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Study Gives Good Marks to 4 Charter Schools in L.A.

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Four Los Angeles schools that operate independently under charters have generally outperformed comparable non-charter schools while building strong parent and staff appeal, according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers who conducted a comprehensive analysis of the district’s charter schools told the Board of Education that the four whose charters are currently up for renewal have earned the right to continue the experiment an additional five years.

They met some, though not all, their goals, and the shortcomings were often due to setting goals that were too ambitious, the report said. Each school established its own goals in its charter.

The school board will decide Monday whether to renew the charters of the Westwood Charter School, the Open Charter school north of Culver City, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima and Fenton Avenue Charter School in Lake View Terrace.

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Charter schools are largely independent of the state education code, allowing them unusual latitude in setting their own budgets and curriculum and selecting staff.

The $200,000 study, produced by the San Francisco-based consulting firm WestEd, consisted of hundreds of pages of documentation about the performance of the four charter schools since they embarked on the experiment in 1993.

Some board members complained that they received the report too late to read thoroughly.

“It was meaningless, because if you didn’t read it, you were just surfing along,” said board member David Tokofsky.

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Nonetheless, he said he is inclined to approve the renewals.

“I’ll err on the side of the [charter schools], because they’re the ones that have got the mission, the energy and the oomph that’s necessary to get the student achievement at least going up,” he said.

Tokofsky said he was also disappointed that the presentation did not include an expected review covering 13 of the district’s 15 charter schools. That evaluation has not been completed, said representatives of WestEd.

The four case studies assessed the success of the schools in building staff and community cohesion and compared their standardized test scores to those of other groups of schools with similar student demographics.

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The four charter schools outperformed most of the comparable schools.

Westwood, for example, was described as a high-achieving school with test scores consistently above the 60th percentile.

Still, three of the seven non-charter comparison schools had scores as high or higher on last year’s tests in reading, math and language.

Nearly all the Westwood parents interviewed were satisfied, and 72% said they were very satisfied.

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Much of the analysis merely described the schools’ environments. For example, the report said that since it acquired charter status, Westwood has transformed itself, “creating a culture that supports collegiality, high academic standards for all students and instruction that is student-centered.”

The Open Charter school, which pursues thematic instruction rich with technology, also scored high on standardized tests, but was surpassed by some of the comparable schools.

Teachers at Open Charter, who have developed their own curriculum and assessments, blamed the gap on “a mismatch between their constructivist approach and the standardized tests,” the report said. “They are working with students on how better to demonstrate what they know within a standardized testing format.”


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