To mark Charlie Baker's first full week on the job, WGBH News is examining a quartet of deeply problematic challenges facing the new Massachusetts governor. This is our third installment, on charter schools. 

One of the first things you notice about the kids at the Brooke Mattapan Charter School is the uniform: khaki slacks and a navy polo shirt on everyone from kindergartners right on up to eighth-graders. Teachers here are meeting with students one-on-one, while the rest of the class reads or practices math problems. It’s quiet enough to hear a page turn.  

Even when we walk in the kids barely a give us a glance. That single-minded focus on schoolwork has paid off.  When the Brooke Mattapan Charter School opened three years ago, a third of these kids were reading below grade level. Last year, their MCAS scores in English Language Arts were the highest in the state. Better than the scores from wealthy suburban schools. And Brooke Mattapan is located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods; nearly all the students here are either black or Latino. 

Katie Megrian is the principal. She says expectations are a big part of its success. So is the freedom she has to make decisions.    

While charter schools are public, most operate independently from public school boards. For instance, at Brooke Mattapan, the school year is three weeks longer than other public schools; the school day starts at 8 a.m., ends at 4:30 p.m.; and teachers are non-union.

"It allows me to choose who I am picking as teachers and who I am retaining as teachers," said Megrian.

Like everyone else here, Megrian wants to build on her school’s success. She’d like to see Brooke Mattapan expand to include a high school. But the state caps– or limits– the number of charter schools. Brooke Mattapan founder Jon Clark is hopeful that under a Baker administration, the cap will be lifted.

"When we have schools like this one, or other high performing charter and district schools – where black and Latino kids are fulfilling their potential and performing at the level that we know they can – we ought to be figuring out how to do more of that," he said. 

Clark said charters schools have a valuable place in public education, but critics say they drain scarce resources.

"They are depriving funding for district public school in order to fund charter schools," said Heshan Berents-Weeramuni. He has two children in the Boston Public Schools and serves on the city-wide parents council. He pointed out that when students leave "district" schools for charter schools, funding goes with them, although the cost of running the schools they leave behind remains the same.

"It becomes this vicious circle where you have lower enrollments that lead to less teachers available that leads to less program that leads to a worse school climate that lead to lower enrollments, and it just keeps going down and down and you decimate a school," he said. 

He calls the education his children are receiving "excellent." He sees evidence of charter schools weeding out low-performing students.

"They achieve high test scores by letting go of kids that don’t quite test well," he said.

Both sides in the charter school debate point to studies that bolster – and refute – that charge. At Brooke Mattapan, administrators say some students do leave in the sixth and seventh grades but only to get a jump on admissions to prestigious high schools.

Will more charter schools improve public education or deprive resources from existing schools? The answer may lie somewhere between true or false.

Paul Reville, the former Massachusetts secretary of education and a charter school proponent, discussed why charter schools are so controversial if supporters say they're critical for improving public education: