Out of Control Policy Blog

School District is Dead, Long Live the Schools: Oakland Edition

In a new piece at Reason.com on the Oakland charter school revolution I tell the story of how charter schools are not just for low-performing schools anymore. Successful public schools want the charter advantage too:

The majority of charter schools have started in urban areas with long histories of trapping kids in failing schools and reflect the story line told in the documentary Waiting For Superman, where desperate disadvantaged children vie for their spot in the local charter school. In addition, there has been a larger trend towards low-performing schools being restructured as charter schools, as in the Detroit proposal to convert 41 schools to charters to offer kids higher-quality education and save the school district money. And New Orleans, where 80 percent of kids are now enrolled in charter schools, stands alone as a city that successfully built a charter school Mecca out of the ruins of disaster where the money now follows the kids to any school in the city. In all of these cases the charter school growth has the "hostile takeover" flavor of kids fleeing a failing public school system.

Ascend and Learning Without Limits flip that trend. These high-quality public schools want the charter advantage for themselves. They want relief from collective bargaining, from central office mandates, and most significantly from the huge school district debts that leave less money for the students. And these Oakland schools are not alone. For example, in March 2011, the Los Angeles school board approved the charter petition of El Camino Real high school, which holds the national record for U.S. Academic Decathlon championships and maintains top test scores in the district. This reflects an ongoing trend of Los Angeles schools opting for freedom from district regulations by shifting to charter status. In fact, at 80,000 students, Los Angeles boasts the most charter students of any district in the nation. After the school board vote, former Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the Associated Press that he expects the conversion trend to continue and foresees the day when the district's enrollment of 650,000 will plummet to 400,000.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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