First in the Nation: 25 Years of Autonomy and Innovation in Boston Public Schools

This study marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of autonomous schools in Boston. The Pilot School agreement between the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent, School Committee, Mayor and the Boston Teachers Union, signed in 1994, was the first district—teacher union agreement to create in-district autonomous schools in the nation.

The first pilot schools opened soon after, and today there is a network of 32 autonomous schools, including pilot, Horace Mann charter and Innovation schools that are a popular choice among families and enroll a quarter of all BPS students.

To commemorate this anniversary, the Center for Collaborative Education, a long-time supporter of school autonomy, with support from the Boston Foundation, invited current and former autonomous school leaders, teachers, and district leaders to reflect on the evolution of autonomous schools in Boston, including how schools make use of available autonomies, the challenges they face in doing so, and the impact on the district of having a critical mass of autonomous in-district schools.

We also review publicly available data on student outcomes to give a snapshot of how students in autonomous schools fare compared with students in other district schools. Several important takeaways and recommendations emerged from this reflection, which point to the important legacy and future of autonomous schools in Boston.