This report summarizes the findings of MA DESE’s 2020 review of the Boston Public Schools, highlighting key findings around the teaching and learning, operational, financial, and enrollment challenges the state identified. It also describes why, according to the report, BPS persistently struggles in these areas and how its struggles negatively impact students. The paper describes several options the district and the state have for rectifying the problems and helping BPS meet its constitutional and moral obligations to the students and families it serves.
About Cara Stillings Candal
Dr. Cara Stillings Candal is Director, Educational Opportunity at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute. She was formerly research assistant professor and lecturer at the Boston University School of Education and a founding team member of the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education. Candal holds a B.A. in English literature from Indiana University at Bloomington, an M.A. in social science from the University of Chicago, and a doctorate in education policy from Boston University. She is the author/editor of several books, including The Fight for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation.
Entries by Cara Stillings Candal
This report finds that Massachusetts provides fewer options for students to be educated outside their assigned school districts than most other states do, and educational savings accounts (ESAs) offer an effective tool for giving students additional opportunities. Author Cara Candal proposes two potential ESA programs for Massachusetts.
Enrollment in Archdiocese of Boston schools has increased by about 4,000 students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Combine that with a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court case that makes it easier to support the schools and it adds up to a well-deserved glimmer of hope for Catholic schools that have fallen on hard times despite their outstanding performance.
The Student Growth Percentile (SGP) the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) now uses as 25 percent of the formula for determining school district rankings has a high degree of error. While the SGP may have a role to play as part of discussions around holding districts accountable for performance, it should not be used for high-stakes policy decisions, including which districts are eligible for an increase in the charter public school cap.
A new Pioneer Institute study finds that foundation districts are largely unaffected by students who choose to transfer to charter schools.
This report summarizes the research-based truth about Massachusetts charter public schools, focusing on the ideas that were most prominent in the charter school ballot initiative debate. The data that follow are taken from a series of papers published by Pioneer Institute over the course of 2016. This report illustrates that Massachusetts charter public schools do not drain resources from district schools, they outperform the school districts from which their students come, and have attrition rates that are lower than or equal to those districts.
This paper uses publicly available DESE data to explore student attrition and other forms of student movement, such as dropouts, within district and charter schools. It is not a direct response to the now dated MTA report, but it does explore the validity of the claim that Massachusetts charter public schools have higher attrition than their district counterparts because these schools “select out” or “push out” weaker students in an effort to produce higher test scores.
This report shows that Boston charter public school students are more likely than their counterparts in non-exam Boston Public Schools (BPS) to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and tests, and Boston charters have also done a better job of helping traditionally underserved students pass AP tests.
This paper considers what the limited expansion of some charter organizations in the Commonwealth has looked like so far, and explores the different legal and policy conditions that enable large charter and educational management organizations to flourish. It does so with an eye to understanding whether Massachusetts might benefit from policy changes that encourage the expansion of operators already in the state and provide incentives for successful outside operators to bring their programs to the Commonwealth. Recommendations include providing pathways for new, innovative providers to enter the state.
The following paper describes how charter schools in Massachusetts and especially in Boston enroll and serve English language learners. Another report in this series provides similar information about students with disabilities. This paper provides enrollment, attrition, and achievement data for English language learners in charter schools across the Commonwealth, with a concentration on Boston and Gateway Cities such as Lawrence.
The report finds that charters (especially in Boston) are enrolling an increasing number of special needs students – and those students are performing well compared to their district counterparts. The report also explores attrition rates and facilities funding.
Phoenix Academies, a network of three Massachusetts public schools, is using strategies such as “relentless support” to help at-risk students not only graduate from high school, but also succeed in college.
This report explores two high performing Massachusetts charter public schools—Abby Kelley Foster Charter School in Worcester, MA and the Brooke Charter School Network of Boston, MA—and how they approach character education. This study is part of a series of papers from Pioneer highlighting best practices in the charter sector.
This study contends that Massachusetts’ charter school funding formula should maintain the shared responsibility of state and local governments to fund education, but improvements could address a number of weaknesses and allow money to more easily follow students.
This report profiles the Holyoke Community Charter School (HCCS) in Holyoke, Mass. and the SABIS-designed systems that the school uses; systems that relate to curriculum, assessments, and the gathering of school level data pertaining to both. Drawing upon school- and state-generated data and interviews with HCCS students and faculty, this cases study describes how SABIS’s integrated approach to curriculum, assessment, and data-driven instruction engages students in a way that encourages them to take ownership of their own learning—something rarely seen in schools, especially at the K-8 level.
