Boston and the Charter School Cap”

Education Next; September 10, 2013

Imagine you live in a city with a set of open-enroll­ment pub­lic schools, serv­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly low-income chil­dren of col­or, where stu­dents learn at twice the rate of their peers in neigh­bor­ing schools. And what if those high-per­form­ing schools were ready, will­ing, and able to enroll more stu­dents, maybe even dou­ble or triple in size? Sounds too good to be true, huh?


Well, that city actu­al­ly exists, and it’s Boston. But, remark­ably, the pow­ers that be are block­ing the city’s best schools from grow­ing for the sim­ple rea­son that they are char­ter schools.


…[A} research team, led by Josh Angrist and Parag Pathak, direc­tors of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at MIT, com­pared “long-term out­comes” of Boston char­ter-school stu­dents to out­comes for BPS stu­dents who had entered char­ter-school admis­sion lot­ter­ies. Unlike pre­vi­ous stud­ies, which focused on MCAS results, the MIT report tracked per­for­mance on Advanced Placement and SAT tests. It also looked at the num­ber of stu­dents qual­i­fy­ing for schol­ar­ships to state col­leges, along with post­sec­ondary enroll­ment data. The study found that Boston char­ter schools dou­bled the rate of AP test-tak­ing, boost­ed com­pos­ite SAT scores by more than 100 points, and increased enroll­ment in four-year col­leges by almost two-thirds. The MIT authors con­clude that pre­vi­ous find­ings of strong MCAS per­for­mance in mid­dle school are con­sis­tent with lat­er mea­sures of aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess, specif­i­cal­ly those that are indi­ca­tors of improved col­lege readi­ness. “The effects of Boston’s char­ters are remark­ably per­sis­tent,” they write.