Charter advocates in Massachusetts need to better galvanize charter teachers and do more to convince Democrats if they want to win future fights, recommends a memo commissioned by the Walton Education Coalition.
Earlier this week, Chalkbeat reported on part of the memo — a postmortem of a high-profile effort to raise the cap on Massachusetts’ charter schools — and has since obtained additional pages, which appear to make up the entirety of the report. (The Walton Family Foundation, which is legally separate from the Walton Education Coalition, is a funder of Chalkbeat.)
The final pages highlight challenges that charter advocates will likely face in the state and offer a playbook for moving past their recent defeat — though it’s far from clear whether these strategies will be successful.
The report recommends mobilizing teachers who support charter schools, acknowledging the widespread opposition to the 2016 ballot initiative among Massachusetts teachers, who were trusted in their communities.
“If the opposition is on the ground, they must be matched on the ground, by equally trustworthy validators,” concludes the report, which is dated March 2017.
Another potential counterweight: parents.
“If parents can be mobilized to voice opposition, teachers may listen and break from the pack,” it says. “Alternatively, research should be conducted to identify a voice, alternative to teachers, that can be trusted on education reform.”
The report acknowledges the challenges in persuading Democrats, who overwhelmingly opposed the referendum, known as Question 2. In the future, charter advocates may need to push their messaging to the left, the report suggests.
“Advocates should test owning the progressive mantle on education reform and charters: this is about social justice, civil rights, and giving kids a chance,” it recommends. “While this is a problematic frame for the electorate as a whole, it may speak to the values of a Democratic electorate.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is especially unpopular among Democrats, just adds to advocates’ challenge. “As Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos begin to champion school choice, we need to separate Democratic goals and motivations from theirs in left-leaning states,” the report says.
The partisan divide is opening up in national polling and playing out in local politics. The latest example is in Colorado, where the state party recently passed a resolution highly critical of Democrats For Education Reform.
The memo recommends that charter advocates try to appease their opposition by pushing for additional spending on all schools. Research has shown that the expansion of charters comes at a significant price for district schools, which was a key issue in Massachusetts and elsewhere.
“By giving a little to everyone, and sweetening deals with additional funding, the narrative that new charters will ‘take’ from current schools becomes less relevant,” the memo says.
In Massachusetts, it’s clear that charter advocates have a long way to go to change the narrative in the state. Earlier, the report notes that that there was “such a fierce opposition that No on Question 2 signs were seen in January  at the Women’s March in DC.”
Read the full memo below.