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New clues on charter school effectiveness

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The verdict on charter schools has always been a mixed one. A major study in 2009, for example, by the National Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford University found that students at 17 percent of charters nationally performed better than students in the district schools where the charters were located, but students in 46 percent of charters did no better than their district peers while students at 37 percent of the charters performed worse.

Such findings have frustrated those looking for clear answers to what works -- and doesn’t work -- in school reform efforts.  A new study of Massachusetts charter schools by researchers at MIT may offer some clues. The study, published last month by the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research, found that students at urban-based charter schools made clear achievement gains beyond those of their peers in urban district systems, but students at non-urban charter schools showed no gains over their non-urban district peers and, in some cases, performed worse.

Among the reasons cited by the authors as explanations for the better performance of urban charters is their “no excuses” philosophy that combines high academic standards and intensive focus on math and English skills with a longer school day and a strong code of conduct and heavy parental involvement. More than 70 percent of the urban charters reported that they follow such a “no excuses” approach, fully or in part.  In contrast, none of the non-urban charters follow the model.

Jed Lippard, the head of the Prospect Hill Academy, a urban charter school with campuses in Somerville and Cambridge, told Education Week [subscription required for full contents] that charters in suburban areas, where students already perform at high levels, tend to focus on themes, such as a foreign language or performing arts, while urban charters are very focused on raising academic achievement in core subjects and preparing students for college.  Lippard said in suburban charters where he taught earlier in his career, “we could afford not to worry too much about MCAS because we knew the students were going to do pretty well on their own -- but here in the urban schools, we can’t afford not to focus on MCAS.”

In other words, the charters that put a prime focus on core academics tend to deliver on the promise of higher achievement.  Suburban charters, which don’t face the same imperative to boost scores of low-performing students, seem to offer an alternative to district schools, but not necessarily a more rigorous one. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     --MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

Speaker Robert DeLeo sat down with Keller@Large to talk about the gambli. . .er, jobs bill that just passed the House.

When it comes to casinos, the Cape Cod Times wants to see lawmakers talk about hard economic choices in tough times, not squabble over regional benefits.

Yvonne Abraham marvels -- and not in a positive way -- at the flip-floppers in the Legislature who have suddenly embraced casinos now that the House speaker has made expanded gambling his top priority.

State officials are clamping down on a scheme by which immigrants here, who fail in efforts to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license because of poor English skills, travel to Arizona, where tests can be taken in an applicant’s native language, and then have their Arizona license transferred to a Bay State one.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Eagle-Tribune reports a 44 percent jump in serious crimes since the budget crisis in Lawrence forced the layoff of a quarter of the police force. Police layoffs are a common problem. Trenton laid off a third of its police force on Friday, becoming the fourth cash-strapped city in New Jersey to lay off at least 10 percent of its police force in the last year.

Lawrence police swap 13 cars seized in drugs busts, including a  Cadillac Escalade, Lexus ES 300, and an Acura SUV, for four Chevrolet Impalas owned by a used car dealer with close ties to Mayor William Lantigua, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The National Review takes Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to task for trying to ban the use of e-cigarettes, the smokeless alternative, in public places, saying the city’s efforts undercut the private sector’s work in reducing tobacco use.

The Lynn Item hits the streets in Revere and everyone, it seems, is enthusiastic about a casino coming to Suffolk Downs.

The towns of Ashfield and Bernardston are ending their use of a Franklin County regional health agent’s services after complaints arose over the agent’s procedures for housing inspection requests.

The Springfield Republican urges people to get out to vote in Springfield and Holyoke in preliminary elections for mayor.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

President Obama proposes tax cuts on the wealthy; Republicans cry foul on “class warfare,” and it’s 2007 all over again. The Buffett Rule: Class warfare or simple fairness? The Daily Beast does the analysis.

The Beat The Press panel thinks the excerpts leaking from the new book by Joe McGinniss indicate a hatchet job on Sarah Palin, recycling old rumor and innuendo about the one-time, one-term Alaska governor.

ELECTION 2012

The pitfalls that Elizabeth Warren must avoid include the Red Sox. A Republican consultant warns the first-time candidate, “You can’t really prepare for how nasty [campaigning] gets.” Alan Khazei tells the Herald he likes his sudden underdog position.

Joe Battenfeld, on NECN, looks at the sometimes-creepy way candidates raise money these days.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who opted out of the White House race, isn’t too satisfied with the performances of the candidates who are running.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Devens-based American Superconductor is crying foul over what it alleges is technology theft by a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is battling the owner of a Sandwich mobile home community over whether the park’s seasonal residents are protected by the state’s manufactured homes law or can be treated as recreational vehicle owners, which makes them more vulnerable to added costs. The outcome could have far-reaching affects on similar parks.

The MetroWest Daily News explores the challenges facing family farms including Wilson Farm in Lexington.

EDUCATION

It’s curtains for a 30-year-old nonprofit that supplied fabric, paper, felt, and other surplus materials donated by businesses to Boston public schools.

HEALTH CARE

The new reduced cost plan announced by Steward Health System has one important wrinkle: specialized care will be referred to Massachusetts General or Brigham & Women’s hospitals, and Paul Levy suspects Steward is banking on the marquee names to help sell the plan.

NPR’s Richard Knox examines the science behind the HPV vaccine controversy.

TRANSPORTATION

The T says the $90 million project to replace defective railroad ties on the Old Colony commuter rail line is running a year ahead of schedule and should be done by December.  CommonWealth’s coverage of the defective railroad ties is extensive. Check out a recent story here.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The United States is one of the top five countries when it comes to state-sponsored execution.

They may have to start a new inmate caucus in the Rhode Island legislature. A Republican state representative was arrested after he sought a “cyberstalking” complaint and a check of his record turned up a 2008 arrest warrant in Massachusetts. He is the third state representative this year to be charged with a crime, including the former minority leader who was charged with drunken driving and marijuana possession and a Democratic rep charged with pocketing someone else’s life insurance settlement.

An offshore gambling ring run by the brother-in-law of US Rep. John Tierney did $22 million in business, newly filed court papers show.

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