Charter cap CREDO | City of Ideas

Posted 03/08/2013 by Paul S. Grogan

CREDO found that the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains about one and a half more months of learning per year in reading and two and a half more months of learning per year in math than his or her district school student peer.

In Boston, though, the findings were startling, in a good way. Researchers found that the typical student in a Boston charter (about 13 percent of the state’s charter students) gained more than twelve months of additional learning per year in reading and thirteen months greater progress in math.

Think of it – that’s basically two years of learning in one school year, and it carried across schools.  CREDO director Margaret Raymond put it succinctly. “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,” she said. “Second, and more important, the Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap.”

Boston charters have shown their success as well on the annual MCAS test. In fact, on the 2012 MCAS, the schools with the highest combined percentage of students scoring proficient or higher at every grade level in the city were charter schools.

It’s no wonder with those results that today, there are more than three times the number of names on charter school waiting lists as there are total seats in Boston charters. Last year, by the numbers, it was harder to get into the Edward M. Brooke Charter School than it was to get into M.I.T.

That brings us to a second story. Last Tuesday, the Massachusetts Board of Education approved more than 3,000 additional public charter school seats for the Commonwealth, including more than 1,500 in the city of Boston. The good news is in some ways overshadowed, though, by the knowledge that the new seats put Boston at its “charter cap” – the maximum number of charter school seats allowed by state law under the 2010 “Act to Eliminate the Achievement Gap.”

Charter seats are public school seats assigned by lottery – a lottery that can change the lives of the winners, and leaves thousands of other equally deserving students behind. That annual lottery happens next week, and when it is over, there will still be more than 20,000 Boston students with names on waitlists for charter seats.

Yet here we are at the cap.

It’s not just charter students who are winning – it turns out teachers are finding charters rewarding, too. Last spring, the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education surveyed teachers across the state in the TELLMass survey. 90 percent of the Boston charter school teachers surveyed said their schools were good places to work and learn, versus 83 percent in all schools statewide. Among the other findings:

Charter teachers were 26 percent more likely to say they had an appropriate amount of influence on decisionmaking.

Charter teachers scored 16 points higher than the state average for autonomy, and 20 points higher when asked whether they had time to collaborate with each other.

They were 19 percentage points more likely to say leadership shared their vision for their school, and 20 points more likely to say they felt supported by leadership.

And by a 27 percent margin – 87 percent versus 60 percent in public schools statewide – Boston’s charter teachers said they had sufficient instructional time to meet the needs of all students.

Yet here we are at the cap.


The Boston Foundation, as the convening member of the Race to the Top Coalition, is bringing back that Coalition to support a bill from Sen. Barry Finegold and Rep. Russell Holmes that would eliminate the charter cap in the state’s lowest-performing districts to ensure that places like Boston, Holyoke and Lawrence can provide all students with the best possible public education. It would also increase the flexibility for some of the state’s most-challenged public schools to turn themselves around before they are classified as “Level 4” or failing schools.

We often talk of the importance of education as the “great equalizer” for young people. We need to create a system where families, not a lottery, can select the type of public school their children attend, and where all schools, charter and traditional can be held to account for their success and given the resources needed to improve.

The CREDO research shows that charter public schools are making a difference for their students – and are closing the achievement gap. We need to have the political courage to make sure that thousands of students aren’t closed out of the opportunity to attend them.

End the ‘life lottery.’ Lift the cap.

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