Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charter Success in L.A.: School choice in South Central

With economic issues sucking up so much political oxygen this year, K-12 education hasn't received the attention it deserves from either Presidential candidate. The good news is that school reformers at the local level continue to push forward.

This month the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a charter school network in Los Angeles, announced plans to expand the number of public charter schools in the city's South Central section, which includes some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Over the next four years, the number of ICEF charters will grow to 35 from 13. Eventually, the schools will enroll one in four students in the community, including more than half of the high school students.

The demand for more educational choice in predominantly minority South Los Angeles is pronounced. The waitlist for existing ICEF schools has at times exceeded 6,000 kids. And no wonder. Like KIPP, Green Dot and other charter school networks that aren't constrained by union rules on staffing and curriculum, ICEF has an excellent track record, particularly with black and Hispanic students. In reading and math tests, ICEF charters regularly outperform surrounding traditional public schools as well as other Los Angeles public schools.

ICEF has been operating since 1994, and its flagship school has now graduated two classes, with 100% of the students accepted to college. By contrast, a state study released in July reported that one in three students in the L.A. public school system -- including 42% of black students -- quits before graduating, a number that has grown by 80% in the past five years.

Despite this success, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association and its political backers continue to oppose school choice for disadvantaged families. Last year, Democratic state lawmakers, led by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nœez, tried to force Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill that would have made opening a new charter school in the state next to impossible. Mr. Nunez backed down after loud protests from parents in poorer neighborhoods.

School reformers in New York, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Utah and Arizona have faced similar challenges of late. Last year in Texas, where 81% of charter school students are minorities (versus 60% in traditional public schools), nearly 17,000 students had to be placed on charter waiting lists. Texas is currently bumping up against an arbitrary cap on the number of charters that can open in the state. Unless the cap is lifted by state lawmakers, thousands of low-income Texas children will remain stuck in ineffective schools.

Back in California, ICEF says that its ultimate goal is to produce 2,000 college graduates each year, in hopes that the graduates eventually will return to these underserved communities and help create a sustainable middle class. Given that fewer than 10% of high-school freshmen in South Los Angeles currently go on to receive a college diploma, this is a huge challenge. Resistance from charter school opponents won't make it any easier.


British government scraps public examinations for 14-year-olds

Being in favour with the teacher is all that matters now. The teenage years bring big changes. Assessment at this age could detect students who are going off the rails and help them to straighten out

National school testing for 14-year-olds in England is to be scrapped as part of a major shake up of testing in primary and secondary education, the Government announced today. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that Key Stage 3 National Curriculum tests, known as Sats, would be replaced by better and more intensive classroom assessment by teachers and more frequent reporting of pupils' progress to parents.

As part of the reforms, an annual School Report Card will be drawn up for every school in England, awarding it a grade from A-F. The report card will show pupil test scores as well as information on attendance, pupil motivation, and other non-academic measures. The report cards replicate a system currently operating in New York City, which provides parents with a "simpler more understandable and more comprehensive view" of individual school performance, Mr Balls told MPs in the House of Commons.

National Key Stage Two testing for 11-year-olds at the end of primary school will remain. A new expert panel will be created to advise on the implementation of the reforms.

The Conservatives welcomed the move, while the National Union of Teachers called for a suspension of all testing in primary schools.

Mr Balls denied that the measures were a U-Turn, but accepted that the decision to scap the Key Stage 3 tests had been based on the view of both head teachers and education experts who believed the tests, introduced by the Conservatives in 1993, had out lived their usefulness. In recent years, Key Stage 3 tests for 14-year-olds have routinely been condemned as unnecessary because GCSEs and A-Level exams already provide an objective and externally marked measure of school performance.

"These reforms will provide more regular and more comprehensive information to parents about their progress, support heads (and) teachers, to make sure that every child can succeed and strengthen our ability to hold all schools to account, as well as the public's ability to hold government to account," Mr Balls said. "Key Stage Two tests are here to stay. They are essential to give parents, teachers and the public the information they need about the progress of every primary aged child and every primary school. "The final year of primary school is critical to prepare children for the step up to secondary school", he said.

More here

No comments: