Charter schools can bridge LAUSD’s achievement gap

With a new NFL stadium in Inglewood in the works, the region’s upcoming economic revitalization should be accompanied by a renewed interested in its education system. More specifically, Los Angeles Unified School District has the opportunity to develop innovative, district-run charter schools to combat a weak public education system. For a large district like LAUSD, charter schools can facilitate a shift toward a performance-based system and provide competition within the public school system, ultimately creating a higher quality educational environment.

Charter schools encourage the development and use of innovative teaching methods, create professional development programs for teachers to continue their education and increase learning opportunities for all pupils. Moreover, these institutions are better able to hold schools accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes by implementing  performance-based accountability. Not only do students within these schools benefit, but charter schools provide competition within the public school system in order to contribute to improvements in all public schools within the district.

A recent study from the National Charter School Study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that charter schools benefit minorities and poor families the most. The study notes that “black students gained the equivalent of 14 days of learning by attending charter schools but that black students living in poverty saw even greater benefits, the equivalent of 29 days in reading and 36 days in math.” In addition, though Hispanics attending charter schools scored similar to Hispanics in traditional public schools on state exams, Hispanic English-Language learners saw even higher gains. Given that Los Angeles County has 65 percent enrollment of Hispanic students in school, and 33 percent of students in school are English-Language learners, charter schools can bring much-needed help to minority students who might otherwise fall behind in a traditional public school. By reaching high-need students, charter schools can also bridge the social and wealth equity gaps found in underserved minority communities.

Opponents of charter schools argue that they take away the best students from the traditional public schools, reduce resources for such schools and provide no real student improvement. However, under AB 544, charter schools are required to admit all pupils like public schools do, and when demand exceeds capacity, select students by random drawing. The only exception is that preferences be given to students already at the charter school, which allows pupils and families to stay at one school until graduation.

Consequently, according to research conducted by the RAND Corporation, random selection of students ensures that charter schools do not skim high-achieving students away from traditional public schools. Moreover, charter schools do not reduce resources for traditional public schools. Under AB 544, they only receive funding that would be available to a similar school district serving a similar pupil population. Finally, according to the National Charter School Study by Stanford University, charter school students surpass those in regular public schools in reading gains, though they have similar scores in math.

Many charter school opponents  do not fully realize the huge benefits they could bring to LAUSD. Even the District itself has come to understand that “charter schools are valuable partners and viable choices among the District’s robust set of educational options, and they are an integral method of achieving its [the District’s] vision and mission.”

Charter schools give individual schools more freedom over curriculum and instruction, which allow them to better serve specific communities like gifted students or low-income families. Furthemore, they have the independence to try new forms of teaching to experiment with the best way educate to their students, which increases the amount of students they attract. This freedom, in turn, creates accountability  because charter schools must attract students and successfully teach them in order to be sustainable.

Not only will charter schools help underserved communities within Los Angeles County, but they also will create greater accountability for other traditional public schools in South Los Angeles, closing the achievement gap for even more students. LAUSD stands to benefit from expanding charter schools within the district, creating a truly sustainable force of economic growth.