The following paper profiles SABIS International Charter School (SICS) in Springfield and the SABIS-designed systems that the school uses; systems that relate to curriculum, assessments, and the gathering of school level data pertaining to both. SICS has been named a “top high school” by US News & World Report for five years running. Drawing upon school- and state-generated data, this cases study describes how SABIS’s integrated approach to curriculum, assessment, and data-driven instruction engages students in a way that encourages them to take ownership of their own learning.
This paper highlights two Massachusetts charter schools that offer curricular opportunities rarely available in other public schools in Massachusetts. Both of these schools enable students to achieve exceptional results in comparison to their peers in traditional district schools. Understanding some of the important innovations that charter schools offer to students and families can productively inform the current policy debate.
This report draws on interviews with school leaders and classroom observations in three Massachusetts charter school organizations to describe some of the successful strategies used to enable large ELL populations to achieve at high levels. The report applauds holding charter schools accountable for recruiting and retaining ELLs and other special populations, but warns against “punishing” schools that succeed in helping students shift out of a category based on academic achievement.
Vouchers have the potential to do many things – improve family satisfaction, reduce racial isolation, and strengthen educational outcomes for both the recipients and the children remaining in public schools – all at little or no net cost to taxpayers. The program described in this paper could provide 10,000 students from low-income families with the choices that other families already possess.
This report highlights five high-performing charter schools that have assembled and trained highly effective teaching workforces. These include networks include Lowell Collegiate Charter Public School, City on a Hill Charter Public Schools, Advanced Math and Science Academy, the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, and Match Charter Public Schools.
Massachusetts charter schools are among the highest performing in the country, as measured by standardized test results. Despite this, the Commonwealth has created a difficult policy environment for growing new and existing charter schools, one that is defined by a statewide cap on the number of charter schools that can exist and a Smart Cap, enacted in 2010, which raised the cap on charter schools in certain underperforming districts.
Although early childhood education has been on the federal agenda since the 1960s and President Johnson’s War on Poverty, a renewed focus on the value of high-quality early childhood programming, in the form of President Obama’s Preschool for All initiative, has thrust the issue of universal preschool back into the spotlight.
The pages that follow describe the history and impact of Match Corps in an attempt to capture this important educational innovation. This paper raises and answers questions about why Match’s tutoring models are so uncommonly effective and what that means for their potential impact on education beyond Match and beyond Boston. Finally, this work ends with recommendations for what policymakers and others should learn from Match, which has changed the lives of many students and stands to impact perceptions of what really makes a difference in schools.
Known throughout the Commonwealth and the nation as a network of high-performing charter public schools, Match Education takes a highly specific approach to education reform. Match aims to help students who have been traditionally underserved in the public school system achieve at very high levels, and it does so by taking a structured, ‘No Excuses’ approach to education.
Thus 20 years after the charter school movement began in Massachusetts, it is at a crossroads. This paper aims to point the Commonwealth in the right direction by exploring the history of charter school authorizations, with an eye to understanding how the current authorization process both sets Massachusetts apart from other states and stands to constrain the continued success of the charter school movement.
Three years ago, with great incentive from the federal government, the Massachusetts state legislature raised the cap on charter schools in some underperforming districts across the Commonwealth. The move was welcomed by parents, students, and other concerned citizens in those communities—communities where charters have provided a high quality alternative to the traditional public system.
The first part of this report looks closely at the background, structure, and function of the DESE in an attempt to understand how the agency has operated, how it currently operates, and what challenges, if any, the structure and operation of DESE pose for its ability to effectively exercise its increased authority. The second part recounts the recent history of the Department, especially its role in implementing the first wave of education reform, which came in the form of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act. In doing so, this work uncovers some of DESE’s strengths and weaknesses in an attempt to highlight potential obstacles to successfully implementing the second wave of reform.
Thought leaders in education, especially in Massachusetts, rarely acknowledge the precedent that Catholic education sets and the model that it has long provided in offering high quality educational options to students of all backgrounds. This could be because many Catholic schools serve poor and minority students with great success, thus revealing the comparatively low quality of too many public schools that do not.
The overall aim of this policy paper is not only to reveal the urgency of the problem in Catholic education; it also strives to explain why Catholic schools in Massachusetts and in the city of Boston should be considered essential partners in education. It does so by presenting academic data on the successes of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston and the state and nationwide; it makes comparisons to surrounding public school systems, such as the Boston. Finally, this paper outlines current efforts on the part of the Catholic community and the Archdiocese of Boston especially, to reverse the discouraging trend of Catholic school closures in Boston and beyond. The report concludes by providing recommendations for the perpetuation of Catholic schools in Massachusetts.
This white paper attempts to fill that void and outline the pros and cons of the new legislation. It does so by taking a close look at the language of the law, the conditions attached to the charter school cap raise, and the recent politics of charter schooling in the state.