According to a study from the centrist Brookings Institution, the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts hurts disadvantaged students.

“The evidence is that, for disadvantaged students in urban areas of Massachusetts, charter schools do better than traditional public schools,” researchers wrote (emphasis in original).

Their research shows that charters are particularly helpful for “English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.” They found that charters “are improving test scores, college preparation, and college attendance.” The charters double the likelihood of students taking an Advanced Placement exam and improve the odds students will pass those tests.

The study did find that charter students are 14 percentage points more likely to graduate in five years instead of four, but it’s likely because charter students enter high school far behind the state’s average test scores.

Charters in suburban or rural areas of the state, however, did not have the same positive results as urban charters. But the researchers made sure to note that, under the way Massachusetts’ cap on charters is designed, the cap currently only constrains charter school expansion in urban areas (where the study found charters are successful).

The study was based on the differences between students who entered charter school lotteries and were randomly selected or denied for admission. The researchers say the difference between charter school applicants and non-applicants is “quite small” now that more than a third of students in Boston apply for charter schools.

Massachusetts voters will decide on Election Day if they want to eliminate the cap and allow 12 new charters to be approved every year on top of the current 78 charter schools there.

The study was authored by Sarah Cohodes with Columbia University and Susan Dynarski with Brookings.

Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition, but they are privately run. Compared to traditional public schools, charters have more independence and flexibility in their operations and curricula, which is why many families find them desirable. They are open to all students, but due to demand they must often use a lottery system to allocate spaces.

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