Massachusetts charter schools (overstated demand)

A state tally showing more than 53,000 students on charter school waiting lists is overstating demand, according to a Globe review of state data.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in tallying the waiting lists statewide and for many individual communities, including Boston, frequently counts the same students more than once.

That’s because the state simply adds up the waiting lists from each charter school without collecting individual names to learn whether a student appears on more than one list or, in fact, may be enrolled at another charter school.

Charter school leaders have been seizing on the large number of students on the waiting lists as evidence of soaring popularity for the schools and the need for more of them.

But critics note that as lawmakers debate legislation this spring to raise a state-imposed cap on the number of charter school seats in Boston and other cities, they will do so without a full picture of demand...

The Globe review found that waiting list policies can vary tremendously among the state’s 81 charter schools, which at minimum under state law must place all unsuccessful applicants in a lottery for admission on a list.

While some schools purge their lists annually and ask those students to reapply, others keep students on lists for many years without knowing whether they are still interested, or add names when parents merely request information about the school.

In Boston, where students on combined waiting lists have nearly tripled to more than 27,000 over the past three years, the rate of duplication could be high, said guidance counselors and advocates who monitor school registrations.

“If a family is applying to charter schools, they are applying to all of them,” said Susan Trotz, a guidance counselor at the city-run Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, whose 200 eighth-graders each year often apply to 20 traditional, charter, or private high schools...

“It is disappointing and upsetting not having a measure [implemented that] we all agreed to,” said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, which pushed for a more accurate waiting-list count. “It continues the tension between charter and traditional schools.”...

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