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Inside Urban Charter Schools in Massachusetts: Where’s the Beef?

October 14, 2009

Katherine K. Merseth, Senior Lecturer and Director of Teacher Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

What factors contribute to the success of five high-performing urban charter schools serving predominately low-income, minority youth in Massachusetts? Using an analytic framework grounded in nonprofit management and effective schools literature, Merseth finds that these schools excel along the organizational dimensions of structure, systems, human resource strategies, culture and clarity of mission—functions executed with remarkable coherence. However, this consistency of organizational features is less pronounced within individual classrooms with respect to instructional activities. Nonetheless, organizational factors appear to trump the variability in instruction, enabling several of these schools to gain 100% proficiency on the challenging Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System with several of these schools scoring at the top of all high schools in the state. However, SAT scores for these same students hover below the national and state mean. This raises several questions including whether these ‘No Excuses’ schools will be able to realize their mission to prepare students to succeed in college and beyond.

This event is co-sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.

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