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OFF THE PLATE: NOVEMBER 2008

California Charter Schools: Worth Their Salt

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(Nov. 30, 2008)—Results from the 2008 Academic Performance Index might prove to be good news on a number of levels for California charter schools.

Earlier this month, the California Association of Charter Schools analyzed the 2008 Academic Performance Index and found 12 of the 15 highest performing public in California serving children in poverty are charter schools. Relevant schools are those with at least 70% of its student body qualifying for the federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch program.

Rocky road. But worth it.

The first charter school opened in 1992 in St. Paul, Minn. after the state passed a law to enhance school system improvements and expand an existing program of public school choice. Since then, the charter school program has expanded to 4,500 schools in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

Emphasizing choice, accountability and freedom, charter schools have not always been met with open arms. They serve about 1.3 million children across the country but, on the road to achieving this growth, faced backlash from local school boards, state education agencies and unions. Teachers have protested the idea, concerned charter schools might leech money from desperately needed funding for regular schools.

Looking golden for California charters.

Despite the backlash, the 40 states mentioned above managed to enact laws to support charter schools and now the 2008 Index proves their effectiveness in educating multicultural students from low-income brackets in California. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Mitchell Landsberg reported:

  • The highest API score —967—was earned by American Indian Public Charter, a middle school in Oakland whose students are primarily Asian, black and Latino, and have a poverty rate of 98%. It was followed by its sibling, American Indian Public High School, with a score of 958
  • The fifth-highest ranked school was another Oakland middle school run by the same organization, which began with a Native American theme. American Indian Public Charter II had an API of 917. The API, which ranges from 200 to a perfect score of 1,000, is a gauge of student performance
  • American Indian Public Charter ranks fifth among all middle schools in California, with the top four serving more affluent student bodies

The three AIPC schools were accompanied by two other schools in the top five of the Index, Global Education Academy in Los Angeles and Oakland Charter High in Alameda. The association says California's highest-performing public elementary, middle and high schools are all charter schools as are seven of the eight highest-performing public middle and high schools.

Good news with a new presidential administration?

Charter schools evolve from the individual states where laws must exist to allow for their development and implementation. The federal government plays an important role since education in the U.S. "remains the primary responsibility of state and local governments," says U.S. Charter Schools. When Barack Obama and Joseph Biden were on the campaign trail, they talked about their support for charter schools. More in-depth was the Obama-Biden outline of how they would approach education issues if elected. From barackobama.com:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will [provide] double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools.

An Obama-Biden administration will provide this expanded charter school funding only to states that improve accountability for charter schools, allow for interventions in struggling charter schools and have a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools.

An Obama-Biden administration will also prioritize supporting states that help the most successful charter schools to expand to serve more students.

If the President- and Vice President-elect pursue the above ideas for education reform, California charter schools are no doubt in an attractive position for survival and future growth.

To learn more or take action:

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