New Book: Can Other States Replicate Massachusetts’ Charter School Success?

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Today, Pioneer Institute released a new book entitled "The Fight for the Best Charter Schools in the Nation." Authored by Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, the book explores why Massachusetts has the best-performing charter public schools in the country but is among the nation’s slowest growing.

New Book: The Fight for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation

“I hope this book will help other states figure out how to strike the right balance between growth and quality so as many students as possible can benefit from the option to attend a high-quality charter school.” - Dr. Cara Candal, author, "The Fight for the Best Charter Schools in the Nation"

Book provides important lessons for other states looking to strengthen their own charter public schools.

Today, Pioneer Institute released a new book that explores why Massachusetts has the best-performing charter public schools in the country but is among the nation’s slowest growing charter sector.

“Policymakers across the country should look closely at Massachusetts,” said Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, author of The Fight for the Best Charter Schools in the Nation. “While we have built many high-quality charter public schools through strong policy and accountability, we’ve also limited the growth, innovation, and expansion of those schools. I hope this book will help other states figure out how to strike the right balance between growth and quality so as many students as possible can benefit from the option to attend a high-quality charter public school.”

The book looks at why charter supporters lost a 2016 statewide ballot initiative that would have raised the cap on charter schools. It argues that much of that loss can be pegged to a deeply flawed strategy to put the issue on the ballot, a poorly run campaign, and a 2010 charter school law that isolated charter school growth to cities and allowed opponents to pit suburban and urban parents against one another.

Boston charter schools have a higher graduation rate and lower dropout rate than Boston Public Schools (BPS). A study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) called Boston’s charter school gains the “largest in any state or city so far,” noting that a year in a Massachusetts charter school adds 40 days of additional learning in math and 28 days in reading compared to the schools from which students came.

The book argues that Massachusetts charter public schools have been successful because the state has embraced real autonomy and strict accountability. Charter public schools have the freedom to organize around a distinct approach or mission; utilize time, money and other resources to benefit students; recruit and develop talent; and extend the school day and year. In exchange, Massachusetts has high levels of accountability. Since 1995, five schools have had their charters revoked and two more charters were not renewed.

The state has strong funding for charter schools. One-hundred percent of dollars follow students and it is the only state that has a reimbursement to districts for students that leave traditional public schools and attend charters (100 percent for first year, and 25 percent for the next five years).

Furthermore, the state’s weighted formula directs more dollars to English Language Learners and low-income students. Dr. Candal praises this policy and argues that it should also be applied to students with special needs.

Unfortunately, the state still has weak capital funding for charter schools, which receive less than half the amount district schools do.

The state also has suffered from regulatory creep. The state’s sole authorizer, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is responsible for all public schools, and sometimes over-regulates charters as if they were traditional districts. Going back 25 years, the legislature established charter schools to be free of burdensome state regulations.

Parent interest in charter schools is very high, with 45,000 unique students on Massachusetts charter school waitlists for the 2015-16 school year.

Dr. Candal makes the following recommendations to strengthen Massachusetts’ charter public school policies, all of which she argues other states should consider as well:

  • Simplify Massachusetts’ K-12 education funding law and make it more transparent
  • Fully fund charter school reimbursements
  • Make facilities funding more equitable by providing charters with more capital money or access to unused public-school buildings
  • Abolish the cap on charter schools
  • Leave room under any cap for innovative school models
  • Adopt a regulatory approach that favors diversity and competence over replication and compliance
  • Create incentives for charter schools to expand into suburban and rural areas

Learn more about the book at https://pioneerinstitute.org/bestchartersbook/. There will be an event at 6:00 pm ET discussing the book which will be live streamed here.

About Dr. Cara Stillings Candal
Cara Stillings Candal is an education policy expert and Senior Fellow at Pioneer Institute. She was formerly research assistant professor at the Boston University School of Education and has an extensive background in national and international education policy and teacher training. Candal is the author/editor of numerous articles and several books about charter schools and other alternatives to traditional school options.

About 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.

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Micaela Dawson
Pioneer Institute
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