CEPR Faculty Affiliate Heather Hill authored the following op ed in CommonWealth Magazine to inform the charter school debate in Massachusetts.
ON NOVEMBER 8, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to lift the cap on charter schools, eliminating a major constraint on charter school formation and expansion in the Commonwealth. Proponents of lifting the cap contend that charters schools provide real educational choice to families and have the potential to improve student outcomes. My colleague Thomas Kane made these arguments in a recent essay for CommonWealth. But another look at the evidence suggests that by passing the charter cap override, voters will be gambling with the future of Massachusetts students – academically, personally, and financially.
My reasoning stems from a close reading of the evidence on charter schools generally, and charter schools in Boston in particular. Many studies in many states have shown that charter schools do little, on average, to improve student test scores. For urban charter schools, however, the evidence suggests a more promising story. Recent studies using lottery data – that is, comparing applicants who gained a seat in a charter school versus those who were turned away – show positive impacts on student test scores.
With all this positive evidence, why not support lifting the charter cap? Because test scores and enrollment in college are not the end of the road for most students, and because emerging evidence suggests that these positive effects may fade as students begin their adult lives.