THE BLOG

Charter School Results Set High Bar for Public Schools

08/29/2013 09:18 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2013

KIPP Empower Academy hasn't been around for very long but it has already made a name for itself.

Only three years after opening its doors in South Los Angeles, the elementary school has topped the Los Angeles Unified School District ranks for student achievement and placed 10th in the entire state, according to California's Academic Performance Index, or API, released today. The results prove that strong charter management organizations like KIPP get results -- and should be granted the necessary facilities and funds to serve more students.

Empower is one of nine public schools run by the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which, with support from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, has grown from a few campuses in Houston in 1994 to 141 public schools in 20 states -- and is still growing every year. Since KIPP's arrival in L.A. in 2003, its schools, along with those of other Broad-supported charter operators like the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, have repeatedly proved their mettle on California's key measure of public school achievement.

API scores crunch numbers from the test scores of students in grades 2 through 11. They capture students' knowledge of a variety of subjects, and they reflect the results of all students, not just the best-performing ones. Schools, scored from 200 to 1000 with a goal of at least 800, can benchmark themselves and see if they're closing the achievement gap. The API also gives parents an easy way to compare one school to another.

Several KIPP and Alliance schools consistently rank above that baseline of 800 and even place near the top of all schools in the country's second-largest district. KIPP's Los Angeles College Preparatory School earned a 916, besting all other middle schools in the district for the third year in a row. Two KIPP elementary schools, Comienza Community Prep and Raices Academy, placed in the top 10 of all elementary schools, with scores of 979 and 969 respectively.

Alliance, which was started in 2004 and manages schools for 10,500 low-income students in the Los Angeles area, had two high schools in LAUSD's top 10. Dr. Olga Mohan High School had the fourth-highest score of 895, and the Environmental Science and Technology High School achieved 10th place with a score of 860.

These results demonstrate why the highest-performing public charter schools are an important model for all public schools -- traditional and charter -- and why over the past 12 years, our foundation has invested more than $130 million in supporting and expanding high-quality public charter schools. These public school options provide students, no matter their income level or race, with a top-notch education. KIPP's and Alliance's outstanding API scores will undoubtedly draw parents looking for the best opportunities for their kids, reflecting a dramatic nationwide increase in the demand for charters. According to a survey released earlier this summer by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, the waitlist for public charter schools across the country hit nearly 1 million this past school year, up from 610,000 in 2011.

There's a lesson to learn from charters like KIPP and Alliance: all students, when given the opportunity, can learn and achieve. We believe more public schools -- traditional and charter -- that provide equal opportunities for their students and achieve outstanding results should be highlighted, fairly funded, and serve as models for the nation.

On the flip side, we know that some public charter schools are not providing an outstanding education to their students -- and we believe in strong accountability. If a public charter school isn't getting results, its authorizer should not renew its ability to operate. This would represent a significant step toward advancing accountability and keeping our collective promise of a quality education for children across the country.

Here in Los Angeles, the students of KIPP and Alliance are showing that quality public charters are already fulfilling that promise.

Rebecca Wolf DiBiase is managing director of programs for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which works to ensure that every student in an urban public school has the opportunity to succeed.

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