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Charter Students in Boston Outperform Their Peers, Study Finds

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Students who attend charter schools in Boston perform better than their regular public school peers on state tests in both math and English, are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, and are more likely to pass Massachussets' state graduation exam, making those students eligible for state-sponsored college scholarships, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, also found that students from charter high schools are more likely to attend four-year rather than two-year colleges.

The study looked specifically at charter high schools and generated its findings by comparing students in Boston-area charter high schools to students who had applied to be in the lottery for charter school selected but were not chosen in order to eliminate differences between charter and regular school students. The analysis is limited to students who were enrolled in Boston Public Schools during the time of the lottery, and who applied sometime between fall 2002 and fall 2008.

The study found that more than half of the charter school students took at least one AP test, compared to about a quarter of their regular public school peers. And while charter school students are about 15 percentage points more likely to score at least a 2 on the exam, a score of 3 or better is usually required to earn college credit. Charter school attendees are about 9.5 percentage points more likely to earn a 3 score than are their regular public school peers.

Although charter school students were more likely to meet from high school graduation requirements and qualify for state-sponsored college scholarships than their regular public school peers, charter school attendance did not increase graduation rates overall.

The study also looked specifically at special education students in charter schools in the Boston area. It found that special education students applied to charters at almost the same rate as other students in the district, representing about 20 percent of the applicants. Those special education students who do attend charter schools see achievement gains similar to their non-special education peers, the study found. In fact, that cohort of students experiences competency rate gains of 52 percentage points, compared to only a 9 percentage point gain from non-special education students.

The findings on special-needs students in Boston's charter schools offer another piece of data in a larger debate about how well charters serve those populations. A report released by the Government Accountability Office last year found that charters around the country, and in a number of individual states, enroll a smaller portion of special-needs students than traditional public schools do—though the factors driving those disparities are unclear, and some have questioned whether the GAO report presented an accurate picture.

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