Boston Charters Post Huge Test Gains, But Discipline Debate Could Hinder Expansion”

The Seventy Four; December 1, 2015

Proponents of char­ter expan­sion point to a large body of research show­ing that Boston char­ter schools pro­duce large achieve­ment gains for their students.


Along with the CREDO report, mul­ti­ple other stud­ies have found sig­nif­i­cant test score bumps for stu­dents who attend Boston char­ter schools. One study com­pared stu­dents who won the right to attend a char­ter to those who applied but lost, find­ing char­ter atten­dees had sig­nif­i­cantly higher test scores across dif­fer­ent exams, includ­ing the SAT, and were more likely to attend four-year colleges.


However, char­ter stu­dents had lower on-time high school grad­u­a­tion rates, which one of the researchers, Sarah Cohodes of Columbia University Teachers College, said likely results from a more rig­or­ous cur­ricu­lum in char­ter high schools.


Although it is true that Boston char­ters serve slightly fewer spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents and sig­nif­i­cantly fewer English-language learn­ers than dis­trict schools, the research ensures apples-to-apples com­par­isons because of the schools’ enroll­ment lot­ter­ies. The researchers also tested whether a “peer effect” of being sur­rounded by more moti­vated stu­dents might explain this suc­cess and found it unlikely.


Another study looked at Boston dis­trict schools taken over by char­ters; again, fairly large achieve­ment gains were found.


Richard Stutman, pres­i­dent of the Boston Teachers Union, explained in an inter­view that he didn’t ques­tion char­ters’ test score gains, but said, “They’re teach­ing to a stan­dard­ized test. No one is argu­ing that the kids who [attend char­ters] are [more] well-rounded.”


A sep­a­rate study con­ducted by Cohodes of Columbia found no evi­dence to sup­port the teaching-to-the-test the­ory. Although her analy­sis can’t be con­clu­sive, Cohodes exam­ined whether char­ters were stress­ing ques­tions most likely to show up on state tests and higher-stakes sub­jects like math and English.