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Green Dot Charter Schools Raise Performance for Long-Suffering Locke High School

Lisa Snell
May 14, 2012, 4:10pm

Reason first told the story of the struggle of Locke high school parents and teachers to have their school run by Green Dot charter schools in the Drew Carey piece: Education Revolt in Watts.

Now there is good news out of Locke high school. Students are doing much better on multiple indicators under Green Dot management. As this new UCLA study reports:

Students at historically low-performing Locke High School in South Los Angeles, which recently was transformed into five smaller charter schools, are now performing better than their traditional-school peers in a number of key academic areas, according to a multi-year study conducted by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA (CRESST). 

CRESST's evaluation, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looked at two groups of ninth graders who started in 2007 and 2008 - just after the charter-school group Green Dot Public Schools assumed operational control of Locke from the Los Angeles Unified School district and initiated a series of major curriculum and faculty changes. The UCLA researchers followed the students for three years. 

The study found that the Green Dot Locke students were more likely to stay in school, to take and pass important college preparatory classes, and to score higher on the state high school exit exam on their first attempt than students at demographically similar high schools in the LAUSD. The study authors called the transformation of Locke "an impressive success story" and found that the charter had achieved "consistent, positive effects on a range of student outcomes." The UCLA CRESST evaluation is ongoing. 

The full UCLA report is here.

And Fast Company has an extensive story on the news and other positive results at Locke:

Rather than centrally manage every school, each Green Dot charter is run like a startup: the staff is given broad discretionary powers over finance, faculty are given the reins to innovate with new curriculum, and the union contract is performance-based rather than a guarantee of minimum work requirements. To maintain its unusual level of collaboration, a Green Dot overhaul physically splits schools into autonomous units of around 500 students (in some cases, by using chicken wire for temporary walls).

A UCLA-Gates Foundation study released today shows that Green Dot's prescription is paying off, with 25% higher graduation rates (80% vs. 55%) and 35% higher college readiness (48% vs. 13%). Green Dot even managed to bring sanity to one of LA's worst schools, Locke, where rival gangs maintained control over bathrooms and students regularly set hanging artwork on fire.

Green Dot was able to achieve these positive results without cherry picking students and they were able to have better outcomes while enrolling students in more challenging classes. 

And as Dr. Jay P. Greene recently argued when we look at gold standard randomized studies charter school benefits are proven by the best evidence.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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