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USC report ranks top California charter schools

For the first time, charters at the high school level are judged on curriculum rigor, graduation rate and college readiness.

A USC report developed to strengthen accountability among California’s charter schools released on Aug. 22 includes a ranking of the state’s top charter schools.

For the first time, the seventh annual USC School Performance Dashboard includes top 10 lists for charter schools at both the elementary/middle school and high school levels.

The report drew on data from 2005 to 2012 to rate charter schools across multiple measures of financial health and academic performance, including state test scores and classroom spending. For the first time, charters at the high school level are also judged on curriculum rigor, graduation rate and college readiness.

“This year’s USC School Performance Dashboard drills further into the multiple dimensions of each California charter school, revealing not only the greater and lesser strengths of each, but also how each is performing relative to other charters and to other California public schools,” said report co-author Guilbert  Hentschke, professor at the USC Rossier School of Education. “The overall picture conveys more than extreme variation in charter school performance; it conveys extreme variation in the effectiveness of charter school oversight.”

The top 10 California charter elementary/middle schools (listed in order) are:

1. Synergy Charter Academy (Los Angeles)
2. Gabriella Charter (Los Angeles)
3. KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy (San Francisco)
4. KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory (Los Angeles)
5. KIPP Heartwood Academy (Santa Clara)
6. Celerity Nascent Charter (Los Angeles)
7. KIPP Summit Academy (Alameda)
8. Endeavor College Preparatory Charter (Los Angeles)
9. Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter (Los Angeles)
10. Global Education Academy (Los Angeles)

The top 10 California charter high schools (listed in order) are:

1. High Tech Los Angeles (Los Angeles)
2. University High (Fresno)
3. Leadership Public Schools — Hayward (Alameda)
4. Hawthorne Math and Science Academy (Los Angeles)
5. The Preuss School University of California, San Diego (San Diego)
6. Alliance Gertz-Ressler High (Los Angeles)
7. Camino Nuevo Charter High (Los Angeles)
8. Summit Preparatory Charter High (San Mateo)
9. Orange County School of the Arts (Orange)
10. Renaissance Arts Academy (Los Angeles)

All of the USC Dashboard’s top 10 charter elementary schools serve large populations of students from low-income families. Four of those schools — all in Los Angeles County — have more than 90 percent of their students qualifying for the federal Free or Reduced Price Meals program: KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory, Celerity Nascent Charter, Global Education Academy and Synergy Charter Academy.

The report looks at campus trends across all charter schools statewide on a number of indicators during the 2011-2012 school year. Among some of the findings:

  • The number of charter schools spending more than half their revenue on classroom-related expenses increased nearly 15 percent.
  • Charter schools far outpaced traditional public schools in the rigor of their curriculum, with 42 percent of charters offering college prep math and sciences courses versus 20 percent of noncharter public schools.
  • On average, charter schools had lower high school graduation rates as compared to all traditional public high schools.

Last year saw the highest growth rate in the history of California’s charter school movement, with a 17 percent jump in the number of new charter campuses over the year before.

In fall 2012, California opened 81 new charter schools, leading the nation with 1,065 charter campuses. Los Angeles County led the state, adding 33 new charter schools.

The USC School Performance Dashboard is released annually by USC’s Center on Educational Governance, under the direction of founder Priscilla Wohlstetter, who now is at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

“Forty-six states [including California] have adopted the Common Core Standards, and this year’s report gives us a hint of how prepared California public school students are for college- and career-readiness,” Wohlstetter said. “Students who attend charter high schools are more likely to attend a school that offers college prep courses than students enrolled in traditional public schools. Students in traditional public schools do not have access to higher-level math and science courses at the same rate as charter school students do.”

Major funding for the 2013 USC School Performance Dashboard was provided by The Ahmanson Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and the Weingart Foundation.

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