t even know who they really are. We don’t know who signs the checks. We don’t know how many employees they have or how many actual BPS parents they represent.

(I suspect it’s not that many. A Wayback Machine archive of their website from 2020 says they’ll be expanding their Family Advisory Board to 40 members within a year. It still says that today, and there are only 13 members)

The Globe’s education coverage was bought—oh, sorry, funded—by The Barr Foundation a few years ago, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll unmask who School Facts Boston really is. But if you know, feel free to tell me!

#Boston #education #BosPoli

Back in February, I wrote about how several Boston charter schools were facing a crisis of declining enrollment. It seems the crisis hasn’t abated.

If you don’t want to click through to the old article, here’s why declining enrollments matter: in Massachusetts, the money follows the student. So every open seat in a charter school represents lost revenue for the school. Lost revenue leads to budget cuts, budget cuts lead to worse schools which lead to more open seats. This is the death spiral that charter schools were intended to inflict on real public schools. But now it seems to be happening to them.

As of August 17th, six months after the charter school lottery was held, eight of Boston’s sixteen charter schools still have open seats. Find the whole list here. (Don’t worry! I’ve got screenshots if they take it down!)

This matters, of course, because it shows that the charter school narrative that people are lining up to get in and we should really expand the number of charter schools is false. If you live in Boston, you’ve probably seen the ads urging people to enroll in charter schools. If a school is in high demand, it doesn’t need to advertise. (Also, I don’t believe even nominally public charter schools should use public money to advertise, but I’m old fashioned like that.)

But I started to get curious about why charter enrollment is falling. My theory is that the charters that started in 1995 have been around long enough that they’ve got substantial numbers of alumni who are parents…and choosing not to send their kids to charter schools because of what they experienced there.

So I decided to reach out to a bunch of charter school alumni to see if my theory was correct. This was in no way a scientific survey, and most people are busy and not as obsessed with education as I am. Two folks wrote back to me to say they had good experiences at the charter school where I was their teacher. This didn’t surprise me. The charter where I worked served a small subset of students very well. I think that’s true of most of them.

But then I also got this, from City on a Hill alum Tonya. I’m using her name and story with her permission. I’ve edited her response for length.

To be 💯 with you but when I was a sophomore at COAH, I was treated like shit. The only one that supported me and didn’t look down on me was Ms. Jamison.She told me that I would succeed even being a teen mom. I had teachers and administration tell me I wouldn’t be anything and I would end up working at McDonald’s and I should leave COAH and get my GED. I was misrepresenting the COAH mission statement and was told I needed to leave and go to a secondary maternity school for pregnant teens. I wasn’t even given the proper education there or all of my school requirements from City on a Hill which led to me getting kept back. I was supposed to graduate in 2004 but I transferred out my senior year. It SUCKED ASS for me and I felt like a failure. 1 because I was pregnant and

2 Because I felt like I was purposely kept back. I got straight A’s in my secondary school COAH transferred me to and told me I would be able to graduate with my class. But when it came down to it out of nowhere I didn’t have enough credits. So I happily left COAH permanently. I wasn’t going to be a statistic like admin was saying to me. Mr. Hays wasn’t telling me I wouldn’t be worth anything but he supported his peers and I looked up to these individuals. I PRIDED myself in being a charter school kid because it wasn’t BPS and I knew the requirements and high expectations. I love a challenge and love to prove people wrong when I’m being looked down on. I had a blast friends wise at COAH. I have amazing memories with my peers. But the way I was treated like a piece of trash and then shunned like a stain on their reputation was degrading. I was putting pressure on myself because I knew the obstacles I’d have being a teen mom but they didn’t make it terrible for me like I was a mistake.

Charter school in that phrase to me sounds like “elite”, or “thorough bread”, “smarter than” “better than”, and as much as the mission statement sounds cool and jazzy, it’s bullshit. It’s like a corporate office job that says all these amazing things to get bodies through the door then when you are hired to work their you realize it’s just for show.

I graduated public school with honors and held my “mistake” on my hip and in my class speech I told in short words that I was holding my daughter as a middle finger to everyone that said I couldn’t do it in school.

Now, obviously Tonya is only one alum. I won’t say her story is representative of everyone’s experience, but Iknow for a fact that it’s far from unique. I will never stop feeling ashamed that I sat silently in meetings while students with ed plans were “counseled out” of City on a Hill because the school wasn’t willing to meet its legal obligation to serve their needs. Students usually left those meetings in tears.

Would you send your kid to a school that had, in Tonya’s words, treated you like shit?

(If you’re a charter school alum with a story to tell, click on the contact me link at the top of the page. I have often been guilty of writing about charter schools by the numbers, and I think it’s important to remember that every one of those numbers is a person.)

#Boston #Education #CharterSchools