Best Schools 2010: These Roxbury Prep Kids Can Kick Your Kids MCAS!
Charter school advocates think they know how to save our students. With charters like Roxbury Prep set to expand dramatically, we’re about to find out if they’re right.
Yet the Boston Foundation, long a champion of charter schools, argues the opposite: Charters simply do a better job educating children. Last year the foundation published a study by MIT and Harvard professors that compared the test scores of students who won admission to a charter school via lottery versus those who entered the lotteries and lost. The students who got into charters vastly outperformed the ones who did not, the researchers found. (To control for attrition, the researchers held the charter schools accountable for the test scores of students who’d started at charters but dropped out.) The amount by which the lottery winners outperformed the lottery losers was roughly half the size of the achievement gap between Boston’s white and black students. “Roxbury Prep was one of the charter schools that was showing a particularly large impact,” notes Thomas Kane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and one of the study’s authors.
When you walk through Roxbury Prep, it’s easy to see why. You see well-behaved kids in uniform, engaged teachers, administrators who know every student by name (since they greet them at the bus when they arrive each day), and alumni who return to mentor students. Each classroom is named for a college attended by an alum, underscoring what’s possible and what’s expected. If students do leave (Austin and others believe attrition is an overblown criticism), they often do so because they got into an exam school or an elite private school.
Francisca DaSilveira is a Roxbury Prep alum who graduated last spring from the prestigious boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall, and is now starting as a freshman at NYU. Born to Cape Verdean immigrants, DaSilveira hopes to be the first of the 12 children in her family to graduate from college. She says that ever since she left Roxbury Prep, the school has kept in touch with her, checking in to make sure she was still on the path to college. She spent this past summer back at the school tutoring, and says the guidance she got from Roxbury Prep staff while filling out her college applications was crucial to her getting into NYU. The school has four staffers dedicated to keeping in touch with alumni and working to help them get to college, Austin says.
This is all good news for the 5,900 new kids who’ll get a spot in charters, but what about the other 50,000?
THE STATE FUNDS LOCAL systems on a per-pupil basis, so when students leave city public schools for the charters, they take their money with them. Each departure costs the system about $10,000, according to Boston Public Schools. Losing 5,900 students means losing $59 million.
Charter advocates believe the pressure to hold onto students — and money — will force district schools to improve and unions to reform. Michael Goar, COO of the Boston Public School system, says competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “I don’t have a view of, Damn the charter schools,” he says. “But it’s a challenge…. It forces us to rethink how we deliver our services to our kids. We need to do a better job.”