Charter High Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap
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Media and Technology Charter High School (MATCH)
Boston, Mass.


School Profile: Selected Variables
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1999, state
Grades and Enrollment 9–12 and 185
Student Ethnicity 67% African-American
7% Asian American
21% Hispanic
5% white
Special Education 8%
Free and Reduced-price Lunch 72%
Graduation Rate 100%
Annual Cost per Student $16,000

Source: School records data from 2005–06

"Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," explains the principal at MATCH. Preparing inner-city students to make it all the way through college, he believes, means giving them personal attention inside and outside the classroom and making help available 24-7. This is why every MATCH student has a personal tutor all year, someone who forges a strong relationship with the student and relentlessly pursues the students' academic and behavioral growth.

MATCH is the brainchild of Michael Goldstein, who, while studying public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, was staggered to learn that the national rate for college graduation among inner-city students was below 10 percent. Goldstein put together a team of like-minded people who helped create a vision for a school that would engage students in rigorous work preparing all to succeed in college. Goldstein's search for a principal led him to suburban Framingham, Mass., where he met Charles Sposato, a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards-certified teacher. The 30-year veteran educator had no administrative experience and no interest in becoming a principal, but he had an outstanding reputation among students and colleagues. Goldstein recognized immediately that Sposato was the ideal person to run the new school and persuaded him to join the team.

MATCH opened in September 2000 and now serves 185 students, mostly African-American and Hispanic, selected by lottery and entering as ninth-graders. Its mission is "to prepare inner-city Boston students to succeed in college and beyond—including those who have no family history of college attendance." The school sets high academic and behavioral standards in order to reverse underachievement, and it combines innovation and a "no short-cuts" work ethic to help students meet those expectations. Courage, discipline, and perseverance are the school's core values. As the name suggests, MATCH recognizes the importance of media and technology in society. Yet, it integrates them into a solid college preparatory curriculum grounded in the humanities, math, and science. At the same time, the name serves as a metaphor for igniting the imagination of curious teenagers with a passion to learn.

School Operations and Educational Program

The MATCH high school experience starts with a five-week summer academy for all incoming freshmen. Held at MIT, the focus is on reading, math, and building the school culture. Many students enter the school with deficits in basic skills. Together they "straight forwardly approach these deficits," says Goldstein. During the first two years, teaching focuses on remediation, for students who are several grades behind in math and reading to catch up. The junior and senior years focus on preparing students for college. As Goldstein explains, "Everyone feels the crunch—time is their most precious commodity and there isn't enough." Teachers and students all work hard, devoting hours to the mission of preparing for college. Typically students are at school until 6 p.m., and some as late as 8 p.m., working with tutors and teachers.

Graduation requirements include passing four years of math, science, and English (with passing defined as a grade of 70 or higher, although the local district high schools' passing grade is 65), two years of history, plus two years of foreign language, and two freshman humanities classes at Boston University. All seniors take AP classes in one, two, or three subjects (literature, calculus, biology) and all seniors take undergraduate classes at Boston University. Juniors must take AP U.S. history. Any student who fails more than one class must attend MATCH's summer academy. MATCH has the strictest promotion policy of all Boston high schools. There is no hesitation to hold students back until they can demonstrate proficiency. For extracurricular offerings, students can sign up for basketball, chess club, choir, cross-country running, drama club, hip hop dance, lacrosse, martial arts, newspaper, photography club, poetry club, step team, student council, tennis, and yearbook.

A special feature of this school is the MATCH Corps, whose 45 members—all college graduates—serve as tutors and teaching assistants for a year at the school. Every tutor works one-on-one every day with students from different grade levels, reviewing homework and reinforcing lessons to support their learning. Each tutor stays with the same students for the full year to provide continuity. These college graduates, housed at the school, did well in school themselves. The training for MATCH Corps members begins three weeks before school starts when they observe the MIT summer program. They attend workshops introducing them to the public school landscape, engage in role-playing scenarios, listen to guest speakers, discuss education readings that will help them as tutors, and participate in sessions on logistics and school culture with the principal.

Operating a longer school year of 188 days (compared to 180 days in local district schools), MATCH runs regular classes from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Fridays are "Corps-driven." While teachers meet for professional development, MATCH Corps members facilitate the school program. Students take a morning assessment to see if they mastered the week's lessons, attending an all-school assembly while the assessments are graded. If students pass all their assessments, they can leave after assembly and have an hour of silent reading. Otherwise, they have individual tutorial sessions.

The fact that MATCH is a small school enables students to form strong friendships across grade levels. "The seniors are role models," one sophomore explains. For some, MATCH provided a fresh start. Others explain they wanted an academic push. When the work gets challenging, says one student, "the tutors keep you going. Here it doesn't pay to give up."

