Lessons from California’s Charter Schools of the Year

The Oakland Charter Academy in northern California and the Our Community Charter School in the San Fernando Valley have won the Hart Vision “Charter School of the Year” award from the California Charter Schools Association.

“These exemplary charter schools should be studied and their best practices replicated in the broader public school system,” said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the association.

The associations’s Hart Vision Award is given each year in honor of former state Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara) for his 1993 charter school legislation. Since then the state has added nearly 100 charter schools annually.

Academic Success

The Academic Performance Indicator (API), a measurement of a school’s success administered by the California Department of Education, for the Oakland Charter Academy this year was 902, easily surpassing the statewide goal of 800 out of 1,000. Within five years the charter rose from an API of 736 to 902.

“The API is a good indicator after you pass 800 because the students have to work very hard to maintain it,” said Jorge Lopez, executive director of Oakland Charter Academy and a recent appointee to the California Board of Education.

The Our Community Charter School in Los Angeles County achieved a 119 point jump on the API in just two years. For the 2007-08 school year the school earned an API score of 833.

“Both of these schools prove that through hard work and determination, public schools can successfully close the achievement gap,” said Wallace.

Motivation, Not Money

The schools succeeded despite receiving thousands of dollars less per student than the California public school funding average. The Oakland Charter Academy, for example, earned the 902 API score while receiving $7,211 per student—nearly $4,366 below the state average of $11,547.

“As a charter school, we have complete local control here in how we use our budget,” said Chris Ferris, principal of Our Community. “Having complete control, we are able to make innovative decisions. I think charter schools are where the most innovative and passionate teaching is in California.”

Elsewhere in California, the Berkeley Unified school district receives nearly $17,000 per student, yet only 56 percent of its students pass reading. Oakland Unified receives close to $12,000 per student with an API score of 674, and just 24 percent of its fourth graders are proficient in reading.

Burbank Unified, just north of Los Angeles, receives a little more than $11,000 per student, and only 6 percent of its students are low income—but the district earned an API score of 788, nearly 45 points behind Our Community, where 30 percent of the students are low-income. Our Community’s overall API was 833, and the score for Latino students alone was 822.

Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a policy fellow in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.

For more information …

“A Longitudinal Analysis of Charter School Performance in Oakland Unified School District: A District and Neighborhood Matched Comparison Analysis,” California Charter School Association, January 2009: https://www.myschool.org/AM/ContentManagerNet/ContentDisplay.aspx?ContentFileID=1307&Section=Press_Kit_OUSD_Report&NoTemplate=1

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top