Boston Parent: Why I’m voting No on 2—and you should too

Boston parent Lisa Martin was determined to keep her son from attending the Boston Public Schools, but now she’s urging parents to vote against Question 2. What changed her mind?

lisaBy Lisa Martin
Many people have asked me why I am voting no on Question 2.  The answer is both simple and complex. I believe that all children are entitled to a quality education, and no child is entitled to a better education at the expense of another. I feel compelled to share my perspective because my son has been a student in both charter and district schools, and I’ve worked in both. I can recall thinking that there was absolutely no way my son would ever attend Boston Public Schools.  No matter what it took, I was determined that he would attend a charter, a private school, or attend a suburban school through METCO.  I remember racing around with friends to drop off applications at  every charter school that admitted kids starting at K1.  I attended the lotteries of several schools and prayed that my son was one of the lucky few plucked from a lottery of hundreds of wishful families.  It felt hopeless but finally we hit the lottery.  I was ecstatic for about 10 seconds.  Then I realized that my friend’s son hadn’t been selected.  It didn’t seem fair.  

I received a call from the charter school on my son’s very first day.  On the second day, I was asked by an administrator if anyone had ever evaluated him for ADHD.  I was called every day for a week, and by the fourth day I was told to pick my son up because he was disruptive. He had difficulty during transitions.  He cried when he wasn’t called on.  He spoke out of turn.  He was 4 years old. When I asked why it was necessary to keep him home the following day, the response was essentially: *we’re not obligated to teach them until they’re 6, so we’d rather send them home than deal with them.* Keeping your kid home is a nice way of not saying *suspension.*  Suspending children at this age should raise red flags for any parent.

Over the course of the year, his self-esteem began to suffer.  There was a lot of *I can’t,* *I’m not smart enough,* and *the kids say I’m bad* coming from my formerly confident child.  I went to his school for a class gathering and realized that my son was isolated from the other children.  His desk had been moved away from them during the first week of school and never returned.  He was permanently branded *bad.* This was reinforced by the teacher when she would publicly clip him down in front of the class. He would cry and declare that he would *never be a scholar leader,* a sentiment echoed by other children in his class who didn’t meet the expectations of their teacher.

I come from a large family and have always loved teaching—there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing a child’s mind grow.  So I was overjoyed when I was hired at one of Boston’s best charter schools as an associate teacher. I lasted two months.  I was pulled aside and told that I didn’t write kids up enough. What did they do? Some children didn’t look up immediately when I called for their attention, they didn’t *track* the teacher, or were guilty of  other minor infractions. Writing students up starts with calling a parent but eventually leads to suspension. (If you don’t know why this is problematic, please Google *school to prison pipeline.*)

Image result for no on 2 massachusettsThe hours were long.  The pay was awful.  But it was the way the children were treated that troubled my spirit.  When I asked my mentor teacher when I should try taking my state licensing exams to fulfill the goal of licensure during my associate year, she replied: *I don’t know.  I never took those tests.*  I was shocked.  As a parent of a child who was beginning to read, I was also concerned.  Teaching literacy is, in my opinion, the most important facet of an educator’s job.  If children can’t read at grade level by grade three the consequences are dire.  Then I realized charter school teachers do NOT need to be licensed.  And they aren’t doing a great deal of teaching. Don’t be fooled by test scores. They give assessments, look at where students struggle, then re-teach and assess again. What’s wrong with re-teaching? It seems innocent enough.  The problem is that they aren’t doing it to help students.  They are doing it to make sure that they are able to perform well.  And if the students can’t perform, the schools will find a way to get them out and back into the district schools.  

When I left my charter school, I moved immediately into Boston Public Schools.  I worked for the rest of the year at a wonderful school that had just received notice that they would be closed due to budget cuts.  The impact on the children and staff was devastating.  For many of these children, school is the only stability they have.  And it was snatched away.  As I worked in different classes, covering for teachers who were searching for new positions, I realized that the curriculum was the same but my new colleagues were better educators.  The children were also allowed to learn and play in a way that they weren’t at the charter school I’d left.  Without opportunities to socialize children don’t develop the social skills that they need.  That’s what too many charter schools miss.  If you stifle the voice of a child for too long, they may never find it.

The children were also allowed to learn and play in a way that they weren’t at the charter school I’d left.  Without opportunities to socialize children don’t develop the social skills that they need.  That’s what too many charter schools miss.  If you stifle the voice of a child for too long, they may never find it.

