Boston charter school success spawns growth

Charter schools have played a significant role in improving outcomes of Boston public school students. And now, as reported in a Wall Street Journal editorial, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER),* those advances can be replicated at new locations.

Boston follows the “No Excuses” charter model, where the practices include high expectations, strict discipline, a longer school day (even some Saturday classes), high-intensity tutoring, frequent teacher feedback and data-driven instruction.

NBER’s paper reported “Evidence based on a randomized admission lottery shows that No Excuses charter schools generate test score gains large enough to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in a short time, as well as improvement in longer-run outcomes like teen pregnancy and four-year college attendance.”

The successes of charter schools and the demand by parents and education reformers for additional charters led to an expansion. In 2010, Massachusetts passed an education reform law that allowed for more charter schools.

Boston education leaders then made the logical decision to try to replicate the success. “Charter operators that were deemed ‘proven providers’ with track records of success were permitted to expand existing campuses or open new schools in these districts,” according to NBER.  Boston increased the number of its charter schools from 16 to 32 between 2010 and 2014.

NBER studied results of those expanded charters and found that there was no drop-off in outcomes. “Expansion charters generate achievement gains comparable to their parent schools.”

It’s important to note that these students were not cherry-picked. The researchers used records from randomized charter school admissions, ensuring that the students were representative of the general Boston student population.  They also had similar rates of special needs students and students with limited English proficiency.

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but the expansion charters replicated success by limiting teacher discretion. Instead, the teachers, who tend to be younger and less experienced that those in the traditional schools, use a “standard set of pedagogical practices” that have already been proven successful in the original charters.

Yesterday, leaders of West Virginia’s teacher and service worker unions threw down the gauntlet on school choice. They said if lawmakers are going to try to pass charter schools and education savings accounts, don’t even bother with a special session on education.

That kind of obstinance puts at risk the planned teacher and service worker pay raise and a series of education improvements that were generally agreed upon during the regular session.  Education savings accounts were never going to pass anyway, while Governor Justice and legislative leaders were coalescing around just a few charter schools.

As we well know, change in West Virginia does not come easily.  Contrast that with NBER’s research which shows how innovation and replication in public education can improve outcomes.

*(The National Bureau of Economic Research is a private, non-profit, non-partisan research organization.)


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