Charter schools in Boston are “significantly outperforming” both traditional public schools and the city’s “pilot schools,” according to new data from researchers at Harvard and MIT. The study, conducted for the Boston Foundation, examined state standardized test scores for students of similar backgrounds over a four-year period at three kinds of schools — charters, public schools and so-called pilot schools, which embrace innovative practices like charters, but are still within the public school system. “The findings could present a setback for Governor Deval Patrick’s education overhaul,” the Boston Globe notes, ”which seeks to emulate pilot schools around the state while resisting calls for more charter schools.” But here’s the real grabber:
The study stands apart from volumes of other research produced over the more than decadelong debate over charter schools by including a section that compared the performance of students at the charter and pilot schools to students who entered the lottery to attend those schools but did not get in. This was an attempt to dispel the perception that charter schools perform well in comparative studies because they generally attract more academically-motivated students and parents – not necessarily because they have better teaching methods.
Paging Jennifer Jennings! Last month, Eduwonkette foresaw a new round of “Charter Wars” over data. “The only defensible approach here is to compare students who entered the charter lottery and won with those who entered the lottery and lost,” she wrote. Case closed? Like Jennings, I’ve long believed that charters benefit from a selection advantage (and I have no problem with that whatsoever), attracting students from more motivated families, regardless of their achievement level. This study appears to indicate that even when you account for that selection bias, charters still outperform other kinds of schools.
Nelson Smith, head of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, used the data to call on Governor Deval Patrick and Massachusetts legislators, “in the strongest possible terms, to lift the caps on public charter schools this coming legislative session.”
Update: Eduwonkette answers the Batphone. She sees ”enough positive evidence here to support the creation of more charter schools in Boston,” but with two caveats.