Charter schools thriving in California

September 24, 2010 7:53:18 PM PDT
Charter schools are getting more attention these days, more money from entrepreneurs and support from the Obama administration. And according to analysis by California Watch, a nonprofit independent investigative reporting group, despite hard economic times, charter schools are thriving.

Flexibility is one reason why charter schools are growing. Rocketship Los Suenos Academy in East San Jose is a good example.

"Our students spend about three-quarters of the day in regular classrooms with their teachers and they spend a quarter of the day in the learning lab where they are on computers really getting individualized instruction that pushes them toward their learning goals," Rocketship Principal Kristin Burt said.

They have a longer school day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tutoring for those who need it.

Unlike traditional public schools they have a merit pay system for teachers, something the Obama administration supports.

"We strongly believe teachers should be recognized for student achievement, so for their excellence in the classroom they should be rewarded for it and recognized for that," Rocketship Education spokesperson Preston Smith said.

These are all things that traditional schools cannot do because they must follow the framework and curriculum imposed by the state. With the state's budget crisis, parents are looking for alternatives.

"That's why we are here in this country to get a better education for the kids and get ready for college," parent Silvia Ramirez said.

Rocketship Los Suenos Academy is one of four charter schools that opened this year in Santa Clara County. According to California Watch, there are 89 new charter schools in the state.

Louis Freedberg is an investigative reporter with California Watch. He says in these hard economic times, flexibility has allowed charter schools to weather the storm.

"In terms of how they assign teachers, in terms of the length of the school day, in terms of how they deploy the staff, in terms of getting outside volunteers," Freedberg said.

Charter schools are public and get the same funding as the traditional public schools. And while they seem to be expanding, Freedberg says they are not all necessarily better.

"They don't represent a panacea, a solution for all kids, for all states, for the entire country," he said. "We still need to look at the regular public schools, how are we going to improve those and make sure that all kids succeed."


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