Can Successful Schools Replicate? Scaling Up Boston’s Charter School Sector
Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.
Special thanks go to Carrie Conaway, Cliff Chuang, the staff of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Boston’s charter schools for data and assistance. We also thank Josh Angrist, Bob Gibbons, Caroline Hoxby, Parag Pathak, Derek Neal, Eric Taylor and seminar participants at the NBER Education Program Meetings, Columbia Teachers College Economics of Education workshop, the Association for Education Finance and Policy Conference, the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, MIT Organizational Economics Lunch, MIT Labor Lunch, and University of Michigan Causal Inference for Education Research Seminar for helpful comments. We are grateful to the school leaders who shared their experiences expanding their charter networks: Shane Dunn, Jon Clark, Will Austin, Anna Hall, and Dana Lehman. Setren was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had the right to review this paper prior to circulation in order to determine no individual’s data was disclosed. The authors obtained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals for this project from NBER and Teachers College Columbia University. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.