Earlier this year, a mother who had sworn to keep her children out of public school informed the local school board that her attitude had changed once they enrolled at the Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA), a newly founded charter school in Orange, California. At the same Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) meeting, parents repeated that their children were showing more confidence and that the parents themselves felt a greater sense of community at school. All praised the teachers at the school for providing better teaching.
OCBE stands out in promoting school choice. Since a pro-charter majority emerged in 2018, it has approved several other petitions from excellent charter schools and rescinded dozens of inter-district transfers in favor of the student. People want choices. The board is committed to supporting parents and students who cannot afford private school or who do not have the ability to homeschool.
It was in 1992 that California took a bold step and became the second of 44 U.S. states to allow charter schools, thanks to legislation introduced by the late Gary K. Hart, a Democrat elected to the Senate from state in 1982. Hart, a highly respected former teacher and education policy expert, envisioned an experiment involving a small number of schools that would allow “a lot more focus on quality” and innovation.
In 1996, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to allow the program to expand, as charter schools gained credibility. To date, there are more than 1,300 charter schools in California providing public education to more than ten percent of K-12 school-aged children. Parents across California continue to seek the focused programs of onsite schools and the individuality of homeschooling provided by the charter system.
A San Diego County mother, for example, whose son suffers from dyslexia and dysgraphia, had the opportunity to remove him from a local elementary school through a chartered home-schooling program. The problem with the district school was that it was placed in a reading program for students learning English as a second language. Today, her son is no longer worried about school and more comfortable learning at home with materials adapted to his learning disabilities.
Students should not be trapped by their postal code. For many low-income students, charter schools and inter-district transfers create opportunities to improve the quality of their education. According to “LA School Report,” in partnership with “The 74,” a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news site, charter schools have been especially beneficial for minorities and low-income students. in urban areas such as Los Angeles, resulting in more teaching hours. And they offer the same percentage of free or discounted meals as district schools.
Pandemic closures have had a severe impact on the public school sector. The State Board of Education is still evaluating student performance data for 2020 and 2021, however, US News reported in November 2021 that three of California’s top elementary schools and two of California’s top middle schools were charter schools. Although they represent only a fraction of schools in the state, charter schools make up 30% of the top 100 high schools in the state and 15% among colleges.
Unfortunately, the increased demand for charter school enrollment is being attacked by the California Teachers Association (CTA), with the backing of Governor Newsom. It’s no secret that the union is helping fund Newsom’s campaign in its efforts to thwart the program’s expansion. The indisputable problem for the CTA is the fact that charter schools are not required to unionize. Charter schools have had more flexibility during the pandemic to pivot back and forth and haven’t had to negotiate with the union to close and reopen. According to Macke Raymond, director of Stanford’s Center for Educational Outcomes Research (CREDO), charter schools had an advantage when public school closures were first required, as they reopened to learning distance in four days on average.
In 1992, even Senator Hart said he had to “deftly manage the union’s opposition to the charter proposal.” CREDO Director Raymond, in his 2019 assessment of the California charter school sector, said he had never seen in his 25-year career “another industry where monopoly determines the fate new entrant”.
For students, parents, and teachers, charter schools encourage performance-based accountability and competition in the public school system. Educators who choose to teach at a charter school or private institution also benefit from greater flexibility, more contact with parents, and more personal contribution to focused and specialized programs. Independence from an institution outside the classroom places more emphasis on academic outcomes and less on administrative policies.
Scott Baugh (Huntington Beach) is President of the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership and Founding President of the OC Marathon Foundation.
Mari Barke (Rossmoor) is currently chair of the Orange County School Board. Mari is working to ensure that more children in Orange County have the educational choices and opportunities that her own children have enjoyed.
Mari Barke reading to students at Peterson Elementary in Huntington Beach.
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