Oakland Charter Schools “Do What Works,” and Outperform Their Peers

Charter School Business – Providence Financial, Inc., March 1, 2009
President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have stated their support for strong, successful charter schools in the United States. In fact, the new motto for the U.S. Department of Education is “Do what works.” The president and his administration should consider results from California as a model of what is working for inner-city schools.

The California Charter School Association recently released A Longitudinal Analysis of Charter School Performance in Oakland Unified School District, a study based on the Academic Performance Index (API), and the results of charter schools compared to traditional public schools. Every school in California calculates API by averaging the results of the students’ test scores. Schools are working to achieve a score of 800 by 2014 and until then there is a target API to reach each year. The study finds that over the last three years charter schools in Oakland have outperformed those traditional public schools with matching student demographics.

The scores for both traditional and charter school have risen since 2006. The median API for Oakland Unified School District charter schools has increased 78 points compared to Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) traditional public schools increase of six points from 2006-2008. Specifically, in 2008 the API score for Oakland charters was 735 while Oakland traditional schools logged 656. Oakland charter middle schools were able to achieve a median 2008 API score of 836. The most notable component of the study is not only the strong improvements but the demographic similarities of the compared schools—proving that achievement is not a matter of wealth and heritage.

Oakland Unified serves close to 39,000 students with 34 percent Latino and 36 percent African-American. In 2007-2008 Oakland Unified has 33 charter schools serving 7,552 students –51 percent Latino and 35 percent African-American. On average, Oakland charters have 75 percent or more of their student on the free or reduced lunch program. Comparatively, traditional schools have between 40 to 50 percent of students who qualify for the lunch program.

The study used Geographical Information Systems software to map out the district’s school and their demography, in order to insure a matched comparison on the neighborhood level. The rate of improvement the charter schools were able to achieve is a clear indicator of the academic possibilities of students despite demographics.

Oakland Unified Charters, even with a larger percentage of English language learners, had a mean API score of 657 in 2006 and by 2008 sky-rocketed to 735. Oakland’s traditional counterparts – with a higher percentage of Caucasian and Asian students – had an API score of 650 in 2006 that barely increased to 656 in 2008. Overall in Oakland, 69 percent of the charter schools evaluated in the study outperformed similar traditional schools.

It has been 15 years since charter schools were introduced in American education, and still only 41 states have laws providing for charters to exist. The new administration should encourage the development of charter laws in these states.

Some states imposed restrictive caps on the number of charter schools. The President and his Department of Education should campaign for the removal of those caps. In California there have been nearly 100 charter schools added every year— and they continue to prove the importance of giving parents choice and freedom in their children’s education.

President Obama has talked many times of the importance of parental involvement in reforming our nation’s schools. One way to begin is to give parents more options and responsibility in choosing their children’s school instead of assigning them by government agencies.

The best way to achieve that goal is through full parental choice in education. Charter schools, however, also expand the choices available to parents, and they are “doing what works” to improve student achievement. President Obama should take note of Oakland’s charter school achievements and encourage the growth of charters nationwide.

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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