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Educational options

By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / July 11, 2011

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Here is a look at the types of semiautonomous public schools and how the concept has evolved.

Independent charter schools

Created under the 1993 Education Reform Act, 56 charter schools operate independently of local school districts, and all but two employ nonunionized teachers. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has sole authority to decide whether a charter school should open. Six more will open this fall across the state.

Pilot schools

In 1994, Boston began creating semiautonomous pilot schools to compete with charter schools. The schools, overseen by their own board of directors, can deviate from central office mandates regarding curriculum, budgeting, and staffing. The teachers belong to a union but often work on scaled-back contract provisions. Opening these schools requires final approval from the School Committee and the teachers union. About two dozen are in operation.

In-district charter schools

In 1997, based on the success of Boston’s pilot schools, state law was amended to allow districts to operate their own charter schools, which enjoy similar autonomy as pilot schools regarding central office mandates and teacher contract rules. Opening in-district charter schools, which are officially known as Horace Mann Charter Schools, requires final approvals from a local school committee and the state education department, and in some cases, the teachers union. The schools did not prove popular; only seven are in operation, but three new ones will open in September.

Innovation schools

In 2010, a sweeping education overhaul law called for the creation of innovation schools, which share similar freedoms with Boston’s pilot schools and in-district charter schools. Innovation schools require only a final vote from the local school committee. Faculty of an school converting into an innovation school must approve the change. Three schools opened this past school year, while about two dozen more are expected to start up over the next two years.