Will the evidence on school choice ever change the politics? Right now, Massachusetts is putting that question to the test.
Nationally and in Florida, the evidence on charter schools is mostly mixed. Studies show they generally raise student’s test scores at about the same rates as traditional public schools, though they do it with less money. Research looking at how well charter school graduates do later in life is also hardly clear-cut.
But in Massachusetts, it’s a different story. Studies have found Boston charters are more effective than traditional schools at raising student test scores by a wide margin. A new study published by Brookings Institution shows charter school students in Boston do better than their peers in traditional schools by a wide range of measures, and are more likely to make it to college.
The urban results don’t carry into the suburbs and rural areas of Massachusetts, where charter schools don’t perform as well. But right now, voters are considering a referendum to raise a cap on the number of charter schools in the state. And the Brookings authors (Sarah Cohodes of Columbia Teachers College and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan) note that the cap does not currently limit charter growth in rural and suburban areas. In other words:
Massachusetts’ charter cap currently prevents expansion in precisely the urban areas where charter schools are doing their best work. Lifting the cap will allow more students to benefit from charter schools that are improving test scores, college preparation, and college attendance.