Boston mayor backs non-union charters

Frustrated by the teachers’ union, worried about losing federal funds and enticed by a study showing charter school performance gains, Boston Mayor Tom Menino wants to convert 51 failing schools to charter schools.  That’s a turnaround for the Democratic mayor, Jon Keller writes in Wall Street Journal.

“I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap,” (Menino) declared.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threaten to withhold federal education funds from cities and states that refuse to reform, including allowing charter schools.

“That’s $5 billion, b-i-l-l-i-o-n, up for grabs,” moaned Mr. Menino in an interview with me. “I’ve gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can’t get reforms?”

Boston has “pilot” schools with “limited managerial flexibility in making personnel and budget decisions,” Keller writes. The mayor wants to create in-district charter schools that would differ from pilots in one critical respect: No union contract.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Menino told me, came when a principal of one of the struggling school accepted a grant from ExxonMobil to give teachers small bonuses when their students excelled. The unions “took us to arbitration,” Mr. Menino said, essentially killing the bonuses. So for good measure the mayor included a call for merit pay in his blockbuster school-reform speech. “Every time we try to do a reform they stop it.”

If the unions block his plan for district-run charter schools Menino “vows to lobby for lifting the state’s restrictive cap on the number of “pure” charter schools.”

A recent Boston Foundation study found charter students outperforming similar students in regular public schools and  pilot schools.

Menino’s children are considering Boston charter schools for two of his grandchildren next fall.

Charter schools excel in Boston

Boston’s charter schools outperform district-run public schools, according to a four-year Boston Foundation study.  However, the city’s experimental “pilot schools” produced “ambiguous” results, reports the Boston Globe.

In the most stark example, charters – independent public schools dedicated to innovative teaching – excelled significantly in middle school math. However, pilots, which have similar goals but are run by the School Department, performed at slightly lower rates than traditional schools, according to the study.

Researchers looked at the performance of students who applied to a charter or pilot school and were admitted via lottery versus those who applied but lost the lottery and attended a traditional public school.  Boston Foundation states:

The report directly addresses two of the most frequent criticisms leveled at earlier studied of Pilot and Charter schools: that their students are not representative of traditional Boston schools but rather are more likely to succeed; and that charters and pilots tend to shed students who do not perform up to their standards, again creating an elite student body that will inevitably outperform their BPS peers.

Winning the charter lottery made a significant difference for students. In middle-school math, half the black-white achievement gap was erased in one year.

Update: Eduwonkette notes that the study necessarily included only charter schools with so many applicants that they need to hold lotteries. Presumably, less successful schools aren’t in high demand. True enough, though apparently pilot schools that need to hold lotteries aren’t raising achievement.

In and out of college

Seventy percent of Boston’s public high school graduates go to a four- or two-year college, but few earn a degree or certificate, concludes a study funded by the Boston Foundation. They’re not prepared: At one community college, 80 percent of Boston public graduates required remedial math, reports the Boston Globe.

The study followed Boston students who transferred from one institution to another over a six-year period.  Only 12 percent of Boston students who started at a community college earned a degree or certificate of any kind;  one-third of four-year state college students and 56 percent of four-year, private college students earned a degree within six years.

The most successful local community college offers intensive five-week and 10-week courses to create a sense of urgency for students, emulating University of Phoenix courses for working adults.

Via The College Puzzle.