Charter Students Outperforming Their Public School Counterparts in California

Published September 1, 2008

Charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) outperform traditional public schools on nearly every student achievement measure, according to a new study from the California Charter School Association.

The study, Charter School Performance in Los Angeles Unified School District: A District and Neighborhood Matched Comparison Analysis, compared charter schools with similar district-run schools. More than 70 percent of charters beat their better-funded district counterparts on growth in California’s Academic Performance Index (API).

The study also found charters improve as they age. Young charters increase their API at nearly double the rate of traditional schools, while mature charters maintain a 105-point API advantage over their district rivals, the study noted. The report, released in June, confirms what other studies across the nation have shown.

“Just give charter schools the slightest amount of time and support, and charters can improve student achievement,” said California Charter Schools Association spokesman Gary Larson.

Rollercoaster History

Since passage of the California Charter Schools Act in 1992, nowhere have charter schools flourished more than Los Angeles, where 125 charters now serve 41,000 students. Los Angeles boasts the largest charter movement in the state and the seventh largest in the nation. Only Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas have more charter students statewide than Los Angeles has in its county.

Union bosses and district officials have fought the reform every step of the way. As a result, “charters are typically underfunded by $3,000 per student per year compared to traditional public schools,” Larson said.

For eight years, LAUSD openly flouted Proposition 39, which required the district to lease facilities to eligible charter schools. But in February, a court order forced the district to offer space on existing school campuses to a fraction of accepted charters. When United Teachers Los Angeles complained, the district rescinded seven offers, leaving those charters without facilities.

Parents Support Charters

In response to this and other cases of obstruction, thousands of parents took to the streets of Los Angeles this summer to protest and form “Families that Can,” the first-ever statewide advocacy organization for charter school families.

“School districts throughout California are mistreating our children, suffocating the growth of charter schools, and offering inadequate facilities and disproportionate funding,” said founding parent Corri Ravare.

“Through Families that Can, our families will fight unfair moves by school districts such as Los Angeles Unified and will demand equal education, equal treatment, and equal resources for our kids,” Ravare said.

Opponents Persistent

This year, legislators introduced a record five school choice bills in the California State Assembly. (See “School Choice Bills Fall Short in California,” page XX.) Opponents of choice killed those measures in committee, but their introduction indicates a growing awareness of the increasing demand for choice in the state.

“Charter schools are one more choice for public school parents,” said Caprice Young, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. “People ask what choice is better–this report proves that charter schools are better.”

Most district officials refrain from embracing choice, choosing instead to focus on how traditional schools can learn from charters.

“I think what it says is that they have some of the best practices, and those should be replicated across the district in all schools,” said LAUSD Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines. “I would say the same about islands of excellence in the Unified district. We need to learn from each other.”

Choice supporters continue to push for change, however.

“We’re hoping that in the future, L.A. Unified and the state will have more charter-friendly policies,” Young said. “This is just the beginning.”

Ian Randolph ([email protected]) writes from San Francisco.

For more information …

Charter School Performance in Los Angeles Unified School District: A District and Neighborhood Matched Comparison Analysis, California Charter School Association, June 2008: