Opinion

Kingsland: China Welcomes America’s Best Schools — While Massachusetts Outlaws Them?

By Neerav Kingsland | November 16, 2015

Basis, one of the best charter schools in the nation, recently announced that they plan to expand to China and charge $25,000 a year for tuition. In explaining the demand for Basis in China, education expert Tom Loveless noted that affluent Chinese families are hungry for schools that rely less on rote memorization.
They want schools that deliver academic rigor. Schools like Basis.
How good is Basis? Well, in just about every ranking of top high schools in America, at least one of their schools is ranked in the top three in the nation.
And here’s the thing: while Basis is going to charge $25,000 to families in China, they’re willing to offer the same schools for free to families in the United States.
Basis just needs two things: a state to grant them a charter and the flexibility to hire teachers that they deem to be deep content experts.
In Boston, Massachusetts, these two things happen to be illegal.
Some families in Massachusetts are trying to change this. But they are being blocked by politicians.
So now these families are trying to bypass the politicians and appeal directly to citizens across the state. Late last month, a group called Supporters of Great Schools Massachusetts dropped off 100,000 signatures at the statehouse in support of a ballot initiative. Their ask: that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education be given permission to open up to 12 new public charter schools or school expansions per year, with priority given to the lowest-performing 25 percent of the state's school districts and those with the highest numbers of wait-listed students.
Massachusetts is an extremely well educated and wealthy state. It boasts some of the world’s best universities. By most measures, Massachusetts has the best public schools in our country. And yet 100,000 families just signed a petition asking that more great schools be allowed to open, especially in districts that continue to underperform.
Ultimately, no city, state, or nation can remain competitive forever if it fails to allow innovation to thrive.
Chinese families understand this.
Over 100,000 Massachusetts families seem to understand this.
The governor of Massachusetts, in supporting the ballot initiative, has made it clear that he understands this.
And truth be told, I imagine that the vast majority of the members of the Massachusetts state legislature, most of whom are parents, understand this.
But the legislature is in a difficult position.
It is difficult to be bold when you’re still at the top. Complacency sets in. Entrenched political interests wave their hands and say: “things are good enough.” In any sector, public or private, amongst the hardest things to do is to stay hungry when you’re #1.
Great nations and great companies decline because they forget that their position is not a result of their natural genius but rather is the result of hard work, risk-taking, and a deep commitment to shared values.
Massachusetts is a great state. But when it comes to public education, it’s at an inflection point.
Massachusetts will either usher in future decades of educational excellence or it will stagnate.
The politics are tough, but the path is clear.
It will be an incredible testament to the greatness of the state if its Democratic legislature, Republican governor, and more than one hundred thousand of its families can come together to build upon the state’s remarkable educational legacy.
Moreover, in times of such political polarization, it will prove an inspiring model for the nation as a whole. Innovation, entrepreneurship, and pragmatic policymaking are some of our country’s best values.
And Massachusetts has a chance to demonstrate just how powerful these values can be.
Submit a Letter to the Editor