In February 2016, proponents of charter school expansion in Massachusetts were optimistic. A ballot initiative that could put the issue to voters in November was up by 28 points in the polls, a national advocacy group had declared that it would spend record sums of money to ensure victory, and Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes had released a report showing that Boston’s charter schools were the best in the country.

Nine months later, the ballot box proved that...


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