Deep-blue Massachusetts is not normally an electoral trend-setter, but its closely-watched charter school referendum on November 8th could set the tone for education reform across the country in the coming months and years.
The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden has a new report weighing the arguments for and against the proposal, which would raise the cap on the number of charter schools that could be opened every year in the Bay State. His conclusion: If the goal of education policy is to maximize the success and opportunity for students, the case for more charters is unassailable. An excerpt:
According to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), students in Massachusetts’s charters receive the equivalent of an extra month and a half of reading instruction and an extra two and a half months of math instruction in a single academic year, relative to their peers in district schools. The state’s charter sector is among the best in the nation, and Boston’s charter schools are arguably the strongest in the country. Massachusetts secretary of education James Peyser notes: “Boston charter school students are learning at twice the rate of their district-school peers.” According to CREDO, students in Boston charters see the largest academic gains in the U.S. relative to their district school peers, scoring 0.32 standard deviations higher in math and 0.24 standard deviations in reading—the equivalent of 230 additional days of math instruction and 172 additional days of reading instruction per year.
Eden punctures the argument that the superior performance of charters can be attributed to student selection, citing high-quality studies that compare entering charter and district school students with comparable characteristics. He also shows that the primary argument against new Massachusetts charters—that they would siphon away money from district schools—is highly misleading. In fact, “charter enrollment also effectively raises per-pupil district spending by approximately $85 million” thanks to state reimbursements.
While the pro-charter side had a wide lead in the Spring, more recent polling shows the anti-charter forces with a slight edge going into the last several weeks of the campaign. Part of the reason is that advocates have not done enough to win over local teachers. Unions are united against the measure, and fighting tooth-and-nail, often with outright misinformation. That is a shame, as one of the goals of charter schools should be to empower good teachers to manage their classrooms more effectively.
The charter movement isn’t perfect, and, win or lose, it has more work to do. But there is little doubt that Bay State charters are among the most well-managed in the nation, and that they have improved the life prospects of tens of thousands of disadvantaged students. Here’s hoping Massachusetts voters decide to build on the program’s impressive success and expand opportunity even further.