Charter School Study Calls for Revisions to the State’s Flawed “Growth Model” and “Proven Provider” Regulations
Calls for refocusing on model Massachusetts pioneered to support nation’s best charter schools
BOSTON – A new study published by Pioneer Institute finds that Massachusetts should revise flawed “growth model” regulations designed to introduce rate of improvement into the formula used to determine which districts perform in the lowest 10 percent statewide and are therefore eligible for more charter seats. The study also suggests that the commonwealth eliminate the requirement that additional charter schools in the lowest-performing districts be opened only by “proven providers,” operators with a track record of successfully serving student populations similar to those the new schools would serve.
In “Innovation Interrupted: How the Achievement Gap Act of 2010 Has Redefined Charter Schooling in Massachusetts,” author Cara Stillings Candal recommends abolishing the cap on charter public schools and refocusing on the model the commonwealth pioneered to create the nation’s most successful charter sector: Strong accountability for outcomes coupled with limited regulation and closing charter schools that fail.
“The proven provider requirement hampers charter schools’ ability to fulfill one of their intended functions: To provide families with innovative educational options,” Candal says. “Instead of innovating, providers are just tweaking and replicating their existing models.”
The 2010 law doubled the number of charter school seats in school districts that perform in the bottom 10 percent statewide, but also introduced bureaucratic changes that limit charters’ ability to serve the functions intended when they were created as part of Massachusetts’ landmark 1993 Education Reform Act.
Earlier this year, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to change the way they determine which districts are in the bottom 10 percent statewide by incorporating a questionably unreliable student growth measure. The result is limited access to charters in high-demand areas and a shift toward more charter seats in districts with higher overall student achievement.
Another important change is that the districts now considered in the bottom 10 percent have far fewer students, which translates into fewer new charters. Under the new regulations, the districts considered to be in the bottom 10 percent changed in September. Eight districts with more than 70,000 students were removed from the list and replaced with districts that have fewer than 20,000.
The following example of two 8th grade students in 2014 illustrates the shortcomings of the new growth model:
Both students scored 254 on the grade 6 ELA test and 250 on the grade 8 ELA test. The first student, however, scored 240 on the grade 7 ELA test and the second student scored 262 on the grade 7 ELA test. The first student has a 2014 Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of 78 and the second student has a 2014 SGP of 3. Both students were proficient on the MCAS all three years, but the second year difference creates tremendous SGP differences.
The unfortunate effect of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s adoption of the growth model is that cities like Brockton became ineligible for charter schools when percentage of students proficient in English and math rose a mere one percent, from 42 to 43 percent over the 2012-2014 period. The policy contradicts the intention, if not the provisions, of the 2010 Achievement Gap Law, which targeted a modest increase in the charter cap in districts where the wealth- and race-based achievement gaps were largest. Only a year after the passage of that law, there was so much demand for charters many of these districts were already bumping up against the new cap.
“The idea behind Massachusetts charter schools was to unleash parent choice and school innovation from bureaucratic barriers to propel statewide education reform,” said Jamie Gass, director of Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform. “But, in spite of having the best charters in the country, increasingly we’re seeing arbitrary state regulations and legislative caps block urban students’ access to these excellent schools.”
The constricting effect of the new growth model is already apparent. This year, the only two applications for new charters to survive the state process thus far required a waiver to continue because Brockton and Fitchburg, where the schools would be located, are no longer considered among the bottom 10 percent of Massachusetts school districts.
Cara Stillings Candal is an education researcher and writer. She is a senior consultant for research and curriculum at the Center for Better Schools/National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education, an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Education, and a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute.
Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.