Family Involvement and Partnerships

Parents help plan MATCH events, such as appreciation breakfasts for the tutors and fund-raisers for the school. Both tutors and teachers work to keep parents informed. Parents say that unlike their experience at other schools, MATCH teachers return their phone calls promptly. If students have academic or behavioral issues or are failing two or more classes, parents are contacted for a conference. Parents attend a financial aid night and other sessions to learn more about the college process. The school communicates regularly with families, sending a parent newsletter every two weeks, and tutors and parents typically talk three to four times per week. Teachers also call parents frequently.

Parents also have participated in political lobbying for MATCH, and groups of parents have spoken before the Massachusetts legislature on behalf of charter schools in general. The parent advisory council meets monthly. Parents feel their input is seriously considered at MATCH. On Martin Luther King, Jr. day, one parent was concerned that not enough was being done to recognize the importance of King's contribution, so she wrote a statement about courage, perseverance, and discipline that she read to the entire school. She felt empowered that the school was open and receptive to her efforts.

Boston University is MATCH's major partner, allowing rental of its gym next door three times a week and a hall for graduation, allowing seniors to audit for free two regular college classes per semester, and providing work-study tutors for which the university covers 50 percent of the cost. The university's dean of housing advised MATCH regarding dormitory issues when they were designing the MATCH Corps program, whose members live on-site. Other partnerships include the MIT summer program and a variety of work-study programs at nearby colleges (including MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, and University of Massachusetts Boston), which provide students to serve as tutors and mentors. Local businesses, such as those in corporate law, technology, and venture capital, and the Red Sox, have hosted work-site visits for MATCH students. One donor sponsored the basketball team, and another paid for students to participate in athletic programs, such as Metro-Lacrosse, a sports-based character education program in the Boston area.

Governing for Accountability

MATCH is run by a leadership team consisting of the executive director, founding principal, the founder qua research director, academic dean and the MATCH Corps director. Goldstein and the school's executive director, Alan Safran, work closely with the school's board of trustees to develop tight relationships between these 14 trustees and the school. Once a month the school leaders meet with other Boston charter school leaders to discuss common concerns among charter high schools, including issues such as teacher retention and neighborhood safety. They are authorized by the state and receive an annual accountability visit. Last year their charter was renewed until 2010.

MATCH teachers engage in continuous learning. Every Friday, instead of teaching, they first hold one-hour department meetings, sharing strategies and discussing teaching, and then participate in grade-level meetings where discussion is student specific, aimed at troubleshooting and planning. Founding principal Sposato promotes the school's culture, acting as motivator for both teachers and students alike, creating a safe, challenging environment where high expectations are explicit. It is a culture of rituals, he says, not routines. Sposato meets with each class five to six times during the year to listen to students' ideas, demonstrating he is interested, enthusiastic, open, and approachable. His priority is to build a climate of trust with the parents and students. He welcomes disagreement because, he says, "it causes me to reflect. I invite parents to push back so we can have open and sincere dialogue."

MATCH receives $10,815 per student from the state and an additional $700 per student from the Title I program. The school then raises approximately $850,000 to support the rest of the school program. Its core academic costs are $11,500 per student, facility costs per student are $1,800, and residential tutoring costs per student are $3,000, totaling $16,000 per student. The school has a director of development who writes grants and organizes fund-raising efforts. One-third of its budget comes from three outside sources: charitable foundations, trustees, and individual annual fund donors.

Alan Safran, Michael Goldstein, and Charlie Sposato each articulate the advantages of being a charter school as allowing them to offer a longer school day, a longer school year, tutoring on evenings and weekends, a summer program, and an innovative schedule for teachers. Safran also points to the benefit of hiring teachers on year-to-year contracts and being able to expect teachers to "do what it takes to get the work done." The small size of the school allows staff to develop personal relationships with students and their families. And there is time to call home to parents and time to provide individualized academic attention.

In 2000, the school received 204 applications for 80 seats. In 2005, applications climbed to 575 for 70 available slots. Sposato attributes the school's success to its culture of discipline and learning, the rigorous academics, the support provided by the MATCH Corps, and the extended academic program provided with tutoring.

MATCH: Evidence of Closing the Achievement Gap

Before coming to MATCH in 2002, only one of its students had scored in the top two levels, proficient and advanced, on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) math test. After two years at the school, this student and 71 percent of her classmates scored proficient or advanced in math, a higher percentage than that of most suburban districts in Massachusetts.

For three years in a row, all MATCH students have scored as proficient or advanced on the MCAS. In 2005, the school ranked fourth among Massachusetts' 338 high schools in the math section and 18th in the English section for the percentage of students scoring in the top two levels on the MCAS.

By June 2006, MATCH had graduated three classes and every student from the classes of 2004, 2005, and 2006 was accepted for admission by a four-year college or university (an average of three acceptances per student), including Boston College, Brown, Duke, Georgetown, Hofstra, Howard, Northeastern, Spelman College, and Trinity College.

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Last Modified: 11/18/2009