Schooling outside the box
121 charter, innovation schools mostly in urban areas
MASSACHUSETTS CLAIMS A RICH HISTORY as the birthplace of public education in the United States. These days it’s giving rise to new forms of public schooling in response to growing frustration with the performance of traditional district schools, especially those in communities serving lots of students from low-income families.
The state’s landmark 1993 education reform law authorized the introduction of charter schools, which generally operate independently of local school districts and enjoy wide latitude over curriculum, staffing, hours, and budgeting. The first charter school in Massachusetts opened in 1995, and there are now 77 statewide. (Ten of the 77 operate within school districts.)
In 2010, the state authorized a new model known as “innovation schools,” which operate within districts but with many of the same autonomies given to charters. There are now 44 innovation schools in operation, some the result of the conversion of existing district schools to “innovation” status, and some that were newly opened by districts.The map shows the location of the 121 charter and innovation schools across the state. The schools are heavily concentrated in urban areas, where dissatisfaction with district schools tends to run higher and where attention is being focused on new school models to address the achievement gap that has black and Latino students lagging behind their white peers.
With 29 of these schools, Boston accounts for nearly a quarter of all the state’s charter and innovation schools. Worcester is next, with three charters and eight innovation schools. Of the 11 midsize urban centers identified by MassINC as Gateway Cities, only Brockton and Pittsfield have neither a charter nor innovation school.