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.