California's top schools for poor kids are charters

Of the 15 top-scoring public schools educating low-income students, 15 are charters, concludes a survey by the California Charter Schools Association.

The looked at Academic Performance Index scores for schools where at least 70 percent of children qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

Of more than 3,000 public schools statewide that fit that description, 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.

. . . Ben Chavis, who took over American Indian Public Charter in 2001, when it was struggling academically and in danger of losing its charter, said there was no mystery to his schools’ success. It begins, he said, with at least 90 minutes a day of math and English, and a no-nonsense approach.

“These poor kids are doing well because we practice math and language arts,” he said. “That’s it. It’s simple.”

I’ve visited one of the top-scoring schools, KIPP Heartwood middle school (903) in San Jose. Critics say that motivated students apply. Well, that’s true now that it’s posted years of sky-high test scores, but I did a story for the Christian Science Monitor when the principal was recruiting students for the first fifth-grade class. These were not successful students. Delia, the girl in the story, had trouble reading; her older sisters were lackluster students. The parents had a few years of elementary school in Mexico.

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  1. Educated Guess recently had a blog about a study of the charter schools which claimed to show that students were not being “cherry picked”. This was supposedly true for students that stayed in the charter schools long term as well, which was a significant clarification as the schools had high turnover rates (public schools can also have high turnover rates). These claims were based on the prior and current academic success of the students and not on the behavioral success of the students. So I suppose its always possible that a significant part of these Charter’s success could be coming from eliminating the most disruptive students (ala Joe Clark as portrayed in Lean on Me withtout the baseball bat of course). And of course there is always the problem of scale as the staffs at these schools also seemed exceptional and also had high turnover (Once again high turnover of educators is common in public schools as well.) But what’s wrong with localized success, we don’t seem to be bothered about it when it comes to elite neighborhoods. Why should affording the right geography be the only way to get an advantage. So my opinion is let the charter movement grow as large as it can.

  2. As I’ve posted before, the “cherry-picking” charge doesn’t pass the smell test.

    It would require that the parents of kids who are doing well in the district schools – those unfortunately named “cherries” – are being pulled out of the schools in which they are doing well to be put in, usually newer, usually less-well provisioned schools that are less convenient.

    That doesn’t make a lick of sense and, in fact, it’s the opposite, kids who are having problems, who are more likely to show up at a charter.

    But then defense of the status quo is rarely circumscribed by what makes sense.


  1. […] of the top-performing 15 schools in California that serve low-income students are charter schools (H/T Joanne Jacobs). Nearly all of […]

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