My son left his charter school after one year.  He attended the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury for the later part of K2.  He had a tough time transitioning at first.  He told his principal that she was supposed to call me to bring him home when he was bad.  She told him that he would not be going Image result for boston save our public schools rallyhome.  He was in school to learn and that was the end of that. He went from not reading much of anything to being on grade level in three months.  His class had 21 students, much to my horror, but his teacher managed it very well.  The teachers worked with him and for him.  I had no clue that this gem of a school was nestled in the heart of Roxbury.  Some of our children may need tough love but they certainly don’t need to be broken like animals and retrained to fit a mold.  Care, custody, and control is a prison mission, not the mission of a school.

Despite my personal experience with charter schools, my main opposition to Question 2 is what the addition of more charter schools takes from the district.  They keep airing the commercial that says there are 32,000 students on waitlists trapped in failing schools.  Those numbers don’t disappear by suddenly raising the cap. Many children will remain on waitlists and in district schools that are far worse off. These *unfortunate* students will still be in BPS facilities with crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, and deep cuts to programs like art, theater, science, and early education. Meanwhile charter schools are popping up across the street with beautiful new, or newly renovated buildings.  Raising the cap will devastate our schools and push us towards more charter schools.  

Parents are flocking to charter schools because they believe they will be better for their children.  They have the same visceral reaction to the Boston Public Schools that I did. They believe the myth that Boston Public Schools are awful when in fact, we have some fantastic schools.  We just don’t have enough of them…yet.

Many people think Question 2 is about giving parents a choice.  There is no choice.  Your child enters a charter school with the luck of the draw.  That’s not choice.  It’s not a guarantee.  It’s a wish. The waitlists will remain incredibly long.  Parents are flocking to charter schools because they believe they will be better for their children.  They have the same visceral reaction to the Boston Public Schools that I did.  They believe the myth that Boston Public Schools are awful when in fact we have some fantastic schools.  We just don’t have enough of them…yet.  I realize now that we only hear the good about charter schools and the bad about district schools.  

We need to believe in our schools.  The one certainty in raising the cap is that our district schools will suffer.  Our kids will lose.  I am not willing to gamble on our future leaders.  We can all agree that district schools have a long way to go but that fight is not here.  THAT fight is with the Legislature.  On November 9, no matter the outcome of this vote, we should all be preparing to fight for more funding for our schools.  True choice will come when the students of Boston have tier one and two schools in their neighborhoods to choose from.  We need to support our schools and fix what isn’t working.  

Lisa Martin is the mother of three children: Kyle, Lila and Bromley.  She is a community advocate, groomed by her grandmothers to fight for others.  Among her areas of interest are education reform, criminal justice reform, reentry services and family reunification for incarcerated persons, and voter disenfranchisement.  She is looking forward to pursuing a graduate degree in rehabilitative counseling. Follow her on Twitter at @LisaDiane275 or email her at


  1. Please:
    1. This argument basically is one FOR voting YES on Question 2. “There were not enough choices for her son’s friend to be admitted, even though the parent wanted that choice.”
    2. Please please please do not paint all charter schools based on the experience of one. Just as you would not want us to assume that you child is representative of all children, please do not do that here.
    3. If people actually knew the law and looked at the budgets, one would see that despite losing students to charters, the BPS budget has increased over the last 5 years. There is a unique provision in the Mass charter law that REIMBURSES BPS for every studnet they lose. While this has not been fully funded, that is a problem with the legislature not the charters. talk to your representative!
    4. Boston, in reality claims that AFTER reimbursements, they lost $48 million to charter. You know that is about the amount that is bring spent n the Question which NEVER should be on the Ballot. Why should parents in Weston, newton and other tony suburbs get to vote on the future of students in the 8 inner city charter schools that will be restricted by this cap. Look at your self in the mirror. Are you comfortbale denying any child a quality education?

    1. No I am not! That is why I VOTED NO. A yes vote denies a quality education to all children. Charters don’t serve all children and take funds from REAL public education,the cornerstone of our democracy.

    2. I would love to know what the architects of this had in mind when they opted to put the question to a statewide vote. And if they really intended it to be limited to students in eight inner cities, or nine as Governor Baker keeps insisting, why did they neglect to mention that in the ballot question itself? One other math correction: the picture the writer is painting is not of a single charter school but of two: the one that her son attended and the one in which she taught.

        1. imagine writing a statewide ballot question and then yelling at people for voting their own interests? They’re trying to guilt people in the burbs to vote yes when white and non-white are polling at the same levels.

