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Judy Burton Headshot

Scaling Up Education Reform

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This past week, over 1,200 people crowded into the Los Angeles Convention Center to attend the United Way Education Summit. At that summit, they heard from business leaders, nonprofit heads, Los Angeles' leading Mayoral candidates, our current Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and two of the country's leading education-oriented Mayors, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. As someone who has been involved in education going on three decades, I am heartened to see such a broad array of people working to improve education -- we couldn't have filled a room half that big just 10 years ago.

While there are always a wide variety of opinions on the best ways to improve education, a few consistent themes emerged from the day: a student's zip code shouldn't determine the quality of their education, parents deserve quality options for their children, we must elevate the teaching profession, and accountability should be both real and fair. However, the question that many of the panelists struggled with was "how do we take isolated examples of success to scale?" Or, as Mayor Booker asked, how do we get beyond islands of excellence?

The good news is, we don't have to wait to see how a high functioning system of public schools can consistently excel academically, while using only the limited per pupil revenue available via public funding. The Alliance College Ready Public Schools is doing just that. While getting even a single school to excel is challenging, the Alliance is proving that a system of public schools serving low-income, high-need students cannot only be successful, but truly exceptional.

For instance: Of incoming Alliance ninth graders, 92 percent graduate four years later (vs. 65 percent for LAUSD), and 95 percent of those graduates go on to college. 100 percent of our graduates have taken and passed the A-G college prep courses required to enter a four year university. According to our analysis, our schools significantly outperform neighborhood schools on standardized test results. Finally, our students are high need: 93 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 99 percent are students of color. In short, we're proving that all students can learn, graduate, and be college ready.

But these aren't just a few isolated schools working miracles. We operate 21 schools serving 9,500 students -- as a freestanding School District, we would have more students than 75 percent of California's school systems, including Berkeley, Paso Robles, and Redondo Beach. And we do not use extra money not available to traditional public schools -- after four years of operation, our schools are completely self-sufficient, operating only on public per pupil revenue. In fact, charters on average receive seven percent less funding than traditional schools, making our results that much more impressive.

Mayor Booker perhaps put it best at the summit: we know what works -- it's only a question of whether we have the will to do what it takes. At Alliance, we know what it takes and we are getting it done. We have found a way to be consistently excellent, using a replicable model that is financially sustainable. We encourage you to come see for yourself. Visit us at, or call 213-943-4930. Scaling up academic success isn't a far off dream -- at Alliance, we're proving that exceptional can be the rule.