Mayoral Election Could Open Door to More Charter Schools in Boston
Charter school growth in Boston is at a standstill, even though studies show strong academic results and the schools have popular support
State restrictions on charter school expansion in the city is likely to become an issue in Boston’s upcoming mayoral race. Massachusetts currently limits the number of students that charter schools can serve in a single district. A new article appearing in Education Next shows that while policymakers have solid evidence that city charters are delivering a high-quality education, many are reluctant to support the schools’ expansion for political reasons. “Boston and the Charter School Cap: Politics halts growth at top-notch schools,” is now available on the Education Next website, www.educationnext.org.
The article’s author, James A. Peyser, explains that even though Boston Public Schools and the Boston Alliance for Charter Schools affirmed their commitment in September 2011 to “[provide] all Boston students and families with improved schools and broader choice, [through] a new culture of collaboration between the district and charter schools,” charter school growth is stymied by the state cap, which limits students who attend charter schools to 9 percent of the total public student population statewide, and to 18 percent of students in the lowest-performing districts, which includes Boston.
Peyser notes that political opposition to charters remains even though numerous studies, “regardless of the sponsoring organization or the research design,” show that Boston’s charter schools are among the best-performing urban public schools in the country. A 2009 MIT-Harvard study, under the direction of Thomas Kane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found that “achievement gains among Boston charter school students were significantly higher than those of their peers in either BPS or pilot schools, especially in math.” A separate study, from the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at MIT and led by Josh Angrist and Parag Pathak, examined long-term impacts and 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.”
Boston’s charter schools have significant public support. NewSchools Venture Fund commissioned a MassINC poll of 625 Boston voters, which found 64 percent of respondents in favor of increasing the number of students who can attend charter schools and just 23 percent saying the limit on charters should stay. Respondents were particularly supportive of “allowing schools with a proven record of success to expand,” with 73 percent in favor of this proposal.
Peyser explains that Boston Public Schools has the excess building capacity to support significant charter sector growth. While there has been some cooperation in making empty space available, there is still underutilized space that could be used by “proven” charters, like Edward Brooke Charter Schools, that are willing to expand and enroll more students but cannot because of the state cap. According to Peyser, because the governor and legislature are also cautious when it comes to charter schools, a new pro-charter mayor in Boston could “shift the balance on Beacon Hill toward lifting the charter cap.”
About the Author
James Peyser is managing partner for city funds in the NewSchools Venture Fund’s Boston office. He is available for interviews.
About Education Next
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit: https://www.educationnext.org.