Charter study demonstrates need to immediately address charter cap issues

February 28, 2013

Stanford study calls Boston a potential national model for public charter schools, but city has no room for new schools under charter cap

Boston – A new Stanford University study that finds Massachusetts charter schools, particularly those in the city of Boston, far outperform traditional public schools underscores the need for immediate action to lift the current caps on charter school expansion, Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul S. Grogan said today.

“This study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes demonstrates unequivocally that charter schools on the whole are making a substantive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Massachusetts students, yet thousands more are denied admission to charters,” said Grogan. “While the Board of Education’s approval this week of more than 1500 Commonwealth and Horace Mann charter seats for Boston helps, Boston is now at its limit for public charter school seats, and that means thousands will still lose the ‘life lottery’ and be denied the quality of education they deserve.”

About 45,000 Massachusetts students are on charter school waiting lists statewide today. The Race to the Top Coalition, convened by the Boston Foundation, supports the An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap, which would remove the charter cap in the state’s lowest-performing districts.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report found that the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains more learning in a year than his or her district school peer, amounting to about one and a half more months of learning in reading and two and a half more months of learning in math.

A separate analysis in the report that looked specifically at Boston charter schools found even more dramatic results. Boston charter students, who make up about 13 percent of the state charter student population, had gains equating to more than twelve months of additional learning in a year in reading and thirteen months greater progress in math. At the school level, 83 percent of Boston charter schools had significantly more positive learning gains than their district school peers in reading and math, and no Boston charter schools were found to have significantly lower learning gains.

In their press release, CREDO researchers acknowledged the magnitude of the results.  “The average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far. These results signify that these schools could serve as a model and have an opportunity to transfer knowledge to not only the rest of the state but to the national sector as well,” said Edward Cremata, Research Associate and co-author of the Massachusetts report.

“The results for Boston are meaningful in two ways. First, they provide an example for charter schools elsewhere in the state, where performance was not as strong. Second, and more important, the Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap,” added Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University.

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved five new charter schools and expansion requests from eleven existing schools. Approvals included a second Boston campus for the City on a Hill Charter Public School, and expanded enrollment at seven other Boston charter campuses for a total of 835 additional charter seats. It also approved the establishment of the UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester as a charter school replacing the existing John Marshall Elementary School. As a Horace Mann, or in-district charter school, overseen by the Boston Public Schools, seats at the new UP Academy do not count against the city’s charter cap of 18 percent of net school spending.

With this approval, the city has exhausted its capacity for charter seats, which was expanded in 2010 with the passage of the initial Act to Eliminate the Achievement Gap.

“Mayor Menino and Superintendent Johnson should be applauded for their efforts to expand the number of Horace Mann charters in the city,” added Grogan. “But while the district works with an intransigent union leadership, students have their futures at stake. We cannot afford to limit access to public charter schools, and stand idly by as thousands of students watch their peers, or even their siblings, get a public education from which they are excluded by lottery.”

The Boston Foundation, as the convener of the Race to the Top Coalition, has filed legislation, “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap,” to lift the charter cap for the state’s lowest-performing districts. The bill also provides added autonomy for Level 3 schools, giving them access to the same kind of school-level autonomy that has led to significant improvements in student performance at Level 4 “turnaround schools” in Boston and other districts. 

A summary of the legislation follows.

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An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap

In order to close the educational achievement gap in Massachusetts, this legislation will increase
access to charter schools, provide targeted interventions to Level 3 schools in underperforming
districts, and extend the authorities granted to turnaround schools and districts. The Act:

  • Provides intervention powers for a subset of level 3 schools (the lowest 20 percent performing for two most recent consecutive years in a Level 4 district) including the ability to:
    • hire without regard to seniority;
    • expeditiously dismiss or replace poor performing teachers and administrators;
    • add additional time to the school day;
    • re-open and amend collective bargaining agreements through an accelerated process in order to drive rapid improvement.
  • Grants the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to extend the turnaround plan authorities granted to an underperforming or chronically under-performing school upon expiration of the plan if the school is no longer underperforming, in order to keep the conditions that helped the schools improvement in place.
  • Allows unlimited, Horace Mann (“in‚Äźdistrict public charter schools”) to be established in the lowest 10 percent performing districts without the approval of the local collective bargaining unit, and removes the statewide cap of 48 Horace Mann Charter Schools.
  • Removes the requirement for a majority vote of the local collective bargaining unit for the renewal of Horace Mann Charter school established without the local collective bargaining unit’s approval in one of the lowest 10 percent performing districts.
  • Authorizes the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve new charter schools in Level 5 districts, upon the recommendation of the Commissioner, outside of the annual application process.
  • Eliminates the cap for public charter schools in the lowest 10 percent performing districts, and removes schools in these districts from counting against the existing 72 school cap.
  • Requires proven providers in the lowest 10% performing districts to receive priority for new charters.
  • Requires municipalities with excess capacity in certain public buildings to make space and facilities available to charter schools, giving preference to the highest performing charter operators, with lease terms that may not exceed the charter school’s facilities stipend from the state.
  • Allows charter school lotteries to establish enrollment lottery preferences for neighborhoods schools voluntarily or in exchange for municipal facility leases. Also provides the authority for multiple charter schools within the same municipality to establish a common enrollment lottery.

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The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of more than $800 million.  In 2012, the Foundation and its donors made $88 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of close to $60 million. The Foundation is a partner in philanthropy, with some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener and sponsor of special initiatives that address the region’s most pressing challenges.  The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), an operating unit of the Foundation, offers special consulting services to philanthropists.  Through its services and its work to advance the broader field of strategic philanthropy, TPI has influenced billions of dollars of giving worldwide. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.