Lift the Bay State charter cap

The latest study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has profound implications for the artificial cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. According to the report (released today), the typical charter school student gains about one and a half more months of learning in a year in reading than students in a typical district school and two and a half more months of learning in math. The gains in Boston were even more pronounced: twelve months of additional learning in a year in reading for charter students and thirteen months more in math.

Yet there remain 45,000 students in Massachusetts waiting for a seat in a charter school, thanks mostly to a state-imposed cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston and other low-performing districts. State education officials have been authorizing schools where they can, approving five new charter schools this week and expanding eleven others, but there still isn’t enough supply; the new openings are expected to serve just 3,100 students, half of them in Boston.

“The more schools we open, the longer the waiting list gets,” Massachusetts Charter Public School Association director Marc Kenen told the Boston Globe this week.

The absurdity of the cap becomes more apparent with the achievement gains Bay State charters are showing. Eighty-three percent of Boston charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their district-school peers in reading and math, and no Boston charters had significantly lower gains, according to CREDO. Those are the largest learning gains of any city or state CREDO has studied so far.

Boston has twenty charter schools, and the Globe has reported that requests have been filed with the Massachusetts Board of Education to open three more schools to serve 1,000 students and expand six existing charters by 800 seats. But because of the cap, the state will have to reject some of those proposals.

What else do Massachusetts charter schools have to show to get past the bureaucratic restraints, the old-school politics, and the sensitivities to school districts that keep their numbers from flourishing? The state education board has a strong history of authorizing high-quality charter schools, and those schools have consistently shown some of the highest standardized-test scores. With these quality markers in place, and with the results from this latest study, it’s clearer now than ever that lawmakers should allow students to soar through the ceiling they built to contain charters a long time ago.

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