Sacramento Union, March 14, 2008
The California Charter Schools Association held its 15th Annual Meeting in Sacramento in early March. More than 2,000 charter teachers, principals and leaders from across California and the country attended. The conference came on the heels of the election of Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, as the 67th Speaker of the Assembly.
Bass will succeed Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, who lost his bid to extend his term past 2008 when voters rejected Proposition 93 last month. Bass’ home district, as it happens, is a prime example of the pressing need for expanding public charter school opportunities for California families.
The Inner City Education Foundation was founded in 1994 to create top-rate educational opportunities for minority youth in the Los Angeles community so all of its students can succeed academically at leading colleges and universities across the state and the nation. ICEF now operates nine charter schools, four of which opened this fall. It is clear that the foundation is fulfilling its mission.
In Los Angeles, 12 out of 13 of ninth graders never receive a college diploma. At ICEF’s flagship charter school View Park Preparatory High School, which enrolls all African-American students, 100 percent of its first graduating class headed off to college last fall. Every graduate tested eligible to attend University of California or California State University schools.
At a time when far too many California children are more likely to become a dropout statistic than a success story, state elected officials should be eager to replicate ICEF’s achievement. Last fall, however, Speaker Nunez spearheaded efforts to slash facilities funding for charter schools like the ones operated by ICEF that serve high-poverty students.
That drove hundreds of charter parents and teachers to protest at an August rally in Speaker Nunez’s own district. He backed down, and since then demand for high-quality public school options in California has intensified. Given the superior performance of charter schools, it’s easy to see why.
Statewide, at every grade level and for every student sub-group, more charter schools than comparable district-run schools met state-mandated Academic Performance Index growth targets in 2007, 62 percent compared to 48 percent. African-American students in charter schools achieve higher median API growth scores than non-charter schools across all grade levels: 23 points higher overall growing to a staggering 76-point advantage in middle school and finishing with a 37-point advantage in high school. Hispanic students in charter schools begin with an API growth deficit in the elementary grades, but demonstrate a 54-point advantage in middle school and finish high school with a nine-point achievement growth advantage.
Today, one out of every 15 California public schools, nearly 700, is an independently operated charter school. A record-setting 90 new charter schools statewide opened this year. With 37 charter schools, Sacramento County has the fourth highest number of charters in the state, five of which opened for the first time this school year. The Sacramento City Unified District is also the fifth-largest charter school authorizer statewide with 12 charter schools in operation. But growing demand far outpaces supply.
At ICEF charter schools alone, the waiting list swelled to 6,000 at the start of the current school year, up from 5,000 in the previous school year. All California children deserve access to a high-quality education. When it comes to improving education options, hopefully, Karen Bass will show better leadership than her predecessor.