Take 3: Stanford measures Boston's Charters ahead of all other charters -- why?

This is my third blog exploring this particular chart.  Why Boston? 

Today we have thoughts from Ed Liu, of Boston Teacher Residency.  He writes:

The cap (and MA's pioneering accountability measures for charter schools) may have actually has spurred true competition and improvement in the sector. Much of the rhetoric around charter schools have overly simplistic conceptions of how markets actually work. Too many policy makers and advocates don't really understand:

(a) the nuances of how markets behave,

(b) and the role what institutions and regulations can play in helping markets function productively.

The reality is that in many jurisdictions there is really very little demand-side competition because demand so much overstrips supply. Parents are desperate for good options, and schools actually don't face much pressure to fill their enrollment slots.  They have more than enough people entering the lottery.  (Now this is a gross generalization). 

So, the market discipline doesn't often come from the demand side and parent choice signaling to schools that they need to improve.  (And I'm not even going to get into how complex it is for parents to judge quality and how parents' preferences and tastes vary).

The cap in MA and also the strong approval and accountability regimes in MA made schools have to complete for expansion rights.  So, the regulatory context helped drive competition, not unfettered markets. This suggests the importance of really thinking through how the rules of the game are structured.

The cap also led to concentration of human capital into a limited number of schools. If you were interested in working in charter sector, there were only so many places to work.  Which gets to Scott Given's point in your previous blog.  Had their been no cap, you might have seen a dilution of talent and people left sooner to start their own schools or work in other schools (not that this probably hasn't happened already, as Scott noted).  Layer onto this norms of collaboration (maybe the result of personal relationships and having worked together in the same school at one time or going to university together) and that tempered cut-throat competition, and the early emergence of incubator type organizations, and you have a sector in Boston that learned and improved over time.

So, my take: institutions and regulations actually matter a lot especially in a field like education. The simplistic assumptions that all we need to do is lift caps and deregulate are specious.

Read some other opinions (from Neerav, Jon, and Scott) about Boston's charter superiority here

And my original blog on that topic here

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