Massachusetts Caps Boston Students’ Potential by Restricting Charter Growth
Looking in from the outside, one would think this would be a great time to be a charter school operator in Boston. The city’s charter sector has garnered praise for its high performance. Although the schools serve mostly low-income minority students, those students are learning at twice the rate of their peers in Boston’s traditional public schools. So why did hundreds of parents, educators and students hold a protest at State House last Wednesday morning?
They rallied to show support for a charter expansion plan put forward by Governor Charlie Baker. Despite stellar results, Boston’s charter schools are facing a legal barrier: a strict cap on the number of charter schools. Unlike the ALEC model charter policy, the charter law in Massachusetts caps the number of Commonwealth charter schools statewide. The law also uses funding limitations to indirectly cap the number of students who can be enrolled in charter schools within any given district. Slight loosening of the caps in 2010 allowed a few additional charters to open. But in early 2013, charters in Boston once again slammed into the state’s legal barrier when a high-performing charter network was denied the opportunity to open a campus in the city.
The cap has real-life consequences for struggling Boston students. A study performed by researchers at Harvard and MIT compared students who been admitted by lottery into the Boston charter schools with those who had applied but had been turned away. The study found significant academic gains among charter students. Furthermore, the study found that Boston charter schools had nearly closed the gap in math scores between urban, lower-income Boston students and those in Brookline, one of the city’s wealthy suburbs. Even more dramatic gains were observed in a CREDO “twinning” study, where charter students were matched with demographic “twins” in the traditional public school system. With 37,000 students on waitlists for charters in the area, it is clear that Boston parents are desperate to get their children into the city’s high-performing charters.
It is against this backdrop and history that hundreds of parents, educators and students chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, the charter cap has got to go,” as they demonstrated in support of Baker’s charter expansion plan.
Rosa Dixon, a parent of one of the thousands of students on the charter waitlists, had a message for politicians. “To every elected official in the State House, please hear me right now: We will not rest until the cap is lifted,” the mother told the enthusiastic crowd. Boston parents know that their children’s opportunity for a better education should not be capped.