More educating with less money

Orange County Register, March 27, 2009
Flash Report, March 29, 2009
CA Forward, March 27, 2009

Award-winning charter schools show public schools how to succeed.

The Oakland Charter Academy 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. Schools statewide have good reason to take note, especially in tough economic times.

“These exemplary charter schools should be studied and their best practices replicated in the broader public school system,” said Jed Wallace, CCSA president and CEO. The winners’ results back him up, particularly those of the Oakland Charter Academy.

The Academic Performance Indicator for OCA is 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,” says Jorge Lopez, principal and executive director of OCA. Most impressive, this charter school succeeded despite receiving thousands of dollars less per student compared with average California public school funding.

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. Yet, the return on investment is higher than the average public school. Consider the Orange Unified School District. It received $9,544 per student and earned a 777 API with a less-challenging student population.

Ninety-five percent of the students at OCA are from low-income families. The OUSD serves 38 percent low-income children. OCA students achieved 75 percent proficiency in reading on the California Standards Test. Fifty-six percent of OUSD students scored proficient in reading.

Other nearby districts also raise questions about the return on taxpayers’ investment.

Garden Grove Unified receives $10,921 per student and 47 percent of all students pass reading. In Laguna Beach Unified, which spends $14,694 per student, 6 percent of whom are low income, 55 percent of all students show proficiency in reading.

Grade-level test results give a clearer picture of individual student progress. Eighty-five percent of Oakland Charter seventh-graders scored proficient in math, with 37 percent of them scoring at an advanced level. At Cerro Villa Middle School in Villa Park, for example, 52 percent of seventh-graders show math proficiency. At Santiago Middle School in Orange, 41 percent of seventh-graders tested proficient in math.

Orange County educators should investigate what accounts for OCA’s success. Financial flexibility, high expectations and a rigorous standards-based curriculum, have contributed to this charter school’s rapid improvement. Its Web site states OCA does not “tolerate foolishness or educational fads.” OCA also believes that “school is a task, not entertainment” and expects students to take responsibility for their actions.

“I didn’t even think I was going to finish high school, to tell you the truth, and I was in seventh grade,” says Karely Ordaz, a former Oakland Charter Academy student. Principal Jorge Lopez, Ordaz said, “made me want to go to college and move on and be somebody and make money.”

Oakland Charter Academy manages to achieve high scores with a smaller budget than most other public schools. The real difference between charter schools like OCA and their public-school counterparts isn’t money, it’s motivation. Charter schools have to perform or risk losing students to schools that will. Unlike their government-funded counterparts, charter schools do not have a trapped audience. Giving students the right of exit, regardless of income or address, from schools that don’t work for them is the real key to unlocking all students’ full academic potential.

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.

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