In the past couple of months, there have been reports that charter schools in Oakland are performing poorly in comparison to traditional district schools. Contrary to these recent claims, charter schools in Oakland, on average, still outperform traditional district schools in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). A quick check of the latest state test results (updated in August 2016) show that the average percentage of students testing at or above grade level in traditional OUSD schools was not quite 28% for English and 23% for math, while in Oakland charters the percentage of students testing at or above grade level was around 44% for English and almost 34% for math – an increase of 16 and 11 percentage points, respectively.
Although the overall percentages of Oakland students testing at grade level is lower than the state averages (the state averages in math and English are 37% and 49%, respectively), these percentages aren’t fully comparable, since the student population in Oakland is very unique. Approximately 76% of all students in OUSD are economically disadvantaged, while less than 61% of students across the state are considered low income. Despite having a slightly higher percentage of low-income students, Oakland charter schools have proficiency rates in math and English much closer to the state average than other schools in OUSD.
The important takeaway here is that Oakland charter schools are performing better than recent claims might have you believe. Even though charter schools in Oakland are generally performing better than their district counterparts, it is true and important to point out that there are a number of charter schools performing below the district average in Oakland. At Innovate Public Schools, we believe that it is important to take a closer look at those chronically underperforming schools and determine if they are salvageable. It is critical to make sure that all types of schools (charter and otherwise) can be successfully turned around or closed if they are consistently underperforming — this is a straightforward way to help improve the overall quality of schools available to every student in the area.
Singling out charter schools from a district-wide problem of low-performing schools does not make sense, especially when many charter schools in OUSD are outperforming the traditional public schools in the district. Many parents see charter schools as a lifeline that gives a better option for educating their kids in a district full of critically low-performing schools, so it is important to make sure that the messages reported about the quality of charter schools are accurate.