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California Schools Need To Improve Charter Oversight, English Learner Achievement Gap, Report Finds

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California is lagging behind other states in properly overseeing the rise of charter schools and needs to do more to close the achievement gap for English learners, according to a research report released on Monday.

The report from Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) acts as the “state of the state” on the condition of pre-K and K-12 schools. The report focused on a number of issues from early childhood education, pensions, and teacher shortages.

Oversight of charter schools

California has more than 1,200 charter schools and about one student of every 10 attends one. In California, school districts act as what’s called “charter school authorizers” and have the authority to vet new charter schools and close poorly performing ones.

Dr. Susanna Loeb, the principal investigator for the report, said California does better than other states in terms of closing low-performing schools.

“On average, the charter schools where students are learning less tend to close more,” Loeb said. “This is how you’d want it to be.”

But, Loeb said, the state’s process of authorizing the opening of a charter school in the first place, is “very, very” decentralized.

Unlike many other states, the report said, California does not have an independent chartering board to oversee school districts and other charter school authorizers to ensure those districts with poor track records get noticed.

Loeb said funding for charter school authorizers is also a problem.

“The amount of extra resources they get for overseeing these schools is very small relative to other states,” Loeb said. “So we may not have the kind of oversight capacity that some of the other states do.”

Closing the achievement gap for English learners

California has more English learners in its pre-K and K-12 schools than any other state in the country.  

But according to the Stanford/PACE report, these students are likely being taught by inexperienced teachers who may not be fully prepared to educate them.

“English learners are basically facing a double challenge,” said Dr. Lucrecia Santibañez, who contributed to the report.. “They have to learn content and language proficiency. And we found that a lot of teachers are unfortunately unprepared to teach them.”

The report also said that California is facing a severe shortage of bilingual teachers, which limits the state’s ability to further expand immersion programs for English learners.

Copyright 2018 Capital Public Radio