Viewpoint: Charter Expansion Key to Winning Tech Talent

Aug 5, 2016Boston Business Journal, Council in the News

By Christopher Anderson, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council

The high quality of Massachusetts’ workforce, with the highest percentage of bachelor’s degrees of any state and one of the nation’s highest ratios of tech employment to total employment, is well-documented.  Less well-known, however, is that Massachusetts remains one of the most difficult places to hire technology talent, according to the Massachusetts Technology, Talent and Economic Reporting System.  The reason: demand for talent is far outstripping supply. If Massachusetts can’t meet the growing demand for talent our tech employers need, our prospects for economic expansion could be threatened as jobs that would otherwise be created here are placed in other states.

To ensure the commonwealth’s tech employers can access a sufficient supply of skilled workers, it’s crucial that we optimize every potential source of talent.  Our state’s public schools which, on the whole, are among the best in the nation remain our primary source of opportunity.  Unfortunately, access to excellent schools in Massachusetts remains uneven and unequal.  According to data from Great Schools Massachusetts, some 250,000 children in the commonwealth are at serious risk of landing in a failing school.

A key component to expanding access to quality education and improving our entire public school system lies in a robust community of impactful, innovative public charter schools.  For 20 years, Massachusetts public charter schools have unlocked educational and economic opportunities for thousands of children and have been a driver of innovation and healthy competition across the public education landscape.  Massachusetts must do everything we can to help them succeed and to expand their availability to any student who seeks that opportunity.

On its face, one might think that the expansion of public charters would do little to move the tech workforce needle.  After all, public charter schools account for just 4 percent of public education funding in Massachusetts.  But make no mistake: this small cohort of schools has had an outsized positive impact on students.  Studies by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter students gain 1.5 more months of learning per year in reading and 2.5 more months of learning per year in math compared to district school students.  In Boston’s charter schools, where longer school days can add up to 48 additional days of instruction per year, students learn at twice the rate of their non-charter peers.  At a time when tech employers across the commonwealth are desperate for talent with the STEM and other career readiness skills, this progress is not only impressive but also essential.

The talent supply-demand imbalance is a significant and ongoing challenge for local employers.  But there is also a flip side to this challenge: enormous opportunity for Massachusetts residents.  Individuals who possess skills that are in high demand among tech employers can “write their own ticket.”

And charters play a critical role in making that possible. Indeed, show me a 6th grader in a failing school today, and assess what real opportunity for success that child has.  Now fast forward 10 years, and show me that child with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from UMass Lowell or data science from WPI, and I will show you a young adult with a boundless future.

Today, nearly 33,000 students are stuck on charter waiting lists due to state limits on enrollment.  Over the past five years, repeated efforts to raise the cap on charter schools through legislative action have failed.

That brings us to the ballot question this November.  Expanding access to public charter schools with a yes vote on Question 2 this fall will be an important step toward realizing our potential to be the most attractive place to live and work in the world. The time to act is now.

The talent supply-demand imbalance is a significant and ongoing challenge for local employers.  But there is also a flip side to this challenge: enormous opportunity for Massachusetts residents.  Individuals who possess skills that are in high demand among tech employers can “write their own ticket.”

And charters play a critical role in making that possible.  Indeed, show me a 6th grader in a failing school today, and assess what real opportunity for success that child has.  Now fast forward 10 years, and show me that child with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from UMass Lowell or data science from WPI, and I will show you a young adult with a boundless future.

Today, nearly 33,000 students are stuck on charter waiting lists due to state limits on enrollment.  Over the past five years, repeated efforts to raise the cap on charter schools through legislative action have failed.

That brings us to the ballot question this November.  Expanding access to public charter schools with a yes vote on Question 2 this fall will be an important step toward realizing our potential to be the most attractive place to live and work in the world. The time to act is now.

Leaders of Massachusetts’ Innovation Economy

Leaders of Massachusetts’ innovation economy have much to accomplish in the next few years.

The Council distinguishes itself by specializing in complex, multi-year public policy strategies in support of conditions that protect and enhance the resiliency and long-term strength of the Massachusetts economy.

Learn more, contact Chris Anderson.

SEND EMAIL