Charter Schools, Race and the Success of the Worcester Nativity School Model

By Gordon Davis

Governor Baker’s is trying to lift the limits on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Like with health care and social security, this Republican governor is trying to undermine public schools, an institution designed to help people most in need.

There are at least three charter schools in Worcester. It is my understanding that at least one and possibly all are doing well.

In Massachusetts the charter school had its origin in the racist anti-busing resistance to the integration of Boston schools. Many of the White people of Boston set up private schools instead of sending their kids to sit next to Black kids. William Bulger was the Massachusetts House Speaker. He bullied through a charter school bill for Boston and Worcester. Worcester representatives were not aware of this “midnight maneuver.” The private schools in Boston set up to defeat integration became “public” charter schools.

There is no evidence that charter schools, as a group, have performed any better than publicly run public schools.

The evidence for the failure of charter schools to do better than public schools is seen in the charter school system found in New Orleans. 

There is no evidence of more successful-ness of charter schools in Massachusetts. Please note that Governor Baker has not provided any statistical evidence to justify his push for more charter schools.

There is evidence that some charter schools are cheating in the way their graduation rates and test scores are calculated. Ms. Ruth Rodriquez, an administrator for United Opt-Out National, has said that “all the Charter Schools have a policy of ‘counseling out’ students they fear will not pass the test. At a high school in Roxbury where I worked, we used to get students from Charter Schools one or two months before the test.”

Wealthy people with real choices do not send their kids to charter schools. They go to well established private schools or well endowed public schools in the suburbs. Governor Baker admits this when he says that the new charter schools will be limited to low-income areas and areas with Black and other dark-skinned people.

It is a shame that Governor Baker cannot come up with a better solution to the education of poor and dark-skinned children than the same old mantra of “charter schools.” It reminds me of the people chanting “standardized tests” without evidence that standardized tests help kids and for some evidence that they have harmed kids. 

Education is somewhat like health care. People heal as individuals and at their own speed. Kids, to a large extent, learn in their own way and at their own speed. There is a need for more individualized instruction, at least reduced class sizes.

A real alternative is a school like the Nativity School in Worcester which has a proven record of graduation rates and success for its graduates. This model is unfortunately not applicable to large populations. It is based on 12 hours days of school and school activities, including Saturdays and summer months. It removes the students from the negative environment of poverty. It replaces that environment with structured expectations. The teaching methods are not much different from the public schools or the charter schools in terms of the subjects.

The successful pedagogy of the Nativity School is based on the statistically proven fact that the greatest indicator of the success of child is his economic and social environment. The Nativity School removes the child out from the negative environment. There is a long waiting list for the Nativity School. Every school set up in this manner in cities throughout the country has almost a 100 percent graduation rate and successful graduates.

The money allocated to charter schools could be better spent setting up 12 hour school days and summer months pilot schools within the public school systems of Massachusetts. Let us put our money into improving the public schools and pedagogy. Let us not throw more money away creating a competive and unproven school system of charter schools.

Governor Baker’s continued support of charter schools can be inferred by a reasonable person to be a pretext for the anti-public institution philosophy of his Republican party. If this is so, his limiting charter schools to low-income and people of color neighborhoods is racist.