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Lack of Parents Serving on Charter School Boards in Massachusetts, Report Says

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By Sarah Tully. This story originally appeared on the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

While charter schools are intended to give parents a say in their children's education, few get seats on the governing boards at Massachusetts campuses, according to a new report.

Parents make up just 14 percent of governing board members overseeing charter schools statewide in 2015-16, according to a study released March 29 by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform  at Brown University. About 60 percent of Massachusetts' charter schools have no parent representatives on their governing boards.

Researchers for the report, "Whose Schools: An Examination of Charter School Governance in Massachusetts," looked at the websites of charter schools to determine where parents sat on their governing boards, as well as the affiliations of other members. Most schools with strong parent representation had predominantly white student populations, the report states.

Annenberg recommends that at least 50 percent of board members be parent representatives from the school or students at high school campuses. The group's recent work has called for more oversight of charter schools.

The report gave an example of one of the charter school chain without parent representation: City on a Hill, a non-profit charter management organization that runs three high schools.

Kristie Loftus, chief development officer for City on a Hill, responded to an email asking for her reaction to the Annenberg study, but did not specifically address the lack of parents on the board.

"City on a Hill Charter Public Schools follows all rules and regulations set by the (Massachusetts) Department of Elementary and Secondary Education concerning board governance, and our board members adhere to state conflict of interest and federal disclosure laws," Loftus wrote.

"At City on a Hill, we recruit board members with a broad range of experience and expertise depending on the needs of the organization at any given time. ... In addition to governance, our board of trustees provides invaluable advisement and expertise to our management team."

KIPP Massachusetts, which has five schools, currently has no parents on its board, but it plans to add a parent for the 2016-17 school year. Each campus has its own parent council.

"At KIPP, we greatly value parent voices and involve them in our schools in several ways," said Caleb Dolan, KIPP Massachusetts, in an email statement.

The report was released at a time when there is a debate about whether to lift the cap on the number of Massachusetts charter schools. An initiative is headed to the November ballot, but state lawmakers also are discussing possible ways to lift the cap in the meantime. See a March 31 story in the Boston Globe about the latest proposal.

Representatives of Save Our Public Schools, an organization that is fighting the ballot initiative, used the report to show a reason why charter schools shouldn't be expanded.

"It not only corrupts the original intent of charter schools and not only disenfranchises the communities, it is also poor education policy," said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for Save Our Public Schools.

Education Week has examined the issue of charter school governance, which varies state by state nationwide, including in a previous story by Arianna Prothero about charter school management.

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