          I think Baker’s right-wing operatives waging war on his constituents will leave a bad taste in folks mouths. And the resentment will stick to Charlie.

  2. the real problem is we need more qualified teachers of color. It doesn’t matter where your taught as long as your teacher is teaching and you are teachable. Most teachers today have to deal with behavior problems which is not fair. Come prepared to learn no matter how old you are. You need to be ready.

    1. Sometimes I can’t tell if a comment is sincere or snark.

      Kids learning how to play and work in a group with people their age and adults is just as important as addition and subtraction and just as much a teacher’s job as any other subject.

      The method charter use is compliance, isolation, punishment.

      I suppose if you have difficult kids in a charter school you can throw them back but real public schools can’t.

  3. This not the story of just one charter school. I have personally known three teachers who taught in three different charter schools. They all echo the very same sentiments as Lisa. They left those schools to find jobs in public and parochial schools because they couldn’t function in an environment where children and teachers were treated so horribly.
    I’ve also taught students who came to me directly from a particular charter chain that believes in “No Nonsense Nurturing.” One of my students was still raising his hand four months later to ask if he could pick up his pencil!
    I have been emailing all my white suburban friends warning them not to fall for this latest disgusting pro charter ploy. I’ve been sending them copies of Cornell Brooks’s article in Ebony magazine. He is President of the NAACP and presents an excellent case for keeping the cap on charter schools.

    1. You’re absolutely right. This isn’t the story of one school, it’s about a particular approach that is increasingly regarded as THE way to educate minority kids. And I know your account to be true because I have talked to some of your colleagues who formerly taught in urban charters!

  4. Thanks, Lisa. That’s a compelling story. Would you agree that this one is also?

    That’s about a child leaving a BPS district school, the McKinley, to go to the Davis Leadership Academy charter school. As I’m sure you know, the McKinley provides special education services, with intensive emotional support and behavioral modification approaches, for kids who have not found success in other BPS schools, may have been required to leave. My understanding is that the McKinley is excellent… It’s impressive to hear of a kid who does even better after a move out of there to a charter school.

    I’d agree with you that the Nathan Hale is terrific, thanks in very large part to Shirley Mitchell-Woods:

    You’re right: “we have some fantastic schools. We just don’t have enough of them… yet.” What would make it easier to replicate Mitchell-Woods’ successes? I find no evidence that charter schools are a primary obstacle. I’d love for Jennifer to have an extended conversation/podcast with Mitchell-Woods and help us learn what her recommendations may be for improving BPS.

    I spent this early morning in a massive cluster of kids (with accompanying adults) extending out in a long line down Malcolm X Boulevard, all waiting to enter the O’Bryant to take the ISEE test that will enable the most successful test takers to gain admission to one of the BPS exam schools. The experience emphasized how strange it is to hear from BPS folks tales about supposed charter school creaming/cherry picking/selective retention of students.

    Would you agree that parents who send their kids to charter schools here in Boston are usually familiar with the BPS school options, from their own experience, that of their brothers and sisters, and some their own kids and those of their friends and neighbors? The data seems clear that once kids enroll at a charter school here, their parents are much more likely to keep them enrolled in that same school than is true for kids at BPS schools. Sorry it didn’t work out that way for your child.

  5. If Black Lives Matter is too much for people, maybe they’d consider listening to the NAACP, not exactly a radical organization. Charter expansion is a race issue.

    1. “If Black Lives Matter is too much for people, maybe they’d consider listening to the NAACP, not exactly a radical organization.”

      Certainly, a whole lot of us are more than ready to listen… have looked carefully and have not yet located from the NAACP a thorough, careful, well-researched analysis with direct applicability to circumstances in Massachusetts.

      Meanwhile, we listen to voices such as this: “Over 60 years ago my father joined with numerous parents to stand with the NAACP and fight for all African American students stuck in a separate, broken education system. Brown v. Board of Education created better public education options for African American students, and made it the law of the land that neither skin color, socioeconomic status, nor geography should determine the quality of education a child receives,” said Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Oliver Brown, plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education and founding president and CEO, Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research. “I am eternally grateful to the NAACP for their leadership on this case and for giving African American families the opportunity to send their children to the best schools that would help them to succeed. But I am troubled that in 2016, the NAACP would oppose placing better educational choices in the hands of families across the country. Charter public schools present African American families, especially those in low-income communities, with the choice to choose a public option that is best for their child. We must protect this choice.”

      And President Barack Obama:

      1. That video at the end of your post is a deceptive cut-‘n-paste job that is trying to claim that Obama has come out in favor of Question 2.

        Lie, lie, lie. In the last week, the White House has said more than once that Obama HAS TAKEN NO POSITION ON QUESTION 2.

        The “YES on 2” folks are sending out fliers that tell that same lie.

        And the timing is despicable as well… close to the election so that some voters will not discover that it’s a lie until after they’ve voted YES in the election.

        1. It was clear to me, and I assume to the savvy voters of Massachusetts, that in that video clip Obama was not explicitly focused on endorsing Question 2. But rather that he has, during his tenure in office, been supportive of substantially increasing the number of excellent charter schools, like the many we have here in Massachusetts, and has supported lifting state caps on such schools.

          And there’s this:
          “President Obama’s secretary of education is backing a Massachusetts ballot question that would allow for a major charter school expansion in the state.”

          “‘Certainly if I lived in Massachusetts and was a Massachusetts voter, I would be voting in support of the ballot measure,’ said John King, the secretary, in an interview with the Globe Friday night.

          “King, who helped found a charter school in Boston, did not utter the word ‘endorsement,’ even when pressed. But his comments offer the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration supports Question 2, a referendum that has attracted deep interest from national charter school advocates who view the state as an important testing ground.”
          “’For me, what it comes down to is, what’s the best thing to do to improve educational performance in Massachusetts?’ said King, who helped found Roxbury Preparatory Charter School before climbing the ranks to secretary of education. ‘What’s the best thing to do to close the very significant achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color in Massachusetts? . . . What’s the best thing to do to ensure that families who want a better opportunity for their kids have access to that opportunity? And to me, the answer to all of those questions is to support the ballot measure.’
          “King said he has not spoken with Obama about Question 2 and noted that the president usually does not take positions on local issues.”

          1. When John King was in charge of that charter school in Massachusetts, didn’t it have the HIGHEST suspension rate in the state? I agree with Lou and would add that not only are charter schools a race issue, but so is school choice.

    2. I never understood why charters are a race issue. Whose idea is it that PoC who live in cities should attend charters and not quality public schools?

      We’re already seeing the downward caused by charter growth. In out 4th year of budget cut Walsh want $100m cut off annual expenses. From 2010 to 2018 the cap in Boston grew from 9% to 18% of BPS budget. Charter growth is a destructive process. Advocates like to call them a market. If charters are capitalism it’s predatory capitalism.

      Some charter are great, some are average, some suck, many close, I think the count in MA is 1 in 5, most recently in Worcester and before that in Marblehead.

      Charters are a lot of “creative destruction” that includes a lot of collateral damage with no quality guarantees.

  6. As a current college student studying mathematics secondary education who will be student teaching in January, this blog was incredibly interesting to read. I do not know much about charter schools, but what I do know goes along with what this blog is saying. I believe that charter schools are not the best option for students, as I agree with Sofie who commented earlier and said, “Kids learning how to play and work in a group with people their age and adults is just as important as addition and subtraction and just as much a teacher’s job as any other subject.” Charter schools seem to totally negate the importance of this and only stress the value of academic achievement measured through state standards. On a different note, to me it seems as though the majority of the public is not very educated on charter schools, so I believe it would be very beneficial for an accurate picture of what charter schools are to be readily available and marketed for all people.

  7. It’s sad to be in this debate, that after three decades of MA families trusting in the promise of the Charter Schools Enterprise that their innovative experiment will serve to help improve all the public schools in the Commonwealth, and now we find ourselves with the realization that the promise has failed the test of time.

    The day that we accept the concept of privatization by our country biggest lobbying group, ALEC, the masterminds of the corporate, factory- style measures, masquerading as education reforms, that is the day that we will take back public education from the proftiteers. It’s disingenuous for anyone to continue to buy these profiteers mantra, that our schools are failing and only they can save us. It is the biggest union busting, with disrespecting our families, teachers and students. As I wrote to Governor Baker, to whom I said, “Governor, if I were in your position, I would be embarrassed to tell families that I can’t fix your neighborhood schools, and the best that I can do is offer you a lottery that you may win, and even if you are lucky, if your child has certain special needs or is English learner, well your child will be sent back to the school that the charter took the money away”. These profiteers rely on making sure that public schools are set up to fail, through underfunding, and the imposition of a test designed with a 60% failure rate, giving them the excuse to position themselves as the only saviors.

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