California charters do more for needier students

California charter schools are improving student achievement at a faster rate than traditional public schools, writes Caprice Young, former Los Angeles school board president and now head of the California Charter Schools Asssociation.

A recent report by the American Federation of Teachers, prominently covered in The New York Times, attempted to show that nationwide, charter school performance is lagging behind that of regular public schools. But the AFT’s own numbers actually show that California’s charter schools are doing better in reading as well as in math than the broader public school system. And that’s before adjusting for demographics.

These achievement gains have come even while California’s charter schools are educating a higher percentage of lower-income students and those with learning problems than regular public schools. When a new charter school opens, it’s not the satisfied parents that enroll their children into another option. It’s the parents whose children are being shortchanged who find charter schools so attractive.

To compete with charters, some urban school districts are loosening red tape, giving teachers more flexibility and dividing large, impersonal schools into smaller schools.

In San Francisco, where 10 percent of high school students are enrolled in charter high schools, the school district responded by creating its “Dream Schools” program. The innovative program gives three of the district’s lowest-performing public schools some of the attributes of its charter schools, including more site-based control for their teaching staffs, longer school days and a more rigorous college-prep curriculum.

This fall, San Diego Unified is following the lead of High Tech High and the Preuss charter schools by boldly converting three of its larger public schools into more than a dozen “charter-like” academies.

Compared to other states, California has more charter schools that have been in existence for more than two or three years; it takes time to work the bugs out.

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  1. I heard once that French schools for bright, well, behaved children are very large and have a large class size. The poor schools are more nurturing, and engaging. It makes sense although, I’ve never followed up on it.

    As a child I was allowed to attend a goverment funded experimental high school that appeared to have unlimited funds. They had their own planetarium, we took classes in archery, and every subject had it’s own library. Some of the classes were very large (100 kids), but lab classes were usually small. There was also a great deal of time for independent study and lots of free time. The grade levels were obsured because children advanced at their own rate. Most children did very well there; I certainly excelled. I attribute that to the years of disciplined exercise I was accustom to. Small children who are well disciplined tend to use that training as an opportunity to explore their identity and challenge authority as teenagers. I wonder if our current academic institutions are prepared for that.