Boston Charter Stamps a Guarantee on Its Students

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A Boston charter school is offering a "learning guarantee" that it believes is a national first: If students don't make the grade on state exams, it will help pay their way at another school of their choice--public or private.

The deal announced last week by the Academy of the Pacific Rim would apply to students who fail a battery of 10th grade tests that the state is phasing in this spring. To be eligible, students and their families would have to meet the school's minimum criteria for student effort and parental involvement.

"The idea is really to take guarantees that exist every day for a whole lot of things, such as mufflers and automobiles, and make them apply to public education," said Stacey M. Boyd, the school's director.

The academy opened in September with 100 students in the 6th and 7th grades, and plans to expand by one grade per year until it serves 350 students in grades 6-12. Its name reflects a philosophy of combining "the respect for education and discipline found in the East with the emphasis on individuality and diversity found in the West."

Under a 1993 state law, the Massachusetts school board can grant charters, which allow schools to operate independently of local school officials but receive public funds. Funding for the state's 24 charter schools is based on the average per-pupil amount spent in students' home districts.

Money Would Follow

Through its warranty plan, the academy is offering to provide that per-pupil amount to any school to which an eligible student transfers. Any such payments to other publicly funded schools would be jointly covered by the academy, its board of trustees, and an outside foundation. If the student transferred to a private school, no academy money would be used.

The guarantee would apply to students who fail the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, either on their first try in 10th grade or on their second attempt in 11th grade.

Starting with the class of 2003, students throughout the state will be required to pass those tests to graduate. That is also the first class that will be eligible for the academy guarantee. The tests will eventually cover the core academic subjects, including world languages.

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