Advocates for charters schools like to talk about their unwavering commitment to student success, parental choice and the benefits of privatization, but their main argument for charter schools is that with their "no excuses" approach they can do a better job than public schools educating inner-city minority youth.
In 2009, the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a Public School Choice Motion that expanded the number of charter schools in the district.
While in my Huffington Post blogs I frequently complain about both charter schools and the way high-stakes testing is perverting education in the United States, sometimes the data the tests produce can be useful. So to answer the question "Do Charter Schools Really Do Better?" let's look at some test score numbers from Los Angeles.
On SAT exams administered to high school juniors 2400 is the maximum possible score. A score of 1500 is considered the minimum threshold signifying college readiness. Top colleges demand much more. In 2013, 2052 was the average SAT grade for freshmen accepted into UCLA.
The Los Angeles Times published a list of the average SAT scores at the 100 lowest performing high schools in Los Angeles County. Eight of the ten worst performing schools, including one that has already been closed, are charter schools. This includes the Animo Locke Charter High School #1 operated by the Green Dot Corporate Charter Schools chain whose founder, Steve Barr wants to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017 based on his record of educational "success." Green Dot also operates four other charter high schools among the bottom twenty SAT performers and a total of nine schools in the bottom fifty.
Critics have long charged that the SAT primarily measures the socio-economic status of students, a charge the College Board, which operates the SAT refutes. However Los Angles high school SAT test scores seem to confirm what critics are saying. In each of the ten worst performing schools, the student population is more than 90% Latino and Black and in some cases it is 100%. The number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch at these schools, a major indicator of poverty level, ranges from 84% to 99%. In some of the schools the number of English Language Learners approaches 50% of the student population.
Despite bad performance, Los Angeles charter schools also seem to be free to ignore the rights of parents and children. The Granada Hills Charter High School has been reprimanded by the Los Angeles Unified School District Charter Schools Division for improperly charging students $60 cap and gown fees for graduation ceremonies and violating parent rights to opt children out of standardized testing by making the tests a requirement for participation in extra-curricular activities including athletic teams. The school's Parent-Student Handbook states "All students must participate fully in California CAASPP and Granada Testing in their 9th, 10th and 11th grade year to be eligible to participate in optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics. Students who clearly disregard the test as determined by the testing coordinator or test proctor will be regarded as having refused to comply with the testing requirement and will be subject to loss of senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics.
Granada Hills Charter is one of the largest and highest performing charter schools in California and the United States. It is also a school with a White or Asian student majority, relatively fewer economically disadvantaged students, and almost no English Language Learners.
The reality is that despite their claims, charter schools cannot perform educational miracles. At least in Los Angeles, it is not even clear they serve inner-city minority youth as well as public schools do.
More Charter Blues/News
Also in California: The Tri-Valley Learning Corporation operates four California charter schools, two in Livermore and two in Stockton. Livermore and Stockton are both east of San Francisco. Tri-Valley claims to "use innovation in education research, to design, create and operate world-class, exemplary charter schools that encourage and enable every student to reach his or her full potential as a scholar, a citizen and a life-long learner." But the New Jerusalem Elementary School district serving Livermore is not that happy with the way it operates its schools. In April 2016, the District's governing board sent Tri-Valley official notification that unless it corrected the way it operated its tow charter schools in Livermore, the District would revoke its charter. In the letter to Tri-Valley, New Jerusalem charged, "TVLC has failed to meet generally accepted accounting principles, engaged in fiscal mismanagement, and violated provisions of law." It gave Tri-Valley until May 8 to respond. The District also suspects Tri-Valley of a conflict of interest because it shares one of its public facilities with a private charter school with ties to its former CEO. The chain of charter schools also faces accusations of charging illegal tuition fees to foreign students and of owing $208,000 to a local community college for a "teacher fee" and $90,000 to the city of Livermore in back taxes.
Meanwhile in North Carolina: On April 26, the Attorney General of North Carolina filed a suit against the now defunct Kinston Charter Academy. The suit charges the company and its officers with financial mismanagement and requests that the assets of the principal officers be frozen. Legal officials also demanded the charter company repay North Carolina $600,000 in misappropriated state funds plus damages and civil penalties. According to the papers filed with the court, charter school management used public funds for themselves, inflated the number of students enrolled in order to receive additional tax dollars, misled prospective students, and failed to disclose information to parents.