SOCIAL INNOVATION: EDUCATION
Why do some charter schools do so well?
MIT economists are researching why some Boston charter schools are able to produce stunning results. What they discover could serve as a lesson for America’s struggling public schools.
Set in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, an area not known for its excellent schools, the Boston Preparatory Charter Public School nonetheless has an enviable academic record: Last spring, 100 percent of its 10th-graders received a score of “excellent” or “proficient” in English, science and math on the MCAS, Massachusetts’ state-wide exams. By contrast, a much smaller percentage of students in Boston’s regular public schools received “excellent” or “proficient” marks: 64 percent in English, 62 percent in math, and 34 percent in science. The science results put the Boston public schools in the bottom 10 percent of the state.
As its name indicates, Boston Preparatory is a charter school, an independent public school that focuses on core classroom subjects, with extended hours, increased student-teacher interaction, and a sense of school “mission.” Since their introduction to the state in the mid-1990s, many charter schools — though not all — have produced striking results. Despite these successes, however, charter schools are a source of civic controversy because they use some funds that would otherwise go to local districts, and often employ non-union teachers.
Boston Preparatory’s sterling academic record is not unique among its Boston charter school peers. Many charter schools in Boston (about a dozen middle schools and a dozen high schools in all) produce good test scores. And to be sure, highly motivated charter school students could succeed in any academic setting. But in a study published this year, a team of researchers that includes two MIT economists used a novel method to show that in general, students perform better at those charter schools than they would at other types of public schools.