LA Unified charter school gets renewal, with a string attached
Vanessa Romo | December 19, 2013
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Without any debate on Tuesday, the LA Unified school board approved five new charter schools and renewed eight existing charters.
One other renewal came with an asterisk: The Alliance Ouchi-O’Donovan 6-12 Complex, a low-performing middle school and high performing high school that merged this year, was asked to return next year for a review after board member Bennett Kayser raised questions about the school’s test scores.
Kayser opposed the initial merger in April because the middle school, which was up for renewal later this year, had not been meeting academic performance measures. On Tuesday he remained skeptical that the middle school renewal would have been granted had the charter not included impressive test scores from the high school.
“My goal is to ensure that as a board member, I am making the most informed decision,” Kayser told LA School Report.
Ouchi-O’Donovan has been operating as a consolidated campus for four months. That brief window has not produced any evidence that the merger has resolved the academic challenges facing younger students. Therefore, Kayser argued, granting a five-year renewal is improper.
“When the board is presented an item that does not allow for and/or does not contain sufficient data points, then I cannot in good conscience approve that item,” he said. “Furthermore, with less than a year’s worth of academic indicators, I felt it was premature to validate the model.”
But Judy Burton, CEO of Alliance Charter Schools, said using LA Unified’s own performance framework and formulas, the middle school would not have fallen into the criteria for non-renewal.
“Is it a school that needs to improve? Absolutely,” she told LA School Report. “But it is a school that is out-performing all of the neighborhood schools.”
Burton admits many of the Alliance middle schools are not “reaching the level of achieving or excelling” but says part of that is due to a previous policy requiring all eighth graders take Algebra 1.
The charter organization changed the curriculum at the start of the school year, and now, Burton said, “We have a criteria where only those students likely to earn an A or B are actually enrolled in Algebra 1.”
“We looked at the data and found that in district schools that were reaching higher levels of performance on the school performance framework, as few as 15 percent of eighth graders were enrolled in Algebra,” she said.
The expectation is that next year’s test scores will show a drastic improvement as a result. However, California standardized tests begin testing Algebra in the ninth grade.
In the end, Ouchi-O’Donovan got renewed, but not because of Kayser. Steve Zimmer proposed granting the renewal application with the stipulation that Alliance return in a year with a progress report.